I have always loved cats. When I was little, we had a big black cat named Panther who was more of a guard cat than a loving lap cat, but I still loved him fiercely. I have pictures of myself as a little girl, holding this huge cat in my arms and smothering him with kisses. After Panther got sick, we had to put him to sleep, and I was about 10 years old, I think. It is one of the saddest memories I have from my childhood, having to say goodbye to my sweet old cat as he went to sleep. The vet tech saw how upset I was, and gave me a poem called "The Rainbow Bridge" that talked about pets and their owners being reunited in the next life. I actually still have that, framed and on a shelf.
After sweet Panther, my mom let me grieve for a few months, then took me to the local shelter to pick out a new friend. We got Max, a spunky ball of black and white fur who was constantly chasing a toy or jumping up on the couch and trying to play with my brother. All of our cats were mostly outdoor (we lived in California, so they stayed warm enough, and we had a huge yard that they loved to patrol) but I never knew that the lifespan of an outdoor cat is an average of only five years, versus 15 years for an indoor cat. Max didn't make it very long, I'm not sure what happened to him, but I still miss him and keep a picture of him in my room. After Max came Sophie, a spoiled and beautiful long-haired gray princess, who brought in a handful of leaves in her fur every time she stepped foot outside. Between those two, I brought home an abandoned kitten who mewed constantly for the entire 48 hours that she was in my care.
To call me a cat lady would be an understatement. I fully own my obsession and love for all felines, big and small, long-haired and short-haired, fierce and docile. If I could have a pet panther, I would have three. Instead I settle for having one completely spoiled cat, Caesar, who has a basket full of toys and a heated bed on the couch. I would love to bring more cats home, but anyone who has ever had a cat knows that they are extremely territorial, and it can take months or longer for them to get along in a shared space. So, I volunteer a few times a week at the Salt Lake County Animal Services to get my cat fix.
When I started, it was really hard for me to see these sweet kitties in cages and rooms, limited by space constraints and sharing small areas with other cats. As I have continued to spend time with the cats, employees, and other volunteers at this shelter, I am amazed at how much each person can offer to the life of an animal. This shelter is called "low-kill" which means that they never euthanize due to old age or space. They are forced to euthanize animals that are sick or injured beyond help, or are dangerously vicious towards others.
An older cat came in, who the shelter staff named Barney. He spent two months in the infirmary, receiving treatment for just about every illness a cat could have (worms, fleas, dental infections, etc.) and they estimated he was about 15 years old. They also guessed that he had never had a home of his own, based on his mangy and dirty coat and struggles with these illnesses. After he was cleared of his sicknesses and the vet had to pull all of his teeth, he was put up for adoption. A lady came in and asked whether he might be euthanized, and I was so happy to tell her that he wouldn't. Just a few weeks later, a couple came in and chose him to join their family.
There is so much that a single person can contribute to the life of an animal. An abused cat came in who was terrified of humans, cowering if you lifted your hand near her, and had knots in her fur and every bone in her body protruding. Over the 4 weeks that she was at the shelter, as volunteers and staff showed that they were there to give her love and food and kindness, she transformed into a sweet and loving cat who would sit quietly for hours as we brushed and detangled her fur. When a family came to find a cat that would be kind to the children in the home, they chose Fern, who lovingly rubbed against their hands at first meeting.
Volunteering at the shelter has been such an amazing experience for me. I know there are people out there (members of my own family included :) who find it strange that I am so attached to animals, but it has been my therapy during difficult times over the last couple of months, as I see the love and kindness given to each of these discarded and abandoned cats. Adopting from a shelter is the greatest way to add a pet to your home, and if you aren't able to adopt, consider donating time, supplies, or anything you can spare.