Istarted the week under a car on my hands
and knees, trying to coax a little grey cat closer to me. I first
saw her licking an empty fast food container in the trash around
the corner from one of my stops. I talked softly to her; as I
approached I couldn’t help seeing she was very thin. She ran under
a car so I opened a can of food, dropped to my knees, and flicked
bits of food toward her. So thin and hungry, she came running
when she smelled the food and as she dove into it she was growling
and eating at the same time.
I hoped she might not notice that I touched her head while she
ate but she backed off, so I backed off. After a minute she came
back to the food that was too enticing to resist, so again I leaned
forward and touched her head. This time she stayed. She was less
afraid of me now as I gave her more food which she took down with
the ravenous panic of a starving animal. I ran my hand down the
bony back of this little grey cat who showed all the signs of
having been “owned” and then abandoned. She wanted to trust my
affection but wasn’t sure whether I might suddenly turn on her
the way others had.
I kept talking to her and petting her as her fear slowly melted
away. I couldn’t take her from the streets until I knew for certain
that she was not a nursing mother. When she finally let me run
my hand underneath her, I felt nipples -- not the kind you see
on a mother with very young kittens, these looked as though they
might not be producing milk anymore. Her kittens could be on their
own now, but I couldn’t chance it. Street work brings many a heartbreak,
but one of the worst is finding a friendly animal who cannot be
rescued. On the streets, friendly animals are the first ones to
be tortured and killed because they trust us.
I can’t tell you how much I hated to leave behind the thin grey
mom, but I’d have to wait until my next trip into this area and
check her stomach again. If she hasn’t filed with milk and the
nipples still look as though they haven’t been nursed on recently,
I can take her from the streets. Before I left I put out heaps
of food for this sweet young cat who was still eating as I drove
away. “Please be here for me next time,” I pleaded out loud.
When I finished my route I met up with Dee who was still in
one of her last alleys. I could see she was upset as she flagged
me down; she had just found a nursing mother cat dead in the alley.
This cat was a smart, protective mother and never gave any evidence
of where she kept her kittens. Dee and I figured they may be stashed
in one of the nearby abandoned buildings, so we waited until the
neighborhood kids left for school ( we didn’t want to draw attention
to the fact that helpless kittens were in the area) before we
mounted our search.
We spent two hours climbing in windows of vacant buildings,
crawling in filthy basements, combing through debris in abandoned
yards, but we couldn’t find the babies. We stood in the alley
and looked around for new places to search but there weren’t any.
Dirty, depressed, sad and mad, we knew we’d done as much as we
could and that the infants once so well-protected by their mother
would die without her. She had been killed and now they would
starve to death.
My next trip into the alleys I looked for the little grey mom
where I’d seen her the last time. I called for her and waited,
called and waited. No grey cat. I put food where I thought she
would find it and left the area worried that something had happened
to her. The only thing I could tell myself was that maybe she
was with her kittens and I’d see her next time, but I kept thinking
about how thin she was and how hard it must be to live on the
streets without having anything to eat or drink. I don’t know
how they do it, but I do know they shouldn’t have to.
Just one night later Dee called to say she’d picked up a dying
cat in one of her alleys and she needed help because this cat,
too, was nursing. More babies were waiting for their mother who
would never return, and as I drove into the city to met Dee for
another search and rescue mission, I kept saying over and over
“I hate spring and summer -- I hate it, I hate it”.
For an hour we looked everywhere. We were both tired and frustrated
and ready to give up when Dee took one last look in a vacant building.
There they were, four tiny kittens, two of them were already dead
and the other two were very weak. This is summer -- the wonderful
season people love so much is hell on animals.
On my way to the alleys the next night I thought about what
a bad week this had been. When I got to the place where I’d seen
the little grey cat, the police had blocked off the street --
they were arresting several people and I had to do a detour that
took me four blocks out of my way. As I turned onto a street I
never travel I couldn’t believe my eyes, there was a little grey
cat who looked just like the one I’d been worried about for a
whole week. I stopped the car and got out with a can of food,
tapped it on the ground to get her attention, and called. At the
sound of my voice she came running. I found her!
While she ate the food I ran my hand down her back and then underneath
her. She hadn’t filled with milk and the nipples weren’t freshly
nursed on, so with great relief I could get this little one off
the streets to safety. I put her in a carrier in the car and as
we drove off I had to smile, grateful for finding her. She would
never again have to sniff the gutter for food or lick an empty
fast food container to ease the hunger pain. But my relief wasn’t
complete; as I looked at the grey cat safe in the carrier, I thought
about the kittens Dee and I couldn’t find and about all the other
kittens and puppies who will die waiting for their mothers who
have been killed in the streets.