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This is a story I have wanted to tell for a while.  Without jumping ahead of myself, should you choose to read on over the fold, you'll share in a story of one of the most profoundly kind and inspirational things that has ever happened to me.

After I tell the story, I'm going to ask for some much-needed help.  This diary is not political.  But it is something that, I believe, exemplifies the heart of a liberal.  For me personally, it has been a true gift - a nugget of human decency that seems in far too short supply in the broader world today.

More over the fold.

My grandfather was a lion of a man.  As a young man in the WWII era, he joined the Navy to serve his country.  When he finished his service and returned home, he married the love of his life, my grandmother, and went to work in the grocery industry.  He worked his entire professional career there, finishing his working days as a store manager at Safeway.  He retired with my Grandmother.  It was a modest retirement - they wanted a Winnebago so they could travel the country (and specifically, travel from Southern California to Florida for baseball's Spring Training season) and they wanted time to spend together in the home they had bought and lived in for decades.

In 1998, with harsh suddenness, my Grandmother passed away.  We were all worried about my Grandfather - it's too common for the surviving spouse of the 50+ year love partnership to fade in the absence of the person who completed them so totally.  But my Grandfather - God love him - picked himself up and carried on through his grief.  He dedicated his retirement to two things: service (he was a daily volunteer for a worthy cause), and achieving those things that he wanted to do before he joined his beloved wife - his "bucket list".  That bucket list included a lot of things.  One of the more interesting things he did was travel with the US Water Polo Team to the Sydney Olympics.  Another thing he wanted to do was take up the MLB challenge to tour every major league baseball stadium in the US and Canada and watch a game there.  His final unfinished bucket list item was completed last summer - he was honorarily inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for completing the tour.  One of the nicest and most recent memories I have of my Grandfather was when he came to Washington DC and took my husband and I to the Nationals game he was attending.  He told my parents last summer that he had lived his life and had done everything he wanted to do - so that when death claimed him, he would die a happy man.

In the early morning hours of March 28 2010, my Grandfather died in his sleep.  He was my last living Grandparent and I feel blessed to have made it to 42 years of age always having a grandparent or grandparents in my life.  The funeral service was to be held in Long Beach CA, where he had made his home, his life, and raised his children, a bit more than a week after he passed.  I made my arrangements to get from East to West coast.  Not only would I naturally attend my Grandfather's funeral - I was to sing Danny Boy at the start of the service.

My Grandfather's House

So that's as brief a background as I can provide on how and why I came to be in Long Beach, CA on April 7 of this year.  I spent a lot of time there as a kid - I was the eldest grandchild who enjoyed the undivided attention of my grandparents for nearly 19 years before the next one came along.  Their house is as familiar to me as my own face.  It had always been their house. My Father had lived briefly in another part of Long Beach before they moved to this house when he was four or five years old.  By the time I returned to it for the last time in April, it had been "my Grandfather's house" for at least 60 years.  My memories of that house and street are abundant and wonderful.

Returning there was somewhat surreal for two reasons: first, my Grandfather wasn't there.  That was totally weird.  Second, I wouldn't be returning there again, to the house that had always been an extension of me for my entire life.  Time passes and things move on.  The house was a part of his estate, an estate that he had worked painstakingly and lived frugally to acquire.  It was his desire that it be sold after his passing, so part of the trip was to help get it ready to be put on the market and sold.

The house itself is in a rather touchy part of Long Beach, CA.  I remember when I was there for my Grandmother's funeral more than a decade earlier, we didn't even stay there because the gunshots at night would scare the shit out of us and keep us awake.  Ensconced safely in east coast suburbia, we would worry often about my Grandfather's well-being in a neighborhood that had, by 2000, grown increasingly dangerous.  But my Grandfather refused to move.  He paid that house of five years after he bought it and to HELL if he was going to move out of HIS house.

The house was built in the 1920s, one of the low, single-level bungalows common to Southern California at that time. It really was lovely - modest inside with three small bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen and a dining/living area.  But the real gem was the fenced in back yard.  That back yard was deceptively deep and lovinging landscaped and tended to by my Grandmother.  It bloomed with hibiscus and lemon trees and featured fragrant succulents native to the Southern California climate.  I spent SO much time in that back yard, playing with my Grandparents' mutt dog Polly and their Spaniel Cleo.  I used to spent endless time with their two desert box turtles, Ralph & The Judge, feeding them hibiscus, which they adored.

