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This is not a political diary.

I have to tell a story, and then I'm going to ask for a little generosity.  I can't think of a better way to set it up than that.

More over the fold.

The Backstory

Many of you know that I had to help my heart kitty, Grady, pass peacefully back in March of 2009.  He was 19 years old, and I was completely lucky to have had such a good friend and companion as he for as long as I did.

He had had old kitty issues for the last year and a half of life, the most serious of which was Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) - kidney disease.  I treated him successfully for a good year and a half after his diagnosis, and it was my honor to do so.  Managing his CRF, however, took a lot of daily (multiple times a day, actually) effort.  When he passed, it left a BIG hole in my life.  Suddenly I had all this time back, but I didn't want to have that time back, you know?  I decided, as soon as I could function normally after he died, to get involved again in resuce.

It started out pretty basic.  I got really involved with a local, private no-kill rescue.  I helped at their adoption events every Sunday.  I still volunteer taking care of cats who are in a local Petsmart adoption center, cleaning their enclosures on Sautrday mornings, feeding them, giving them water, changing their litter boxes, playing with them and generally loving on them.  To me, that's the fun part of rescue - because these cats are already saved.  They won't be euthanized in a crowded county shelter, and they await only their loving forever home.

From there, I started fostering cats.  Each foster who steps up leaves a private rescue another slot to save another cat - so it was a no-brainer until I because an abject foster failure, adopting my foster kitty, Bella, after she was returned to the resuce after two years with the same family (she's sitting here right now crowding my keyboard!).  With four cats of my own at home and not a huge townhouse, the time of fostering, for me, was over.  I'd have to serve these cats in a different way.

It was early this summer that I got involved with a Yahoo! group that endeavors to publicize special needs cats in county shelters (they have very little time in a kill shelter, and most county shelters don't have the manpower, funding or facilities to handle a special needs cat).  The list I joined was specifically focused on emergency notices to get cats out of the shelter and into either an adoptive home or placed with a private no-kill rescue.

And that's how this all started.

Through the special needs list, a rescue liaison found placement of an elderly diabetic cat with a man who provides a permanent sanctuary for diabetic cats.  The issue was getting the cat from the shelter in Maryland to the man in Virginia.  The rescue liaison - a private person who facilitates "savings" such as this - put a general but urgent notice out to the list begging for transport of this cat.  As luck would have it, I was available on that day, and so I stepped up to transport this guy.

This required me to physically go to the shelter (a high kill county shelter in suburban MD) and get the cat.  I did that - and, of course, wound up getting to "know" other cats in that shelter.  When the call came a week later inquiring whether or not I could go to the shelter and pick up six cats and take them to a rescue in Virginia, I was there.  Six meowing, antsy cats in carriers in my car for an hour.  It was hilarious!  And I was so deeply grateful for each life that was saved.  But - saving one or six or ten still meant that there were hundreds of others who needed intervention.

So I was down the rabbit hole - not only doing transport, but also coordinating with private rescues to beg them to take more cats from this particular shelter.

So that's how I got involved in THAT.

One thing that became clear is that, while there may not be capacity in private rescues in this immediate area, there IS capacity in areas that are farther away - sometimes substantially farther away.  That's how I got inolved with OTRA.

Love, 60 miles at a time

OTRA stand for "On The Road Again".  It's a nationwide network of people who have been reference-checked and verified to transport rescued dogs and cats (primarily).  The idea is simple: if a cat needs to get from Miami, FL to Philadelphia, PA, a "transport coordinator" maps the overall course then divides it into roughly 60 mile chunks - "legs".  The transport coordinator solicits to have the legs filled, and once the complete transport IS filled, they send specific meeting place, timing, and contact information to each driver to smooth this along.  It's really amazing if you think about it - there's no reason a cat shouldn't be saved just because it can't get from point A to point B.  Transport drivers usually commit to about two hours on a weekend to play their part in saving a life.

I am an OTRA transporter.  The deal with it, though, is that the vast majority of transports coordinated are for DOGS.  BIG dogs.  And typically more than one big dog.  I don't have a transport-multiple-big-dogs kind of car!  So I hadn't been able to help in that regard.

There are, however, a few groups that seem to exclusively coordinate cat rescue transportation.  One of those is Maine Coon Rescue (although the name is self-explanatory, they actually transport more than Maine Coons).  I had been involved in helping with the coordination and transport of one or two cats over the past two months.  I joined their Yahoo! list as well as it was easier to communicate with drivers this way.

