This is not the funny today, folks.
Every once in a while there's a story in the news about a dog or a cat that overcomes a tragedy; and the public at large rallies around that one animal offering a home and money to care for it. An animal they had never known.
There are countless creatures in shelters across the country, each one having suffered a loss. Each one has lost a home. Are they any less valuable or fascinating only because we don't know what they've gone through?
So, today is a story about one of these souls. It could be the same story as any one of the animals in your own local shelter.
Okay, take a breath...
Let me start out by telling you that the black cat in my didn't make it. I don't want you to read this story thinking there's a happy ending that's not coming. Especially since it's going to be a very long story.
A Long Story
Since I left radio last year, my employment status has varied quite a bit. Rather than give you details which may change yet again in the next few months, let me just explain that one of my current jobs is as a weekend/fill-in jock at a radio station in the next county over. It's not a great job; but it looks good on my resume, and during a period when a lot has changed on that resume, having *this* on it for a solid twelve months is not a bad thing. Make no mistake, this is not a glamorous radio job. I am the lowest totem on the pole. This is the job you take when you're starting out in radio, not the one you take after twenty years in the business. It is a lonely, lowly job. The people are nice, but since I work weekends, I almost never see them. Also, since I work weekends, I am alone and justified in my worry about being vulnerable to not-so-stable radio "fans".
It is for that reason that I checked all the doors in the building to make sure they were locked and secured before I buried myself in a studio, solitary and oblivious to the outside world.
I was checking the last door, the back door, when I saw him. A black cat huddled against the cold. In the middle of the yard.
Odd. Most animals would seek shelter on a day that threatened snow. This one was out in the stark elements.
I cracked open the door. He did not bolt at the sound.
I called out, "Hey buddy!"
He turned his head slowly, his eyes full of pain and sadness.
"You okay, buddy?"
He was not okay.
Get him safe, I thought to myself. Get him warm.
Well, I also thought to myself, I can't bring him in here.
I'll call the humane society!
But first, I thought I should probably make sure the cat didn't have a collar. Make sure he was really in need of help and wasn't, say, perched on top of some prey and that I had completely misread the situation.
I ventured out in the cold.
"Hey buddy. You okay?"
As I approached, he mreowed mournfully.
"Just taking a look atcha, buddy. Can I come over there?"
I kept a safe distance, kept talking softly, circled him as he continued to mrow sadly at me. His white feet were dirty. I don't know why I thought it, but I was pretty sure dirty feet on a cat was bad. My heart sank.
Throughout my cursory inspection, the cat never hissed which told me he would accept help if I would give it.
He was not wearing a collar.
"Hang on, buddy. Let me see what I can do for you."
Food, is what I was thinking. I did a mental inventory of the contents of my purse. I had a protein bar; would he eat it? The staff refrigerator had a strongly worded notice on its front warning against stealing food that belonged to someone else. I ignored it and threw open the door. A half gallon of milk caught my eye. I poured some onto a paper plate, warmed it a few moments in the microwave, and headed back outdoors.
"Hey, buddy. Do you want some milk? Are you hungry? I brought you something. Are you okay? Will you let me come over and give you this?"
Just babbling. Calming myself as much if not more than calming the cat.
I held the plate between us expecting a warning hiss the closer I got, but it never came. Only that mournful meow. He sniffed enthusiastically as I set the plate next to him. Very slowly and with visible effort, he unfolded his legs from underneath himself and moved over to accept the milk. He lapped it up as if he hadn't eaten in days.
While he ate, I made phone calls.
Turned out the local humane society couldn't come collect a stray cat at the radio station because the building is in a section of town regulated by another district. But when I called the appropriate district, the man told me he was only allowed to pick up dogs, no cats.
He then proceeded to spout his frustration with the current political climate between his district and the county humane society which was resulting in my predicament. When he began suggesting that I appear at the next county board meeting and share my experience in order to facilitate change, I stopped him.
"I don't live in this county. I don't vote here. I'm not interested in the politics going on. My only concern at this moment is finding help for this one cat. If you can't help me, what are my options?"
The man gave me some suggestions, I thanked him for his time, and began dialing.
What I learned with every call was that I'd have to contain the cat somehow. No one would even drive to me unless the cat was either indoors or in a cage. The moment of truth was upon me. Would I risk my safety attempting to move a stray, injured/sick animal into a building with no guarantee that anyone would in fact ever come to remove him from the building once he was in it; or, would I leave him where he was because there wasn't anything I could really do for him?
I should have given it serious consideration. I should have measured all the consequences of my choice. But I didn't. There never really was a choice; I knew I could never leave him there. I could not do nothing.
