Saturday, October 29, 2016

It Takes A Village, and an Open Heart

The Cat Community of Caring is Growing!

I am absolutely thrilled to write this brief post towards the end of kitten season 2016. It has been a busy season-- lots of strays and fosters, and quite a few TNR. All the foster have found homes, colony cats are neutered! Most gratifying to me has been how many people have come together to help.

Neighbors sought traps to help TNR in their own neighborhoods (Sarah and Zak, Karin), and friends have called, knowing Steve and I will take care of strays found in lots or wandering around, like the Hy-Vee kitten and Community Bank and Trust kitten. And of course, it is wonderful to continue to get to know the passionate individuals who care for colonies. Over these two years, I've built friendships that I would not have otherwise! Thank you to all!!

The progress in two years is amazing and gives me hope. In this crazy year of uncertainty and viciousness, these small acts of love and care, accomplished together, show that together we ALL make a positive, if small, impact in the world.

The Stats:

TNR and kitten placement since 2015:
5 TNR from North Cedar Trailer Park, May 2015
19 from 20th Street in May, 2015 (11 TNR + 5 and 3 kittens placed into homes)
9  from College and 24th St in Summer-Fall 2015 (5 TNR + 4 kittens placed--Cooper, Cherry, Jax and Bella)
6 from College and 24th St August, 2016 (4 TNR + 2 kittens placed-- Ruben and Pumpkin)
1 Kitten from Hy-Vee lot placed (Widget)
1 Stray from 2nd and Clay placed (Destiny, now Rosie)
5 from College and 5th, August-September 2016 (1 TNR + placing 4 kittens--thanks Sarah and Zak!)
3 kittens from 24th and College placed,September, 2016 (Oreo, Cookie, Harper)
1 kitten from Community Bank & Trust October, 2016 placed (name TBD!)

TOTAL in two years: 50 cats spayed/neutered or socialized, vetted, and placed into homes! That's 50 cats that aren't making more litters! 

For earlier stats on fostering and TNR see my post from June, 2015 "Until There are Wait Lists for Kittens"

I wish I could say such positive things about my running. That aspect of my life has definitely slowed. I ran two half-marathons this October (best time: PR is 1:43) but because of the difficult spring and fall (personally, politically), priorities necessarily shifted. That makes these kinds of community actions even more meaninful.

Kitten found under the engine of a maintenance truck at Community Bank!
half sibs Harper (adopted 2016!) and Cooper (adopted 2015!)

Hy-Vee kitten and Miss B (now Widget and Pumpkin) got a furr-ever home in Lincoln, NE.
Babs now Pumpkin, with her caregiver
Hy-Vee now Widget, with her caregiver
Sam is now Ruben, and with "best buddy" Boss.
Ruben and his caregiver
Boss and former foster Ruben!
Little Dude who came to me dirty with oil from staying warm under the engine of a maintenance truck at Community Bank and Trust is TBA!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Open to Other Ways of Being (or: You Can't Coerce a Cat)

Babs and Sam August 5, 2016--Now Pumpkin and Ruben

Babs, the tuxedo kitty above, ran away yesterday. I'll say more about her story in moment. In some ways, it parallels my own.

It has been eight months since I last wrote in this blog. Over those many weeks, I continued doing what I do: running, working at the university, and trying to help animals and my students as best I am able. However, I also almost broke down. Not because of the things that sustain me, and give back: family, animals, teaching--but rather, because I had spread myself too thin in other areas of my life, namely, work. I allowed other people to get under my skin. I had become anxious, unhappy, my self-esteem dropped. This is somewhat normal for me during the winter months in Iowa--I need vitamin D and sunshine!--but the real issue was my own ego. I took on too much, thinking it was for others. But really, it was for me, for the idea I had of myself as able--and perhaps, more able than others--to fix things, to solve all the problems. I was the "yes" woman. And then I got angry and frustrated when I realized the time and energy I put into these things may not actually yield anything significant, and certainly did not gain me the ego rub I unconsciously sought. Pride is a sin for sure.

It is also a sin in this patriarchial society to be an opinionated woman. I might have gained some respect for the energy and work done, but I was still a woman. Tenured, with two books, many articles, and a third book contract, but I still couldn't speak for myself without getting snide emails from colleagues. I still couldn't love openly and give freely to my students because to do so would be viewed with cynicism. Sadly, I was becoming cynical. I got prickly in everyday interactions, anticipating what others would want from me. But the problem was that I sought approval from the outside--approval that 1) doesn't matter, because it only stokes pride 2)  that I will never be able to gain.