The Story

A little more than two weeks ago, a lady in my geographical area posted an urgent request to help get her beloved Maine Coon kitty from the DC Metro area to a sanctuary in Ringoes, NJ.  She had waited a year on a waiting list to get her cat into this sanctuary - she doesn't have a car or drive, and was told she couldn't bring anything other than a service animal on a train.  If she couldn't get her kitty - we'll call him Lucky - to the sanctuary by December 15, she would lose her opportunity to place him there.

There's a lot of back-and-forth on these lists - lots of messages to and from - and her initial message actually kicked off a discussion of the need to be cautious about sanctuaries, that some of them are deplorable and only take people's money.  What hadn't been addressed was whether or not there was some transport assistance to be had for this particular lady's cat, Lucky.  I posted a reply to her and the list asking if she would like help in coordinating transport.

She gratefully agreed.

(NOTE: I checked out the sanctuary - it was both amazing and totally legitimate - more on that later.)

The first step was to map the route.  It wasn't a long transport - it would only require three drivers, and I already knew I would be the first driver.  I identified the other two legs of the transport, posted the request to the transport list, and quickly had drivers with references volunteer to give a little love in 60 mile increments.

When I knew the date (today) and the drivers were in place, I contacted Lucky's person and told her it was a thumb's up and sorted out details - what I would need from her, what the sanctuary required be done prior to accepting lucky, and what would be going with Lucky on the transport.  These emails back and forth let me know her story.

In 2001, she was diagnosed Acute Myeloid Leukemia, or AML for short.  She is an older lady, so the success of treatment for her (for all people, successful treatment of AML runs about 20-45%) was not a foregone conclusion.  The median survival rate of AML, she told me, is 2.1 years.  She's far outlived that.  She had two beautiful cats - her only companionship - at the time.  The doctors told her that as long as she could maange to avoid handling any cat poop, she could keep them throughout treatment and thereafter, and so she did - she loves her cats.

In 2007, however, one of her kitties - Lucky - was diagnosed with Feline Megacolon, a condition where the colon basically gets stretched out and becomes unable to adequately move feces through the GI system.  There are a variety of treatments for this - but in the case of severe megacolon, a veterinary surgical specialist will perform what's known as a "subtotal colonectomy", where most or all of the colon is removed.

That is how Lucky was treated.

The result of his surgery is that his quality of life has been GREATLY improved - he put weight back on, stopped having difficulty with his defectation, and returned to beautiful good heatlh.  The downside is that poop sometimes just falls out with more frequency and a less solid (though not liquid) quality than a kitty with a normally functioning colon.

So back to Lucky's human - the deal was that she could safely (from a medical perspective) keep her cats if she didn't have to handle feces.  Lucky's subtotal colonectomy, however, changed the equation and she was put in a position where she was handling feces - frequently.  Dangerous in her medical condition.

She began desperately looking to rehome her cats for two reasons: the first was because of the danger to her personally particularly with Lucky.  The second was more dire - she doesn't really expect to fully "beat" AML, and didn't want to die without having made arrangements for her cats.

She successfully rehomed Lucky's companion kitty, the one without health issues.  But at the time that all of this happened, Lucky was himself 9 or 10 years old and had a health issue that scared away most people who would be willing to take on a kitty.  She had found a permanent rescue for Lucky back in 2008 - but received a call from them indicating that the foster was recommending euthanasia because Lucky would be "unadoptable" with his GI issues.

Allow me to introduce you to Tabby's Place

This is where Tabby's Place, a sanctuary in perpetutity, enters the picture.

Tabby's Place was started in 1999 when its founder lost his feline best friend, Tabby, and felt so compelled to do something to honor Tabby's life that he quit his job, cashed in his investments, and opened Tabby's Place.

It's an AMAZING facility.  It is completely cage-free, with the exception of a "holding area" that new residents go into for a period of time after arriving to allow them to calm and to ensure they are free from infection before being integrated into the general cat population.

Tabby's place has several different areas where the cats live:

The Suites - there are five suites which are spacious, open-air rooms filled with stacked cubbies, toys, comfy beds, and hidey-holes. The suites are divided up by general cat needs - for example, all cats that have to be on a special diet are in one suite.  Cats that do well with other calm cats but not rambunctious cats are in another suite.  Diabetic cats are in a third suite.  FIV+ cats in yet another.  And cats that do well with virtually any circumstance are in yet another.  Each suite has a ramp that goes up the wall toward the ceiling.  The ramp connects to a plexiglass tube that allows the cat to safely cross over a staff hallway and get into a "solarium", which is an enclosed area that is OUTSIDE.  Cats have access to this year round.

