The enormity of the situation here has swept over me, one wave after another until it has knocked me down. I want to hide from it—and just cuddle with these cats that are temporarily blessing my life and my hotel room. My face hurts from crying and my mind wants to shut it all out. I know I’m not the first and I am far from the last person to feel this way—about cats, about poverty, about war, crime, abused children, the list is endless. But right now, today, I am immobilized by a physical depression so profound, I need to spend some time with a few individual cats to remind me how intimate and personal, individual and sacred each cat is. When it comes to rescue work, the bigger picture can destroy you.
I am in awe of Robin, Jackie, Anastasia, Alyssa—and all of the volunteers who slug it out, day after day after day working one cat at a time to push back against the problems of unwanted, neglected, abused and forgotten animals. “Sorry, Ma’am, but today is not dump your cat at ARNO day.” I heard Robin tell a woman who had decided that they no longer wanted to keep her granddaughter’s cat because their FEMA trailers were too crowded. Robin was rebounding from the day before, when a taped up box had been left outside the front door of the shelter, two horribly sick cats inside, both crusted with blood and feces. They were rushed to the vet, and cared for tenderly, but one had to be euthanized, his prognosis was so poor. Anastasia and I cleaned up the other cat with a warm and gentle sponge bath. She was so appreciative, she rubbed against our gloved hands purring. Most of her fur was gone and she was covered with fleas, but her little soul was so gentle and sweet.
Last night Alyssa and I went out trapping again. First we had to release cats that had already been fixed. A gaggle of little black boys swarmed around us at our first stop (the burnt down home that is occupied by a colony of ferals.) They all wanted to know if they could keep the cats inside the carriers. “I want a kitty, I want a kitty.” “I’m gonna catch me one of those kitties with this here pole!” One shouted out brightly. “No, no,” I responded, “don’t go near those kitties with the pole, you might hurt them.”
I struggled to explain TrapNeuterReturn to the children—sort of on the spot Humane Education, but these children were so hyper and excited about the cats that I doubt they absorbed anything I said. Their enthusiasm and desire to help was touching though. They all stood back and watched as we released a cat. “Can I come wich you and help you catch some more?” “Whach you doin’ with dese cats anyway?” No matter how many times I tried to explain, the same questions kept coming.
Then we drove a few blocks away to release another cat. We parked and pulled out the carrier, at the end of the block a group of teen-age boys was beating up one boy. Between us and the teen-age boys was a group of older men cradling beers and liquor bottles. They stared at us as we released the cat, which flew out of the carrier and across the street, disappearing under a FEMA trailer.
Alyssa makes it her policy to explain to bystanders what it is that she is doing and enlist their help or atleast their understanding. We pulled up next to the group of drunken men and rolled down the window. “Whach you doin’ dumpin cats in our neighborhood?” A mean faced fellow approached the car. He was the only white man in the group although later Alyssa explained that he was probably Creole. The racial issues in New Orleans are so complex and frightening that I can barely comprehend them.
Alyssa explained to the man that we had actually caught the cat at that residence, taken it to get its shots and get fixed and now we were returning it. She offered the name of one of the neighbors that had been helping her and feeding the cats.
The man responded, “Well you dumped that cat in the wrong neighborhood, missy. I tell you, I’ll set my own trap and then I’ll really fix that cat.” His sinister laugh was not reciprocated by the group, which stood back with amusement to watch this conflict unfold.
With patience, Alyssa tried once again to explain the benefits of TNR and what we were doing. Again the man threatened the cats, only more explicitly. Then Alyssa warned him that if he were to harm the cats, he would be prosecuted and serve jail time. He glared at her,”Yay? And then what?” Was his response.
We drove down the block and Alyssa stopped to ask the street toughs for the address of the Creole man that had made the threats. These young man crowded around the car and insisted that I videotape them (I had my video camera with me) as they beat on one of the guys in their group. A woman from the house on the corner opened her front door and yelled, “Unless you all are going to cut the grass, get off my property!”
Eventually one of the guys told Alyssa the address of the Creole man. Alyssa would file a report of the threat with the SPCA so they would know who to investigate if anything did happen to those cats.
As we cruised through the streets, we saw dozens of cats just hanging around. We trapped four cats and called it quits at 10pm. Then we stopped by a rescue workers house. I asked Maria if there had always been so many cats in New Orleans. “Oh yeah there were,” she said,”They have just gotten bolder, they have to. They used to be able to scavenge through restaurant garbage and residential garbage—but so many places have closed and neighborhoods are abandoned that they are bolder, you see them more because they have to work harder to find their food.”
I asked her if she did TNR before the hurricane. “No, I had enough to do here.” She has an immaculate home that provides sanctuary to over 50 cats and several dogs. ”I had no time for all that.”
“So what is different now?”
She laughs. “Honey, everything is different now.”
“But you still have so much to do here, why are you out there doing TNR also?”
“Because there is so much suffering out there. So I just do it, I do everything I can for those cats and its not enough, but I just have to. There is more support for this work now. Now that the whole world knows about the situation of cats in New Orleans. Its gotten attention—so that changes things too.
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.