Alley Animals - Newsletter

Summer 2002 Edition
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Photo of newborn pups and kittens

A Week On The West Side

by Alice Arnold with Lillian G. Leslie
In This Issue:

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.

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