Tabby's place also has lobby cats - cats that literally live in the spacious atrium lobby because they require extra attention and focus.  They also have "quiet rooms" or special rooms where a convalescing cat, a cat who bears closer watching in a quieter environment, or a cat who needs more time to be socialized prior to joining the general suite population can acclimate and be attended.  

They have a full-time veterinary technician and a veterinary facility on-site.  They have an apartment where staff stay so that it is staffed 24x7.  They have relationships with veterinary specialists in the community and they treat ALL illnesses.

About 30% of Tabby's Place 95 cats are "special needs". They have a parapilegic cat - diabetic cats - FIV+ cats - cats with behavioral issues - cats with kidney insufficiency - cats with irritible bowel disorder - cats with cancer who are undergoing treatment - you name it.

It is, frankly, an amazing place.

Mohandas Gandhi said "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

Indeed, among other things.  Tabby's Place would provide him a glimmer of hope for our country.

The Ask

Tabby's Place requires doantions to keep doing the good work it does.  It currently provides love and care to 95 cats, and has dreams of expanding its facility to provide love and care to 400 cats.  I don't want anyone to give if a) they can't afford it; or b) they feel money would be better served elsewhere.  But if you believe in Tabby's Place's vital role in our humanity, please consider donating.  You can donate in memory of a beloved companion animal - you can sponsor a special needs cat - you can make a donation in lieu of a holiday gift.  I know that any amount, no matter how small, will help them continue their excellent work.

I do also encourage you to visit Tabby's Place on the web and to take a virtual tour.

A long, sad drive

I got an email last night from Lucky's human.  She asked me only one additional favor: that when I picked Lucky up this morning to begin his journey to Tabby's Place, I please keep it brief and professional.  She loves Lucky - he's seen her through some dark and dangerous times - and parting with him was going to tear her heart out.  She told me that she feared she would "lose it" if I tried to say something comforting her when I took Lucky this morning.  

I did send her this email last night:

I'm going to give you my thoughts NOW and then not speak of it again.

So let me tell you a story.  I work a LOT in rescue, and not always on the nice side of rescue where it's all cute saved kittens finding great new homes.  Rather, I've gotten involved over the past six months or so as a liaison for high kill county shelters to try to move some of their cats into private rescue.  It's a sad thing, to go to a shelter.  Each soul is worthy in there - each deserves love and caring - yet so many wind up there.  Not all of them can be saved.

In May, there was a man in Maryland who had a massive stroke.  He had four cats that he loved dearly.  While he was in the hospital, his neighbors endeavored to help him and feed the cats, which they did.  But the man was never going to recover to where he would be able to live without round-the-clock care, so he was placed in a nursing facility which - naturally - didn't accept cats.  His daughter, who had cat allergies, couldn't find private placement, so they wound up at the shelter - four older cats.  

We worked our asses off to ensure they found homes - something about their story and the timing of it (meaning, we were aware of their story) just drove myself and another rescue liaison to make it right.  One kitty was elderly and special needs - and we DID find placement for him.  But we got really lucky.

I hate that you have to say goodbye - I really do.  But I'm so impressed with the patience and care you've exercised in truly finding Lucky a wonderful place to go to.  I see so many cats that find themselves cast aside in shelters - and THAT is a truly awful thing.  Tabby's Place is NOT.  It's a crappy situation - but you've kept him and his needs first when it sounds like you had plenty to deal with yourself.  You're my kind of people, and that's saying something - because generally I like cats better than people.  :)

Nothing I can do or say is going to make this easier for you.  My point in writing this to you is to give you some perspective from the other side - the bad side - and encourage you to really give yourself a break as you've done what so many fail to do for their feline family members.

She was deeply grateful to receive this.  But at the end of the day, I had to get up this morning and drive to take away this woman's friend, the last companion living with her.  It was done for his own good first - she only considered her health second.  And as I drove away I did what I could to keep from crying.  It broke my heart, even though I knew he was going somewhere special.

Lucky was scared on our part of the route, meowing a little, but he was also curious.  He's a BEAUTIFUL cat, and he's off to a life of love and care because this lady was selfless enough to part with him (at great emotional expense to her) and because someone cared enough to start something called Tabby's Place.

Happy Holidays, everyone.  When you see something good in this world, scream its name from the hilltops and shine a big, bright light on it.

Originally posted to RenaRF's Random Ramblings on Sun Dec 12, 2010 at 11:32 AM PST.

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