July 9, 2007

Ferals and kittens, oh my

Posted in animal advocacy, companion animals, feral cats, rescue at 12:19 pm by nevavegan

Here’s what happened this weekend.

We had agreed to trap a feral cat who’d recently had kittens. Our neighbor had taken the kittens to a shelter in Annapolis (where he works) and was trying to get the mother cat in to the shelter as well. He told us the shelter had said the kittens would probably find homes but the mother cat would be killed as a feral on arrival.

We had tried to find someplace for the kittens, but he’d only told us 24 hours before he took them to the shelter. So sadly that all happened too fast.

We then told him we’d trap the mother and take her to the feral clinic. It seemed the best option since having him kill her sounded bad, and the other alternative, that he’d never catch her and she’d keep having kittens also sounded bad.

I made an appointment at the feral clinic and Saturday evening she was in the trap in our tiny 1/2 bath in the basement. Then I decided to walk the dogs.

As I went past the main area where most of the ferals congregate, which is also where the poisonings have occurred, I saw an orange kitten just sitting in the sidewalk. Then nearby I saw two other orange tabby kittens just like him. He didn’t move out of the sidewalk as the dogs and I approached. In fact he just lay there. I was worried he’d been poisoned too.

When I got closer I was able to just scoop him up and carry him in my shirt while still holding the dogs. I took him home. Luckily once he was back at the house he ate some food and drank some water. He still seemed awfully weak.

Then I went back to check on the other kittens. They were stronger, but still totally friendly, not feral, so I scooped them up too. They were so tame I could carry the two of them home with me, about 2 long blocks. So then we had an adult feral in a trap and 3 kittens in the tiny bathroom.

The kittens kept jumping in my lap, but they also had URI and needed some antibiotics. We’re so crowded in our home that keeping infected cats separate is very difficult. Plus, not being with any official rescue group, it’s really hard for us to adopt out kittens. Because of the feral situation Sean said I might really have to take the kittens to the shelter. We felt we could not put them back out, since they were very tame and trusting, and we have a bad person hurting cats in our neighborhood. Also they needed treatment. I cleaned their ears and flea combed them. I found not one flea, and no flea dirt. To me that indicated that they’d been dumped outside that day–it doesn’t take very long for fleas to get started.

It was a terrible night. Crying over the kittens, furious at our stupid neighborhood, and furious at people who dump kittens outside, and furious at myself for thinking I had no options except the shelter. I did some searching online and found that the kittens would have a much better chance at the DC shelter than at our county shelter. So I planned to transport them to the DC shelter when I took the feral in to the feral clinic.

Then I didn’t sleep.

The next morning we all went off to the feral clinic, Sean and I, and four cats. Quite luckily at the feral clinic many of the cat caretakers there wanted to help us. A young man from Homeless Animal Rescue Team was helping with the clinic and made a quick phone call. To our joy HART would take the kittens, so I gave them a donation to help out (yeah, the money I was going to give to Second Chance, but maybe this will force me to sell some art for Second Chance).

So that was a very nice thing.

The downside was that we trapped the feral cat in a brand new, deluxe, really beautiful trap that we’d just bought and someone stole our trap from the clinic, even though we’d attached Sean’s business card to it. I guess the temptation was just too much for someone. Still we really saved no money going to the clinic since it cost us a $100 trap. The clinic said they thought they knew who took it and they’d call him and ask him to give it back. But they wouldn’t give us his information and we still haven’t heard anything. So that was a downer. We bought the nice trap because we thought we might be rescuing a lot of cats. Between that and the donation to HART it was a really expensive day.

Low quality kitten pictures to follow.

June 8, 2007

When You Find the Need to Survive

Posted in animal advocacy, recovery, rescue, survivors, veganism at 1:13 pm by nevavegan

There is a danger in being too emotional sometimes, that we can lose sight of logic, or trust or gut instinct against all reason. So when I get really emotional I try to find some way I can do a sanity check. I used to joke that somebody should invent a mental thermometer, so I can do decisive home sanity check for myself. Like I’d look at it and say “Ok, in the green, I’m fine.” Or “Ooops, it’s in the red, I’d better take a step back, calm down, and rethink this.”

Wouldn’t that be great? Of course we’d all be taking them to work to secretly sanity-check our bosses!

So, with that disclaimer at the opening, prepare for an over the top emotional blog entry that’s so emo your computer monitor might start sweating huge bloody tears or something.

The thing I wanted to write about is why life is important, not just suffering or protection from suffering. I mentioned this before in my entry on feral cats; the idea was that I can’t be sure I won’t die tomorrow, I can’t be sure that death won’t be horrible and gruesome. But I’d still prefer to take my chances with that than to get a painless lethal injection today.

