The listserve that had put me in touch with the desperate trappers was killing me; I just couldn’t take it anymore, the posts were overwhelming and I often found myself screaming at my phone or computer with sentences like “Seriously?!?!” and “Are you kidding?!?!”. It felt like everyone was dumping their cat/kitten/trapping problems on others, everything was an emergency, and the ability to google search had been completely forgotten. I had too many kittens that weren’t even from my own projects, I was tired, and the people who had asked for help hadn’t offered me any in return. I felt like a doormat.
To top it all off a person I had been helping at a site that was just a bit too far from my home (a site that I had done well at, but was struggling with due to how much time it took to do the trapping and the awkward set up–a site that I had volunteered to help with) got upset when I told them I needed to take some time before my next trapping. I had other commitments that were coming up including visiting my family and I was trying to be honest, but the person made it seem I was leaving them in the lurch. This is someone who very well could have trapped on their own, but had asked for help on the listserve. I was now a service and when I didn’t fulfil my function all of the good things I had accomplished were washed away, replaced by accusations of not letting the person know and leaving them with no options. Laughable now that I look back on it, but at the time it cut me deeply. My Oregon work ethic often rules me and not finishing a job is not something I am known for. The thing is I didn’t say I wouldn’t finish the job, I just wanted some time to myself. Getting push back for being honest about where I was emotionally and time wise regarding a job I was volunteering for was not okay with me. The cynicism was setting in and it was sinking deep into my bones. If I didn’t do something soon I was going end up being the crazy cat person screaming at people on the street for looking at my imaginary cat the wrong way.
I made a choice to unsubscribe from the listserve and cut it out of my life. Moments after following through with this decision I already felt better. Now I had to deal with the mess I had made for myself by taking on more than I should have in the first place. I needed to get these kittens socialized and into adoption programs ASAP. Weeks later Grumpy Bear seemed to be getting more okay with me; Cali, the little runt, was a complete sweetheart, but too small to be fixed; Hannah and Dovey, the older gals, were improving, but not anywhere near adoption; Mike, Mary, and Tommy were sweet as pie and ready to head to their homes; and Grover, Hank, Pointy, Spot, and Tig were getting closer, but not completely ready. I reached out to my usual go to adoption program, but they were full . . . perhaps beyond full. I had been relying on them so heavily I didn’t really have a Plan B. I guess it was time to make one. I made lists of all the places that adopt out cats in the city, composed emails with the kittens’ details and started sending out cold calls. It was time to diversify and fast.
To my surprise I heard back from one of the adoption programs and was very excited that they could take Mike, Mary, and Tommy into their foster program. Mike and Tommy had been fixed, but Mary didn’t meet weight. One of the requirements of this program is the kittens be up to date on their vaccines and have passed the snap combo test for FIV/FeLV. Vlad and I rushed home from work one day to make it to the local Petco vaccine day. We were the last animal in line. The vet who was working that day was super kind and was excited to hear we did TNR.
The kittens were to go to the foster’s house that Friday and everything was set, then disaster hit hard. It started with Cali, she had always been skinny and small, but now she wasn’t interested in the baby food I used to socialize the kittens and she had a squinty eyed perch I didn’t like the looks of. I took her to the vet hoping to figure out was wrong and they admitted she was small and thought it might be parasites. A few days later we were in the emergency room, Cali had quickly gone down hill that evening and it was apparent something was very wrong. Speaking with the vet on call we agreed it would be best to let Cali go. We didn’t suspect panlukapenia as her white blood cells were not low, it could have been any number of ailments. These are the moments I dread and they seem to happen at least once a year. It was nearly a year since we were last in that waiting room with the two TNR kittens who ended up being diagnosed with panlukapenia. With very heavy hearts we said goodbye to Cali and cried deep tears of regret.
We didn’t have time to focus on our sorrow, the next day Grumpy Bear started acting funny. Here we were again back at the emergency room feeling sick to our stomachs. This time they knew what they were looking at, it was the dreaded panlukapenia. We said goodbye to Grumpy Bear and held our breaths. I sat in the room with the remaining kittens sobbing into my hands wishing it was all over. I had to reach out to the adoption program and let them know that Mike, Tommy, and Mary were most likely infected. They were so kind and told me if they made it they had a spot in the program when they were better. I obsessively cleaned everything and threw away what could not be properly cleaned, the whole time tears dripped down my face. I stopped eating, I just wasn’t hungry, and sleep was shallow at best. It felt like everything was my fault and I was a terrible and filthy person. I called a virtual friend of mine in the Bronx and spoke with her about what I was going through. She said she had gone through something similar years ago, yes it was awful, but yes it would end, and it would be okay at some point.
The adoption program put me in touch with a fellow TNR group who had their shit together, better than I had. They showed me what equipment I needed to start doing vaccines on my own and how to do it. They also showed me some software that helps keep track of the animals and their medical records. Driving to the home of this TNR group and still couldn’t stop crying. When I went into their house I tucked into myself feeling filthy and embarrassed, as if I could give them panlukapenia. They were so completely kind to me, right when I needed it most, that when I drove home I still felt sad, but a bit better.
In total we lost six kittens, it was a horrific experience I would not wish on anyone, but I learned a great deal in the process and came out the other side, stronger and smarter than where I was before. There are so many resources for “foster” programs, but I struggled to even figure out that these were resources that could work for my “micro rescue” operations. After much research and a great deal of “information location” advice from my sister I had the ASPCA vaccination guidelines and a course from Best Friends on how to properly foster in my head. I wondered how others did it, how they figured out all of this on their own? I had so much support and help and was still struggling to catch up, and I consider myself very good at cracking various complicated systems. What about those who are not good at networking, not great at using computers?
The whole experience felt like a leveling up of storts, as if I had taken TNR to the next stage and I could never go back to that first year. A bittersweat change for sure.