About two weeks ago, Tiffany and I were driving around town randomly. We like to do that from time to time, and (yes, I’m spilling here!) she occasionally likes to play the new Pokemon mobile game. We were winding our way through the beautiful southern portion of Indian Mounds Park when we saw a couple of fairly young kittens by a storm-drain. Of course we stopped; we’re animal lovers, and we both believe that kittens don’t belong outside. There were three of them – two black kittens and a tortoiseshell coloured younger kitten.
And so started a week and a half of checking on them, trying to get their trust, and working to find them new homes. We borrowed a pair of live-trap cages from the good folks at the Quincy Humane Society and managed to get the two black kittens within a few minutes. Thinking there was only one more left, we reset one of the traps and waited…only to discover there was another black cat, a little older but still a kitten. We returned the traps for that day with only two caught. But we weren’t done.
The two we had spent about a day and a half in the dog kennel, converted to a little quarantine area until we were confident there was nothing immediately life-threatening. Then we let them out to explore. These kittens were timid, but they were not feral. After only a few hours, they were playing with the toys we have for our cats, and after a day, they were letting us pet them, climbing up to see us. Even after just a few days, their fur was cleaner, being able to groom themselves out of the elements.
After a few days, we were able to catch the last two that we knew were down there. The older one seemed to be the mother of the litter, while the small tortie was clingy and scared. Once we had all four rounded up, we took them out to the Humane Society to take advantage of some of the medical options available, including the trap-neuter-release program. Since we already have cats of our own, we couldn’t keep them (that would have made an already-modest-size home very cramped). While not as ideal as finding them a new home, we fully planned to honor the TNR program and release them on a local farm. They would still be outdoors, but they would have regular access to food and water. We did make the decision to adopt the tortie kitten.
Now, let me first say this is hard enough. As an animal-lover, to look at a kitten and know that I’d let them be a kitten for three days – no worries about fighting for their lives, scrambling for food, and being petted and paid attention to whenever they want it – and then telling them ‘that’s all…back outside you go!’ was heartbreaking. How you pick one that gets to have a loving family while the others don’t…how does anyone with a heart make that decision without it tearing them apart?
But then the call came from the Humane Society: The mama cat was still actively nursing, which means there was another litter out there in the woods somewhere. And on top of that, they didn’t find the signs of that until after the surgery, so there’s a chance now that she won’t be able to nurse any more. By trying to help these cats, it’s possible we condemned others. And I had to do something I never thought I’d do: release cats into the wild.
It may just be rationalizing to myself, but rather than split them up, we released all three – the mama and two male black kittens – back where we found them. My reasoning was that the mama cat had to get back to try and save the other litter. The rationalization comes from my conclusion that the other two will help keep her and the others safer – safety in numbers.
We’ve lost our share of pets to illness and age. We’ve said goodbye to two of them just in the last few months. These weren’t our cats. They were strays, and we were just trying to help. But taking them out of the carrier and letting them loose into the wild, that ranks up there to me as one of the toughest, hardest things I’ve done.
I’ve always thought it was stupid when people say they “care too much.” How is it possible to care too much about something, especially another living creature? Well, the answer is that you can, and you’ll know it when something like this happens, when you can’t help any more, and have even potentially made things worse...when that happens and you feel the heart ripped out of your chest just thinking about it, then you’ll know that you can, indeed, care too much.
I don’t know if there’s anything I’m hoping to accomplish with sharing this. If anyone’s looking to add some incredibly sweet kittens to your family, I know where to find them. They’re fixed, and for the next 12 months they’re already up to date on rabies vaccinations. And if anyone is looking for a cause to support, call up the Quincy Humane society and ask what you can do. Because I’ve done this rescue thing one time now, and I can’t do it again. They do it day after day, both locally and assisting around the country. Sally and her team are amazing, and I don’t know how they do it, because I know they care as much as I do. And I know they can always use help.