Taking this a step further, as much as I deplore the conditions on factory farms or in slaughterhouses, and as much as I’d like to see those conditions improved, I still stick to the basic idea that no matter how humanely it’s done, it’s wrong for me to kill an animal because I like how he tastes, or I want to wear her skin, or for sport or entertainment. Just as it would be wrong for someone to kill me because they enjoy the act of killing, or because they want what I have, or they want my body, or any other perceived benefit to eliminating me. Even if my death were sudden, without fear or pain, a single gunshot to the head before I even knew what was happening, even so it would be wrong.

Like many people, I also had a moment where time seemed to slow for me and my very life hung in the balance. With the kind of crystal clarity that sometimes comes in a moment of extreme crisis I suddenly knew that it was a very real possibility I wasn’t going to live through this. My whole being cried out that this was not right. I HAD to live. I wasn’t able to consider the finer points of whether my life was worthwhile. Some people have told me that in moments like that they thought of their loved ones and how missed they would be, or the good they wouldn’t be able to do. I can’t claim anything so noble. Something much more basic kicked in for me, a desperate survival instinct that NEEDED to survive above all else. If I was badly hurt, ok. If I was disabled, ok. But I couldn’t give up, I wanted and needed to live and it wasn’t even a choice it was something felt in every molecule of my body.

Before this I had had some minor experience with those I knew making peace with death and accepting it. I always assumed that when it was the right time for me, I would make my peace. I had a cat named Bernard with advanced cancer when I was only 14 or so. Right before we had him euthanized he wasn’t able to do much but lie on his soft blanket. When I said goodbye to him, he looked back at me with this look of exhaustion, but also love, and also extreme calm. Shortly after that happened, my family had a party and there was a great big gooey cake. My great uncle James was sitting on the couch and asked me to get him a piece and said “be sure it’s an end piece with lots of frosting, a corner is best. If you can get a frosting flower on it, I’d like that.” When I brought him his cake I leaned over him and our eyes met and I was struck by a single thought “that’s the look Bernard gave me right before he died.” Within days my great uncle died, quite unexpectedly, but I just knew. When my grandfather died, it was a shock to all of us, but I was struck by the memory of how he’d looked at me the last time I’d seen him. I’d thought that look of peace and calm had been happy memories as he talked, but I began to see a pattern. And I could only hope that when my life was at an end the calm and love and peace would descend on me too and I’d let go with grace.

But in those moments where I felt my own death coming, there was no peace, just the monumental will to live. Perhaps we could say it simply wasn’t my time, I don’t know.

When I began to rescue animals in earnest I started to notice sometimes when an animal seemed to have given up completely and when they hadn’t. Around this time I took a very ill cat, Q, into my home, only to get a death sentence from the vet a couple days later. She tested positive for FIP and her liver was failing. The vet advised me to say goodbye and then bring her in.

Q was so sick; she was lying on a cat bed, thin in all the wrong places, swollen in the opposite and still wrong places, weak and feverish. And she lifted her head and looked at me, and the look was not peace or acceptance, but overwhelmingly “I want to live.”

Some people think I anthropomorphize too much, but in this one I really don’t doubt myself. I had a very sick cat who wanted more than anything to survive, which should be a no-brainer. Most of us want to live. Some give up after horrible illness; some live a long life and give up in old age… But most living things want to continue to live. We all know this, don’t we?

The end of this story is that Q went through crisis and it was terrible, and then slowly she improved (with a holistic vet, not the original vet). Then later she had a relapse and was very ill again, but managed to pull through again, and has now been with me for 6 ½ happy years. We don’t know eventually what will happen, but it was certainly worth the effort.

I bring up Q’s story because sometimes in all the debating about animals and how smart they are or what they need or notice, we somehow miss this common sense thing: they want to live.

Sometimes when advocates of humane farming talk about killing animals they say things like this: “Since the animal make the ultimate sacrifice for us, we have an obligation to treat them well.” Aside from just the weirdness of the word sacrifice, which makes me think of ancient, obscure religious rituals, this way of speaking glosses over an important fact. The animals aren’t sacrificing themselves, they aren’t lying down their tired heads and going to sleep, they are being violently killed and they want to live. They want to live so badly that sometimes they manage to escape slaughterhouses, which are designed after all, almost more secure than prisons, to prevent escape.

I wonder how intelligent people sometimes manage to twist their brains into knots and think silly things like animals only care about whether or not they are in pain, not if they live or die.

Recently the creek near where I live overflowed its banks during a bad storm. The next day while walking my dogs I noticed puddles that looked like they were boiling. On closer inspection I found that about 100 fish and crayfish and miscellaneous water creatures (I counted as I saved them so I’m pretty sure of the number) were writhing and suffocating in rapidly drying puddles about 20 feet from the creek. I got to work, grabbing out the fish and rushing them to the creek. Even though they were in agony in the puddles, in desperate straights they resisted all my attempts to grab them. They preferred to stay in a stagnant, warm, drying up, oxygen-deprived puddle to being caught by me, who might eat them. And these were small fish and animals we’re talking about. I was finally forced to run home with the dogs, and return by myself with a Tupperware, spoon, and other implements to scoop out the fish and get them into the creek. Their struggle for survival, in an animal so different from us is instructive. They would rather be in pain than die, they feared and avoided death. There’s no other explanation to me at least.

I felt something like recognition in me. I’ve been where you are, I told them. Not that they could hear or understand me. I just saw myself in that moment.

One more note. I wrote this yesterday, but revised today. So imagine my surprise when I discovered another blogger wrote something similar yesterday. For a more straight-forward and logical examination of the topic check out this entry on Abolitionist Animal Rights.

May 8, 2007

Adopting and Rescuing Companion Animals

Posted in animal advocacy, pictures, rescue at 2:10 pm by nevavegan

I thought I’d try for a lighter topic today, though I’m just preaching to the choir here.

I’ve written a bunch about my dogs, and shown pictures of my bunnies before. I also have feline companions.

Where I live it’s actually kind of hard to even walk down the sidewalk without tripping over an abandoned cat.

We adopted the dogs from rescue groups because we wanted some idea of how they would get along with cats and bunnies, and it’s worked out wonderfully. We found dogs with gentle loving temperaments.

Here are Nikita and Kyra, the dogs:

Here is some photographic evidence that Kyra loves cats and cats love Kyra.

Kyra with Liam

Kyra with Obi (while he was younger, and yes, he’s alive there)

Over the years we’ve rescued all kinds of animals and for the most part we’ve found other good homes for them, but some did wind up staying with us.

Not too long ago Sean snapped this rather unflattering picture of me after I collapsed across the bed after a long day.

Pictured are from left to right are Torty, Squeaker, Me, Willow, Obi, and Liam on the floor

Torty was a feral we trapped while trying to help out with a large feral cat colony. We thought she was young enough to tame and adopt out, but she did not tame as well as all the other kittens, so she wound up staying with us.

Squeaker was also semi-feral and remains very shy to this day.

Willow I found lying on the side of the road practically dead from starvation. I actually thought she was dead, but something made me stop and double check. Though she was an adult cat she was only 2 ½ pounds and was missing most of her fur. Our best guess is that someone abandoned her. She was obviously an indoor companion cat before, as she is quite the lap cat.

Obi we found in our gym parking lot cowering under an SUV. He was pretty skinny and had 3 different types of worms. It took a while to get him healthy.

Liam we actually adopted on purpose because Obi was so much younger than all the other cats and didn’t have anyone to play with. So we adopted him a brother.

Sometimes people express disbelief that I found such attractive, loving animals just abandoned somewhere, but sadly it happens every single day. In working with feral cats it’s amazing how many abandoned pure bred cats are found living with feral colonies because they’ve been kicked out of their original homes. Almost any type, color, size, and age of animal can be found at a shelter or rescue, though many of them need a good bath and a little fattening up to look their best.

April 19, 2007

I have nothing good to say today, so instead I’ll try out this picture function

Posted in animal advocacy, rabbits, rescue at 4:58 pm by nevavegan

These are our adopted bunnies. Please ignore the mess, they get really excited about their dinner. We swept that up a few minutes later.
Clockwise from top left is Josephine, Jasper, and then finally Jasmine.
We’ve been through a lot of bunny loss. Sherman, my beloved, gigantic albino bunny, who was handed to me by a homeless man in NYC died nearly two years ago. The man had found Sherman as a stray that morning and had been pushing him around in a grocery cart all day. Then the other homeless men were threatening to eat Sherman, so he came to ask for my help. Sherman was so starved, but he recovered nicely. Anyway, after some unsuccessful attempts to find a friend for Sherman we finally adopted Juniper from the House Rabbit Society. They had many happy long years together. But Sherman died and Juniper was alone. We asked Bunny Magic if they had any bunnies who’d been waiting a really long time for a home, and we wound up with Jasper, who is essentially a feral bunny, but he’s getting calmer and more trusting now. Then pretty much exactly a year after Sherman passed away, Juniper passed away too. She was very elderly, so it was a shock, but not unexpected. Rather than keep adopting one bunny at a time, Bunny Magic encouraged us to adopt two, so if Jasper, who was an older bunny when we adopted him should pass away the surviving bunny would not be all alone. We adopted Josephine and Jasmine (formerly named Casey and Sugar, but we have this J thing going) who were seized from cruelty cases. Bunny Magic said that most people don’t like albinos because of their pink eyes, but how could I not love albinos after sharing my life with Sherman. So here we are, one big happy bunny family now.
The bunnies live in a big fenced area with hide-aways and ramps constructed by Sean. They eat some fresh veggies twice a day and get all the hay they want. However they only get dry food in a measured amount at night, because the vet said they were getting a little too chubby. Hence the excitement over dinner.