Three years ago, my husband traveled to China to adopt our daughter, Allegra. He was able to visit one orphanage. My husband is not a tearful man, but the visit devastated him. Bombarded by the stench of unwashed babies and toddlers who were strapped to highchairs, the orphanage was cold in the winter, but all the windows were open otherwise it would have been a challenge to breath, the smell was so bad. Most heartwrenching of all was those expressionless babies. Blank faces and vacant eyes. Never nurtured or held, these children were thoroughly institutionalized, given food, tiny beds and a high chair to sit up in, but not much more. Each of the children in our adoption group gradually awakened from this state. My husband referred to it as “de-glazing” the babies.
When Lara Germony, founder of Basha’s Fund Cat Rescue, showed me the picture of Lucy at the local animal control, the parallel to the orphan girls of China immediately came to my mind. “Sometimes shelter cats give up, all the life goes out of their eyes.” Lara has made it her mission to rescue those cats, the depressed cats and sick cats, the cats that need a substantial dose of love, care and often medical attention. “Lucy was one of those cats. She had been found as a street stray. She was withdrawn to begin with, and a black cat. It’s as if she knew that there was little hope of her ever leaving the confines of her little cage—except for euthanasia. She stopped eating or grooming and spent her days staring dully at the outside world.” Lara took Lucy home and found her an excellent placement where she transformed into a beautiful and loving cat.
“I keep Lucy’s picture on my desk. There are days when I get home from a long work day and I just don’t feel like I have the energy to take on the needs of other people’s abandoned cats. But then I think of Lucy and it helps me get through all the litter box cleaning, phone calling, fundraising, vet visits, the sub-cutaneous fluids, special feeding. All of it.”
For Lara, this work has a spiritual element. “When a cat reaches the end of its life, I want it to die knowing that its soul was recognized.” She struggles against tears. “I feel like this is my purpose in life, to help cats. Some people become missionaries or teachers, I’m a cat rescuer. That is why I was put on this earth.”
Lara and her husband, Greg, share their home with eight permanent cats. Their home is something of a ‘Tuxedo Junction’ as six of the cats are black& whites. At dinner time, Lara calls out joyfully, “Tails Up!”, dangling a spoon as she walks to their dishes. Instantly a stampede of kitties tumbles down the hall, all with their tails straight up in the air, just a slight happy curve near the tip, reminding me of a note Earnest Hemingway wrote in 1943 while living in Cuba with his third wife and eleven cats:
"One cat just leads to another. . . . The place is so damned big it doesn’t really seem as though there were many cats until you see them all moving like a mass migration at feeding time. . . . “
Lara tries to limit her fostering to one cat at a time. “Over the course of a year, I have rescued 100 cats from the shelters. But taking in one cat at a time keeps it manageable.” She points out an older orange tabby. “That is Baxter, we call him our ambassador. Whenever we bring a new cat into the house, he kind of shows them the around—where the food dish is, where the litter box is. And he usually spends the first night sleeping with them.” Lara practices Trap-Neuter-Return on the neighborhood ferals. “There are a lot of cats around here. Every spring, there are kittens. Some of the mamas are very hard to trap.”
One year, Baxter and his littermates came around for nightly feedings. Lara has tamed many ferals by just sitting in the dark with them while they eat, speaking to them in a steady stream of soothing love-talk. Gradually, she builds trust with them, until some will allow her to touch them and eventually even bring them indoors. “I had to rush the process with Baxter though. One day, when he was just a little kitten, he came around the corner covered in motor oil. I hadn’t been able to get close to him during the nightly feedings, but when I saw him in that state, I spoke firmly, ‘Baxter, come here, right now. I have to help you.’ I held out two pieces of kibble in my hand. And he came right up to me, sniffed the kibble and let me pick him up.”
As we chat, her cats come one by one to inquire about my presence. Each takes a turn snuggling with Lara and basking in her affection. There is so much joy here. “Aren’t they wonderful?” She smiles.
Preview of Coming Attractions
Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.