One of the first things I did when I walked into that house on April 7 was go to the backyard and look out.  Since my Gradnmother's passing, it was in poor repair, but it was still wonderful.  I looked on the patio that had built years before, and in one of the empty (it contained dirt only) large tree pots lay a cat.  She was a pretty kitty - a mix of white and gray tabby, and it was immediately obvious to me that she was pregnant.

Let me digress here for a moment.  Many here know that I am quite involved in animal rescue, and specifically cat rescue.  Others know as well that I have a great deal of experience in dealing with chronic feline illnesses that are specific to elderly cats (CRF, Cancer, HyperT etc.) - to this day I still help a few Kossacks off-blog with managing chronic and incurable conditions in their beloved felines.  To that end, I belong to more than a few Yahoo! lists.  Several that deal with specific conditions, and one in particular that is a grief management and support list for people who have lost beloved four-legged family members (most here know I lost my sweet Grady in March of 2009).  On the grief list in particular, I do my best to support those who are in the initial stages of grieving given that I know too recently how sad and painful it is.

So back to my Grandfather's house and the pregnant cat.  I looked at her and she at me.  I could tell by her body posture that she was getting ready to bolt, so I kept my distance and just checked her out.  I saw movement in my peripheral vision and saw a gray cat lurking nearby.  He was thin and his coat was poor, but his eyes were bright.  So I'm getting a clue here - in my Grandmother's long absence, and with my Grandfather's aging, the backyard had basically become a safe zone for feral (wild) and semi-feral cats.  I spent a little more time looking around - saw a buff and white tabby, thin, going behind the shed.  I saw a dark calico kitty with obvious eye issues on top of the shed belonging to the house next door.  I saw a tuxedo kitty skulking around between my Grandfather's house and the neighbor's house on the other side.  All cats looked thin and had poor coats - which is typically a sign of poor nutrition.

So fast forward to that evening.  I'm in my hotel room (no room at my Grandfather's house) and online checking email. I see a note in my grief support list basically hoping that I'm coping with with my Grandfather's death and that I was in the writer's thoughts that evening (which was nice to see).  I replied back and in that reply, in passing, I mentioned the following: "there's quite a wild cat issue here at my Grandfather's house, but more on that another time."  And that was all I said about that.

So the funeral comes and goes, I struggle through singing Danny Boy, I visit with my family and help where I can and, of course, I bring food for the cats and put it out on the back patio so they would at least have some food.  The day before I leave, I buy a big bag of high-quality dry food and instruct my parents to continue to feed them for as long as they are there, which they do also.  And with that, I headed back to DC after 4 days in Southern California.

This is where my story really begins, but I couldn't start it here without failing to provide explanatory context.  Two days after I get back from Long Beach, I get a note from one of the grief support list members.  It is sent only to me, off-list.  In it, she explains that she lives relatively close to Long Beach (about 15 min. away), and that she is further involved in rescue in that area.  She makes the offer to go check out my Grandfather's house (which is now unoccupied, with all family having returned to their own homes) and scope the feral situation there and provide assistance if possible.

I wrote her back - I provided my Grandfather's address and told her that I would be grateful for anything she might be able to do or suggest to help, particularly given that I was physically across the country by that time.  I was really worried about all of these cats and their "safe zone" given that the house was going on the market.  I hit "send" on my reply adn went to work.

Feral Cat in a Humane Trap

Over the next five days, this woman, whom I've never met, corralled her contacts and resources and got a well-established TNR (Trap-Neuter-Release) group out to the house to help with the cats.  For those unfamiliar, TNR groups specialize in feral colony management.  Essentially, they go into an area where a feral colony is present and set humane traps.  When they get a cat in the trap, that cat is taken to be spayed or neutered, is given all of the necessary shots, and will be treated for anything else that may be ailing the cat.  Because the vast majority of the cats in these colonies are totally wild, they cannot be put up for adoption.  Therefore, they are re-released to where they were trapped after they are medically cleared, recuperated and vaccinated.  Organizations specializing in TNR also put feral colonies on a feeding schedule and monitor the population of the colonies carefully so that they can trap and attend to any new members or members that have yet to be fixed and treated.

If you've never done TNR (I did it for the Humane Society some years back), it's truly a labor of love and selfless care for the cats in the colony.  These are not typically cats that are going to purr or rub against you or let you pet them.  Yet TNR volunteers and organizations believe strongly that these cats deserve to live and that the way to eliminate the problem of ferals over time is to remove their ability to reproduce.  In this way, they can live out their natural lives without contributing to the feral population and they can be provided food and routine medical care to ensure their health.

It's been over a month since I got back from California and had my first brief exchange with the cat samaritan in Southern California.  We've had countless conversations via email about rescue, about my Grandfather's ferals, and about the progress of the TNR around his house.  Thus far, by my count, they have humanely trapped 8-9 cats in his back yard.  Each cat has been altered and has received shots, flea treatments, and other specialized treatments specific to whatever health issues they may have.  Three of them were social enough to be placed in the foster program where they are awaiting their forever homes.  There are several others in the colony who are also adoptable, but space in rescue shelters and foster homes is so limited that they can't be removed.  All of them are now fed regularly and all have put on much-needed weight and have better coat quality.

All of this from a backhanded comment in a reply to an email.

But that's not the most remarkable part of this story, at least not for me.  So I mentioned to you that my point of contact that reached out and kicked this whole rescue effort off was a friend from a grief support list.  My beautiful Grady, my friend and steadfast companion for just over 19 years, passed away in March of 2009 after a valiant year and half fight with Chronic Renal Failure (CRF).  It was his time - he lived a great life, gave me more happiness and love than I'll ever be able to articulate, and he let me know that the last loving thing I could do for him would be to help him pass peacefully, free from pain and fear, in our home and in my arms.  It was my honor - and my profound heartbreak - to do that for him.

I leaned a lot on the grief list during that time.  It was hard - and as wonderful as many of my friends and family are, they just don't really understand how deeply Grady's passing affected me and how fundamentally I would forever be different without Grady in my life.  List members understood, though.  I can't explain it unless you already inherently know where I'm coming from, and in that case, I don't really need to explain it.

So at any rate, it should be clear to you, the reader, that I have a very special spot in my heart for cats, for rescue, and for helping cats in need.  It's been a serious driver in my life particularly in the past few years.  It led me, 12 years ago, to become a vegetarian.  It led me more recently to shun leather in any form - car seats, shoes, purses, etc.  It led me a long time ago to scope out cruelty-free products for my use.  That kind of stuff.  It's a central part of who I am, with a lot of underlying reasons.  But I guess it's fair to say that not a single one of my cats has ever fucked me over, and that's why I feel such responsibility towards them and their brethren.  Don't get me wrong - I like people, too, and I know some fine ones - but generally speaking, when things are shitty and I need a boost, I turn to and spend time with my cats.  It's just how I'm put together.

So over the past six weeks since that first email offering assistance, I've struck up a friendship with this person on the west coast.  As I said, we have traded a lot of emails about the cats and rescue efforts.  But we have also woven in a lot of personal discussion.  She, too, cared for and recently lost a beloved kitty who was chronically ill.  We have a lot in common that forged the bonds of this non-traditional friendship.  Through a variety of our messages, I had mentioned that I had a band.  I wound up sending her a CD and a T-shirt - a paltry gift in the face of the enormity of work she had done and effort she and her rescue organization had put in to helping the ferals at my Grandfather's house.  When she received it, she sent me a note letting me know how much she liked it.  She professed no skill for music, but a background in art going back to her college days.

About a week passes and I get this package at my door.  It was big - easily 3ft. x 4ft. x 10in.  I wasn't expecting anything so it was a mystery to me.  My husband brought it in.  As he was walking by with it, I noticed that the return address was of the good cat samaritan on the west coast.  Huh.  My husband opened it and when he pulled out the contents, I burst into tears.

The picture she did for me of Grady - her signature has been obscured by me to protect her identity.

You see - she had taken a picture of Grady that I had posted on my grief support group and had sketched a perfect likeness of him.  She had double-matted and framed it, and then sent it off to me.  To this day, this is truly the single nicest thing anyone has done for me.  We live in a world that seems so often to be populated by self-centered assholes, people who are all about themselves and what they have.  It drags me down sometimes - I'm not going to lie.  There are days when I'm volunteering or doing things related to activism that I think to myself - "what's the fucking point? No one gives a shit."  And then a random act of extreme kindness reminds me in a way that was so deeply personal and special to me that while sucky people may be louder and more obvious, they are also outnumbered by the good ones, the ones who work quietly to help those less fortunate - two and four legged - and who give their lives over to the service of a kinder, healthier, happier, more compassionate and empathetic existence for those people and animals who might not otherwise ever know happiness.

She sent me a note today.  She's not one to ask for help, but she asked me and now I'm asking you.  

Helen Sanders Cat Protection and Welfare Society

She is involved in trying to get a fledgling charity off the ground.  The Helen Sanders Cat Protection & Welfare Society (CatPAWS) was established in the memory of (you guessed it) Helen Sanders, who worked tirelessly to improve the quality and management of feral cats.  Long before anyone could name or describe a TNR program, Helen Sanders was doing TNR.  I don't know when she died - but this organization has been established by those who either knew or have been inspired by her to help feral cats in Southern California.

And I'll tell you - the plight of ferals in that area in particular couldn't be more dire.  It used to be that the counties in the area could set aside some of their funding to release to private TNR groups to assist with feral colony management.  But it's recently been decided (for a bunch of what I consider to be very bizarre reasons) that no more funds will be released, and that if a complaint about ferals is received the county(ies) will step in and capture and euthanize cats rather than turn their care over to a TNR group.  TNR groups can still operate - it's just that their work has now become more urgent and less funded.

You can read about CatPAWS at the link I provided to get a better sense of what it is and what it does.  But what I want to ask is that you donate to CatPAWS in any amount you can spare.  I realize that there's a lot of need out there in so many different areas, and also that there's a lot of hardship out there and some may simply not be able to give.  But those of you who are so inclined and who can spare some money, it is really needed.  There's such a need out there at CatPAWS, like so many other rescue organizations, is trying to help put a stop to the 4-5 million cats who are euthanized annually due to lack of care and lack of a home.  CatPAWS provides valuable services:

  1. Promote spay/neuter through advertising and education;
  1. Raise money to sponsor spay/neuter surgery, providing low-cost options, vouchers;
  1. Form alliances with shelters to raise money for and provide expanded facilities for abandoned, homeless cats;
  1. Supply food, medical care and live traps to individuals and groups for feral cat colony management (TNR),
  1. Provide foster homes for abandoned/orphaned kittens,
  1. Develop a ‘Barn Cat’ program to shelter otherwise unadoptable cats on Colorado farms and ranches.

Each one of these activities saves the life of countless cats - and in a way that they are properly cared for.  It also prevents future suffering by helping to cut back on the number of unwanted cats born without a home or proper care.

And finally - let me share with you one of the kittens this rescue has saved.  This kitten came from my Grandfather's yard.

Born to a thin, sick homeless cat in the yard of an empty house in urban Long Beach, Spike is the only survivor of his litter.  Taken by rescuers along with one barely alive sister, Spike was suffering from flea anemia - encrusted by fleas literally sucking the life from his tiny, 12 oz. body.  

The sister was too weak and died.  The vet said Spike might make it, his heart was strong but his breath was shallow and rapid, starved for oxygen without enough red blood to carry it.  He would need a transfusion, fluids, medication, to be put on an IV and hospitalized overnight.  The vet asked what we wanted to do.  Maybe we should just let him go.  We're a small non-profit rescue; we have to be careful about spending money, knowing we cannot save every cat.  But sometimes it's about more than resource allocation.  Sometimes it's about a frail ball of fluff with a stubbornly beating heart whose life is in our hands.  Spike just needed a chance.

Replenished by new blood, by the next day Spike was eating on his own.  By the day after that, he was bouncing around, batting a piece of paper.   Our finances haven't rebounded quite as quickly, however; can you help us be ready for the next Spike?  Anything will help!  

Please send donations to:
Helen Sanders Cat Protection and Welfare Society (CatPAWS)
1198 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Suite D
Box 227
Seal Beach, CA 90740

The above is on the flyer I've been asked to distribute.  Spike is living in the care of my friend the cat samaritan, who had the decency to send that reply to my off-handed remark about wild cats so many weeks ago, and who stunned me with a perfect picture of my beautiful Grady.

Please - I don't usually ask - but distribute this and get it visible, and if possible, DONATE.

This diary is dedicated in loving memory to my sweet Grady (3/1/90-3/23/09) & Baby Girl (1/1/93-11/27/07).  It's also dedicated to the memory of my friend's kitty who sadly passed in January of this year.

Update [2010-5-15 23:23:18 by RenaRF]: I talked with our cat samaritan a little earlier - she is so grateful for everyone's support and was frankly a little overwhelmed!  So THANK YOU.

Here's a picture of Spike from an hour or so ago.  I should have mentioned - Spike is only four weeks old.  He's weaned, and eating a rather disgusting-looking mixture of nutritious food.

Originally posted to RenaRF's Random Ramblings on Sat May 15, 2010 at 02:13 PM PDT.

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