Last summer, I received an awesome opportunity to be part of a coffee book project, headed by local entrepreneur, Brittany Bang, and local pet/wedding photographer Li Ward. After Brittany’s boutique pet shop had to close due to rent increase on Newbury Street, she and Li had the idea to create a photography book that celebrates rescued pets of Boston.
I had met Brittany many times when the Animal Rescue League of Boston did adoption events at her store, and she and her husband took care of Smirnoff and Bacardi a few times when I was away. Brittany (and Li) have always been huge proponents of rescue pets and adoption, which is why 100% of the proceeds from this book are being given to local Boston rescues!
At 5 a.m. this morning, I was wide awake. I had just fed the alcohol cats some breakfast, but instead of stumbling back to sleep like I usually do, I found myself thinking instead. These thoughts wouldn’t let me alone, and I watched Bacardi watch the sun rise at the end of my bed.
You ladies (and gentlemen) were part of those thoughts. You see, it would be extremely helpful to have some of you—actually, all of you—here with me in Los Angeles. It’s not because I miss you (although I do very much!) but because I have come to realize what a truly exceptional group of people you all are and I need your help.
At the shelter I’m at now, they do some amazing things. There’s a kitten nursery that Marna would be supremely jealous of. They have great teams of dog caregivers and cat caregivers and adoption specialists. They adopt out a lot of animals. But the one area that needs improvement is with adult cats. For some reason, they are the hardest population to adopt out, and this is where you come in.
You see, I’ve come to realize that the Animal Rescue League of Boston has no idea how lucky it is to have such a dedicated (if not sometimes overly dedicated) group of cat volunteers who collectively do the work of several paid employees, who help turn cats around that behaviorally wouldn’t make it at most shelters. (Although I have to interject that the shelter I’m at now is no-kill, so a cat with behavioral issues would never be “at risk” here. But it also has the advantage of not doing intake from the public, so it generally doesn’t have work with as many behaviorally-challenged cats.) But seriously, someone should do a case study on you guys. It’s crazy some of the things you manage to do.
You guys work with super shy cats. Cats that corner themselves in the back of the cage and hiss all day. Cats with fear aggression. Cats with normal aggression. Cats like Tono, who came in declawed on all four paws, who no one could touch for weeks. Until the crazy cat lady crew worked their patient magic, and advocated for him, and he turned into the sweetest cat and was adopted. I’m not afraid to repeat myself: do you all ever realize how amazing you are? If I could get even a pinch of that magic and bring it here, it would make such a difference.
At the shelter I’m at now, I’m the crazy cat lady. Singular. Even among the hard-working cat caregivers and some great volunteers who come in, I alone have gained the title. I’m not even technically part of the cat team, and I’m the crazy cat lady. And it’s because of you guys. Because you instilled in me not only the knowledge of helping cats get adopted, but a burning passion for it. To me, there is nothing more spectacularly interesting than a cat.
Last week, I had some time when the adoption center was quiet. I took another look at a cat named Dahlila, that I had heard was a bit wild (seemingly high arousal) and had seemed that way when I had visited her before. She has a note on her kennel card that she shouldn’t go home to kids or other cats. (It’s true—she hates other cats.) But it was hard to tell exactly what her deal is.
In that moment, I pictured Michelle, a hundred times, insisting on taking a cat up to the feline suite to see how they would do. How important she knew it was to see a cat in complete isolation. So I got permission to take Dahlila on a trip to a room where I could let her out completely apart from any other cats. No dogs barking. No distractions. And what I found is that Dahlila isn’t high arousal at all. Not one bit. She’s energetic, playful, and comes off strong—but is a complete mush on the inside. All she wanted to do was climb into my lap and rub against my chest. I petted her strongly and continuously, trying to find what Jackson Galaxy calls “the challenge line”. And what I found is that she didn’t have one. She never got overstimulated. She never went to bite or scratch me. She never even walked away. In other words, she is a great chatty cat. She loves to talk and loves attention. She doesn’t show well to visitors in her cage, but that’s not the real Dahlila.
And it was a lesson I won’t forget anytime soon. In fact, it’s what has energized me.
I wish I could be on Marna’s deck, drinking wine and chatting about all this in person. I wish I could steal Christine and her stunning (and more importantly, dedicated) photography. I wish I could laugh with Kim on the drive to the shelter about my crazy plans to get cats adopted. I wish I could steal the Saturday crew that can adopt out a senior cat like it’s no big deal. I wish I could steal the socialization powers of Jane and and Kim C, Terri’s firm belief in every cat, Amy’s tirelessness, and mix it all with the stubborn determination of Michelle. I wish I could steal all of you. Boston’s cats have no idea how lucky they are.
But I can’t do that.
What I can do is remember all you’ve taught me and apply it.
So now, as I brainstorm suggestions for improving adult cat adoptions, which I’ve been asked to compile together, which I want to make my own personal project, I keep a running chant in the back of my mind: what would the crazy cat ladies do?