Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

Jane is gentle and soft spoken with deep sienna eyes and long chestnut hair she pulls up loosely away from her face. She speaks slowly, with a steady determination and she fights for what she believes is right and defends those who can’t defend themselves. She left her job teaching special needs children to stay at home with her newborn daughter six years ago. Once her baby started school, Jane wanted to do something meaningful with her extra time and became a volunteer for the Rocky Mountain Alley Cat Alliance. Her husband is kind, generous and supportive about what she does and her daughter is a bright, loving child with an amazing maturity and sweetness, no doubt learned through her mother’s work.

The RMACA estimates there are over 125,000 feral cats in Denver. Jane is one of the many volunteers who care for colonies of feral cats. Every two to three days, the volunteers visit the colonies to provide the cats with food and water. Feral cats are a breed somewhere between a domesticated cat and a wild animal. Unlike abused or abandoned house cats, feral cats haven’t had human contact so they can never become pets, but unlike truly wild animals, they are dependent on humans for survival. They live outdoors and find shelter where they can. They can usually be found in or near dumpsters foraging for food. Feral cats are frequently emaciated, infested with parasites and diseased. RMACA volunteers trap, spay or neuter and release feral cats year round. Upon capture, the cats are examined, treated for injuries and/or disease, vaccinated and spayed or neutered in mobile clinics by volunteer veterinarians. Cats with feline leukemia or HIV are euthanized to prevent further spread of disease. Fighting among feral and stray cats is common and the blood borne diseases spread through bites and scratches. Jane told me that of 20 cats she trapped one freezing week in January, seven were infected and had to be killed. Her voice quavers, just a little, when she talks about them. Before releasing the newly spayed and neutered cats, the volunteers clip the left ear of each to identify them as feral and neutered.

Some of the cats trapped are tame. They are domesticated cats that have been abandoned and these are often the saddest cases because they aren’t born with the survival skills feral cats have. The RMACA volunteers try to place those animals in foster homes. In Colorado cats don’t go into estrus in the winter months. That notwithstanding, a non-spayed cat will go into heat sometime around March and may have up to three litters of kittens by September.

Jane provides foster care for abandoned cats and finds homes for them. Sometimes, people call her about a stray or abandoned cat to see if she can help and she can rarely say no. She’s careful not to volunteer how many cats she’ll temporarily house because she doesn’t want to be stereotyped a “crazy cat lady”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jane also works, often over long periods of time to get “cat hoarders” to voluntarily surrender animals for placement in more suitable homes. I asked Jane if all the catch and release work was having a noticeable impact on the feral population. Despite having spayed over 2,000 cats in 2006 she says some days it doesn’t appear to make a difference at all. The cats continue to breed and the colonies continue to grow. It’s hard physical work and it can be dangerous; some of the people Jane and the other RMACA volunteers run into aren’t happy to see them. It’s emotionally difficult. Each time she rescues a cat from a deplorable situation, has to euthanize an animal, or a sick or wounded rescue cat doesn’t make it, it’s painful. She speaks with such tenderness about the animals she rescues and with controlled anger about the humans who so often neglect or abuse them. The stories are hard to hear and it’s harder to comprehend how so many human beings can have so little regard for other living creatures in their care.

I asked Jane what keeps her going and if she ever feels like giving up. Jane told me that there are so many of these animals who need help and so few people to help them that she is certain this is what she was meant to do with her life.

When the snow starts to pile up outside and the temperature drops I think about the cats, and I try not to. And then I think about all the wonderful people like Jane who are out there making sure the homeless animals get food and shelter. I know they can’t save them all, but it gives me comfort to know someone tries. I feel lucky to know Jane and grateful to realize that there is a small, but dedicated army of guardian angels trying to care for these helpless creatures.


Scott Mattlin said...

Dear Lisa,

This isn't a response to merely today's post;...but simply an expression of my interest, enthusiasm, and excitement for your intelligence, curiosity, and unwavering energy and committment to find, and live YOUR dream.
I am very,very proud and honored to be your greatest admirer, friend, and partner.

I love you, -Scott

Scott Mattlin said...

P.S.: We're out of Sharp Cheddar Cheese:)

Lisa said...


Thank you. You are the greatest inspiration and support anyone could possibly have. I love you too...

I'm all over the cheese :-)

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf