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My first memories are of animals.
Burying my face in the warm fur of our dog while we rolled in the grass; a small kitten hissing at me from beneath a bed, dust motes stuck to its whiskers; sitting in the kitchen floor, practicing counting with piles of kibble that I’d liberated from the dog’s bowl (she didn’t mind, as long as I shared.) There are stories I’ve heard a hundred times, of my mom’s dog who turned into my fierce protector from the day I was brought home from the hospital to the goose that chased me around a park because I picked up one of her goslings that was lagging behind. I’ve always been surrounded by animals, and they have been an integral part of my daily life since before I was aware of what “daily life” was.
There’s really no one point that I can identify as The Reason I chose to become involved in animal rescue – it simply Always Has Been.
When given the opportunity, I was the kid who showed up with a limping kitten, or an injured bird, or an earthworm that had seen better days. My mother was the same, so I suppose I can blame her for my unending wellspring of empathy for the smallest creatures; she taught me that all life has value and upheld her lessons with every kitten, or bird, or earthworm that she helped me nurse. Much to the aggravation of my father, my mom and I were a duo that wouldn’t be stopped on our two-person mission to save the world. Thirty years later and we’re still much the same.
I’m fortunate enough to still have her help and, these days, the help of my long-suffering husband, as I attempt to continue saving the world, only now my focus is primarily on community and shelter cats and kittens.
I’m normally a medical foster, which means that I get the cases that other fosters might not have the time or ability to handle. Years of experience has given me the ability to handle endless hours of bottle-feeding and 3 A.M. formula-mixing, tending to injuries, administering fluids, and handling every bodily exudate that a surprisingly small kitten could possibly produce.
Through the shelter system, we, unfortunately, see the worst of the worst.
Most of my charges have the same illnesses over and over again – upper respiratory infections, GI ailments like coccidia and giardia, abscesses, general neglect and understandable fear of humans. Time has given me the ability to trust my instincts, and most of the time we’re able to come out the other side as a success story. It can be exhausting and exhilarating. Even during the worst of times – especially during the worst times – it is an unending, ongoing ouroboros of love.
Far too often, however, there is still loss: kittens who came to me too late, who were born too early to survive, who never nursed from their mama.
Those that pass with me are laid to rest in a small side garden, where we plant flowers every year in memory of their lives. Though their days were short, they were here and they mattered. At the heart of it all, this is what pushes me forward – they mattered then. They matter still. I remember both those lost and those who survived every time I see a poppy or sunflower springing from their ground, as their lives are recycled back into the universe to create something beautiful again.
Today, I was lucky enough to give five of my charges over to another rescue, where they will go on to be adopted into their forever homes.
Of those who moved on, two had previously been very sick, undersized kittens whose very survival was up in the air more than once. Three of their siblings had passed away already, and their mother was disinterested and sickly herself. It’s difficult to describe the mixture of pride, heartache, and happiness that accompanies handing over the babies that you’d spent so many hours loving and nursing, now turned in to big, healthy, happy kittens.
You cry, and you notice how much quieter the house seems.
You know that you’ll very likely never know where your charges end up, if they’re still healthy, or if they wonder where their old Human Mom went. But, at the heart, you’re satisfied for a job well-done. After all, they’ve mattered to you all along but now they’re going to make the difference in another lucky person’s life. Perhaps they’ll hiss at some other young kid from beneath a bed, and the story will start all over again.
If you’d like to make a donation to Lena’s rescue, you may do so via Southern Felines at Paypal. Any amount, even $5, helps!
Lena, thank you for being the voice of those who don’t have one. You are truly an angel on earth and I feel so fortunate to know you! XoXo!
Til next time, stay sassy!
In observance of the Labor Day holiday, Truly Madly Sassy will not publish on Monday, September 3, 2018! See y’all on September 10 with a blog about the importance of following the flutter! Enjoy the three day weekend!