So when I ran away to Utah at the end of the school year in May (or rather, went to Utah on a planned research/vacation trip), I needed that time alone to assess what mattered, where I was safe, where I could be healthy.

Babs did the same thing yesterday. She ran away. We caught Babs in a trap a week ago. She had an injury (from another animal? A piece of wire? Who knows?) under her lip that needed attention. She had fleas and worms. We trapped Babs along with four of her cousins. One of them, little Sam, above, will be adopted out. The others were spayed and neutered (thanks to the TNR services of Cedar Bend Humane Society) and returned to the colony on College Street.

Babs and Sam were playing in the garage, outside of the large cage in which they are safe at night. I opened the garage door without paying attention, and Babs bolted. I should have known better; she had spent the morning meowing by the window, clearly wanting to get outside. I did not listen. I did not pay close attention.

Steve and I spent hours trying to find her. She first ran under our deck; then she ran through the yard into our neighbor's shrubs. I set another trap. I opened tuna. Every now and again, we would hear two or three loud meows--the same meows she had called out from the window. I think she was calling her family.

By 10:30 p.m., still no Babs, though we knew she was nearby. I went to bed hoping that she would get hungry and enter the trap, or that she would seek shelter again in the garage. I purposefully left the door cracked, just in case.

At 3 a.m., I heard Thea bark, and what I thought was the garage door being shut. I got up and went outside to check on the kitties. I saw the door was more open than I had left it, and when I switched on the light, I was thrilled to see Babs resting on top of her cage. I was so glad. She knew where she was safe. She knew where she would get food. She knew.

We had wanted to desperately to catch her-- we intuited from her behavior that she would prefer being free, but we also want to have her spayed once she is big enough. What we didn't anticipate was letting Babs work out for herself what she needed. Babs ran because she wanted out. But once out, she realized she still needed some help. She was smart enough to come back. Animals are smart. Kids are smart (my students often show me how sophisticated, empathetic, and thoughtful they can be). Often, in our pride, in our egotism and self-centeredness, we do not open ourselves to hearing and respecting that these beings can make choices, that they, indeed, do make choices. They respond to us, as we care for them.

We will help Babs, as we try to discern that that is what she wants. We will feed her and get her healthy. And when she is spayed, we will let her be free, back with her family in the colony. I hope that is what she wants. If she starts warming up to us, that plan may change. But we are open to listening to her. You can't coerce a cat. You can't coerce anybody, really. Each of us would run if we were to feel cornered or coerced.

I feel joy every time I release a cat back to his/her home. I also feel joy every time we adopt a kitten into a good home. Each being will be--and what we must do is try to listen to each unique way he or she is. 

I have never been good with authority. I have never liked being told what to do. But I have always wanted to help others. I had to run away to come back to myself. I had to be with nature, feel the openness of the world, the blue of the sky, the orange of the canyons, see the audacity of desert flowers and be with my twin, art, and animals to return to me. Nothing we do should be for pride, for our ego. If I check my ego at the door, I know what I should do. And when I check my ego at the door, I know what I don't need to do. 

Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, May 2016

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Blerch Kittens

At the Beat the Blerch 1/2 Marathon start, Nov. 14, 2015

One of my favorite comics is The Oatmeal (see for example "the terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances"), and my brother and I made a commitment to run his Beat the Blerch race in Sacramento. Although I had signed up initially for the marathon, after Twin Cities and my ongoing fasciitis/tendonitis, I switched to the half marathon. This was a wise move for my body, and it allowed us all to run together for the first five miles and enjoy each others' company and catch up. This social aspect is part of why I enjoy running. It's as important to me as the individual goals and meditative components that are also so beneficial for my mental health (I have a sticker on my bedroom mirror that reads: "Everyday is a good day when you run." True!)

We love California, and the weather there was perfect. I enjoyed the half, although it was difficult to work through the pain. But once I did (around mile 8), I found a good pace, knowing I'd finish, and finish strong. It certainly wasn't a PR--those middle miles were too cautious and painful--but I was fine with my performance, given the shape I'm in these days. As I wrote in the prior post, I've been stressed and anxious, and that always takes its toll on quality running. Time with family and old friends--including my Aunt, my sweet 18-month-old nephew, and a good friend from college-- also helped lesson anxiety sourced in work and all the things around the house that when at home, seem so important, and when away, seem so unimportant. 