I stepped lightly toward this soul, speaking softly, calming us both. I slid my hands around his body and lifted him from the ground. As I disturbed his matted fur, the smell hit me. Manure. For just a moment I was holding every barn cat I'd ever lost. My dad was great about hiding a lot of the truth about barn kitties from me, but once in a while I'd find one in the cattle pen. The cats would climb in there to warm up next to the cows and, well, not come out. I never appreciated until this moment the patience and kindness my mother showed me by letting me bring these dirty, broken critters into her house. And she always helped make up a bed of old towels in the mud room to keep them warm and comfortable until they eventually passed away... usually while I was a school.
I tucked the black cat under my arm.
"It's okay, buddy. I'm gonna get you somewhere warm. Get you some help."
I put him in the women's bathroom with some more milk and closed the door.
To actually find that help I promised.
I called The Husband. "Hi honey. I did something silly."
I gave him a short version of the story I just told you. And I know exactly what he was thinking as I told it.
First, he worried that I might have been exposed to rabies.
Second, he worried that I might want to bring the cat home.
I immediately assured him that neither of those was a possibility.
This wonderful man of mine decided he would drive across the county to bring me our cat's pet carrier so I could take this stray wherever it needed to go. No need to hunt for a shelter that could come collect him; no worry about waiting for help that might not come for hours... or even days.
Good lord. It had never occurred to me I might have to tend to this cat until the following Monday.
See how I didn't consider all of the possible consequences?
The Husband said he'd pack up the cage and some cat food. He'd come right away.
I picked a good man, I tell you. I did.
When I checked on the cat, I found him hiding behind the toilet sitting in a puddle of his own urine. He stood and wobbled over to me, meowing softly. He stopped in front of my feet. I don't know if he was waiting to be pet or picked up, but he stood there and waited.
I would have loved nothing more than to cuddle him, reassure him with my touch; but he was oh so smelly and now... he was soaked in pee.
While I waited for The Husband, I went back to my phone list starting with the nearest shelter and talked to a gal named Sam. "I know you can't come pick up this cat, but can I bring him to you?" The answer was yes. Blessed day! Thank you, I'll be there this afternoon.
I managed to get some work done between peeking in on the cat and looking out to the parking lot for The Husband. When he arrived, he wrangled the cat into the cage for me. The Husband was amazed at how subdued the cat was and finally felt reassured that I had not been scratched or bit by this very, friendly creature.
"Thank you for supporting your silly wife," I told him.
"Not at all! Honey, this is the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with you."
Before I took my precious cargo to the humane society, I walked to the houses next door to the radio station and let them know I'd found a cat. None of them owned a black cat, and no one knew of another neighbor who did.
No collar. No one to claim him. I felt okay taking him out of the neighborhood. And can I tell you... how did he get a coating of manure on his feet and belly? There is no farm near the station. He was probably dumped out here.
How lucky that he had dragged himself into the radio station's backyard. How lucky that I had been paranoid enough to check the doors when I first arrived and saw him huddled out there. How lucky that I had parents who, when I hauled various injured and sick cats into our house, allowed me to believe that it was the right thing to do.
So, I talked to and soothed my new furry friend as I drove to the humane society. He answered with intermittent mrows. The gal at the shelter took the carrier from me, promised to return it after she had found a cage for the cat, and asked if I'd like to say goodbye before she took him in the back.
"Good luck, buddy. They'll take good care of you here."
The drive back to the radio station was lonely. The carrier was empty. And very smelly.
I cleaned up the women's bathroom. There were several urine puddles. I threw away all the paper plates and wrote a note to the owner of the milk apologizing for taking some without asking first.
And then I had a thought.
"Hey Sam," I said over the phone, "if it turns out that the cat belongs to some little old lady who can't afford the fee to take him home, call me. I might be able to help."
Sam took my phone number and let me know that the cat was an older unneutered male, and he didn't have an ID chip. So, chances are good he was someone's barn cat and no one was going to come around looking for him. And if I know farmers, no one was going to pay to get a barn cat back from the shelter.
I called during regular business hours a couple days later to check up on him and learned sadly but not surprisingly that my new furry buddy had not survived. I choked out a thank you to the lady on the other end of the phone, and she thanked me back for caring enough to try to help.
Because they took him in, because they kept him warm and comfortable and perhaps helped him find his way to the Rainbow Bridge, and because I had loved so many barn cats, I sent a Christmas check to a humane society in the middle of a political mess in a county where I can't vote.
For the kitties.
For all the barn kitties Young Roses couldn't save.
For all the kitties I've ever loved.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
This is not the funny today, folks.