When Claire first conceived this blog, it was intended to introduce all of us to the joys of life at the Cat Sanctuary, and to the quirks and cuddles of a great variety of cats. That first post was in August 2009, and was titled 800 Cats. And yes, it really was 800 cats – the classic Trap-Neuter-Return of feral cat management can only go so far in a community like Richmond in which you blink and a new neighbourhood is developing. Often we trapped them, knowing that their homes were likely to be destroyed before they’d completed vet care, and so the Cat Sanctuary grew… and grew… and grew…
Fast forward to the beginning of 2015, and those numbers are much smaller. Some cats have gone to the No 5 Road Shelter and found new homes; some have had a visitor fall in love with them and end up with their own family; some very lucky “unadoptables” have been given a second chance with a volunteer who has known their quirks and taken them anyway. But many have died. There are still cats around who were “original inhabitants” back in 2000 and are now visibly aging, and there are many cats that came to us at an indeterminate age, and are now clearly seniors.
The Moore House is often named the “Gericatrics” – but the cats there aren’t so much old (though they are that too) as needing quiet space, which is not always available in the rest of the Sanctuary. There are more geriatric cats in other areas – cat who we love dearly, and for whom we worry, as one worries about an elderly relative.
Numbers are down, but the work load is up. Older cats mean a greater occurrence of the conditions old cats are subject to: kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and always dental problems. A cat who feels unwell frequently doesn’t want to eat, and has to be force-fed so that lipidosis (fatty liver) doesn’t become an issue. We’re a no-kill organization, and it’s hard to walk that line that determines when it’s time to let a cat go. For all of us, it’s painful to come in and be told that a favourite has passed – sometimes we’ve known it’s coming, sometimes it’s out of the blue. It has to be hardest on the staff, who live with this on a regular basis. The team of kitty-comforters are often working with just those most frail, sick cats – caged for treatment, needing human comforting, and cats to whom it’s very easy to become attached. Those of us who love the leukemia cats know that they are more fragile than most; a leukemia cat can be fine one day and gone a week later.
So how do we deal with these deaths? – how can we not have it overwhelm us? For many of us – faith or no faith – we will talk about the Rainbow Bridge, and about the feline friends that are waiting. We grieve – for the cat that has passed, and for ourselves – and that may take more or less time; grief is what it is. But we also know that these cats have known great love here at the Sanctuary; that many of them have gone from leading potentially short, dangerous lives as ferals, to being cuddled and comforted in their lives and in their passing, and that we have made a difference for them.We all of us know the grief that hits us when a loved pet dies – and we know that dealing with death is an inevitable experience for us, because their lives are so much shorter than ours. But most of us don’t make that a reason not to have another cat – out of that painful experience of death can come a new chance at life for another cat.
A Cat’s Will
Before humans die, they write their last Will & Testament, give their home and all they have, to those they leave behind. If with my paws, I could do the same, this is what I’d ask…
To a poor and lonely stray I’d give:
-My happy home.
-My bowl and cozy bed, soft pillows and all my toys.
-The lap, which I loved so much.
-The hand that stroked my fur and the sweet voice which spoke my name.
I’d Will to the sad, scared shelter animal, the place I had in my human’s loving heart, of which there seemed no bounds.
So, when I die, please do not say, “I will never have a pet again, for the loss and pain is more than I can stand.”
Instead, go find an unloved cat, one whose life has held no joy or hope and give MY place to HIM.
This is the only thing I can give… The love I left behind.