Of course, after our return, we commenced a busy work week. But adding to the balance and richness of work was the service I enjoy: this included my appointment to the Cedar Bend Humane Society Board of Directors, and even better, the adoption of ALL FIVE of the kittens from the litter being fostered by our neighbor. Below are photos of one of the five, now happily relaxing and buddying up in his new furr-ever home!
Scruffy, now Cooper, Nov. 20, 2015

Cooper and Miles, Nov. 17, 2015
It snowed Friday--the day the last of the litter were adopted-- and now it seems the holidays and the stress they induce are upon us. I will try to not be stressed this year; to enjoy family, friends, and outdoor time. I read that depression is living in the past and anxiety is worrying about the future. I will remember this! And rather than worry, I will mindfully enjoy the present. I ran 3 times this past week, with very little pain. One of those days was in the snow, loving the quiet, the smell of the cool air, the effort of running on slippery and uneven surfaces. I am also mindfully enjoying my current obsession with all warm things--not only kittens, but especially hot sauce (I am in love with Sriracha! The Oatmeal is too: "Dear Rooster Sauce"), and smart wool socks!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Existential Rescuer: Regrets, Chance, Hope

I've been waking in the wee hours of the morning somewhat frequently lately, anxious and worrying about things over which I have no control. The specifics are about animals, past and present, whose welfare I care very much about, but the broader issues of not knowing whether the decision one makes or made is or was the right one weighs on every human soul.

5 kittens, November 4, 2015

At present, 5 wee babies are being fostered by the very same neighbor with whom I TNR'd 5 ferals earlier this fall. The babies' mama apparently was hit by a car. They're about 4 weeks old, and doing great. Of course, I worry about finding them homes, and I worry about them receiving the best care.

These babies won't go to the local shelter, because I know now just how chancy kittens' lives are, even at shelters (unless they are clearly no-kill shelters). Don't get me wrong--CBHS is doing all it can to help as many animals as it can--but there are so many and when they're full, that's it! They look for foster parents, but sometimes it's not enough. This is why, in the crazy hours of the morning, I start thinking about the foster babies from CBHS we had that we brought back to the shelter about a week before they were fully weaned when a few of them had contracted the ringworm fungus. Although I was told that they would receive medical care and later, that they were adopted, I always wonder... was the ringworm bath just too much for the understaffed shelter? Was there room for them at the intake building? DID the babies end up getting adopted? We had to bring them back to receive the medical attention they needed, but I will always beat myself up about it. While perhaps not a mistake, the chanciness of their lives was then in my hands...and I will never know their fates.

I also once advised a former student to call Animal Control to pick up a stray kitten she had found. I now regret having advised that, because municipal and sheltering resources just aren't there, and too many of the animals picked up never make it out. I don't know if the kitten found a home, or if the kitten would have been euthanized. Neither my former student nor I at the time had the resources or space to foster, and for her, calling Animal Control was the best option. It was an act partaken of need and taken with hope--hope that the local animal services could help, and with the animal's welfare as a priority. I look back though, and regret that I didn't try harder to get in touch with a no-kill foster only organization like Waverly Pet Rescue...but there too, I would have served as foster mom by default, which at the time, I couldn't do well.

Another regret I have is one where again, the chanciness of the situation will always make me wonder and worry. I was in Greensboro, North Carolina for a conference in 2013. On an early morning run, I was chased (playfully) by a pit bull puppy, probably about 8 months to a year old. He was a sweet thing, and he followed me to a nearby fire station, where the kind firefighters used a rope to tie a lead on him, and called Animal Control. Only then did they say that there was a breed ban in Greensboro on pits, and at the shelter he would probably be put down, unless a breed rescue stepped in. I then begged the gentlemen to keep him--obviously, I couldn't! After returning to the hotel and conference, I called and left numerous messages for the local pit bull rescue organization--but never heard back. I only hope that the rescue got my messages and stepped in...but I also assume they are probably so overwhelmed, that it was unlikely.

These regrets are borne of not knowing--first, of not knowing that calling the local animal shelter or Animal Control is not always in the best interest of an animal. Shelters and Animal Control are fine if it's a stray who probably has an owner, like a dog or cat that has escaped a yard, but for kittens and truly stray/homeless cats, it can be a 50/50 chance for finding a home or meeting the needle. I didn't know that well-- the realities of overcrowding and understaffing and lack of resources was not clear to me then. My experiences volunteering and learning from others has given me a broader view. And this is why I foster as much as I can and why TNR is such an important program--it keeps cats out of shelters, hopefully making more space for whatever strays do come in, from people like I used to be, who weren't yet educated or empowered to save on their own.

The other piece of not knowing is the not knowing about the fates of so many of these animals with whom I have come into contact. My prior ignorance put some of them in chancy situations. I like to think if I had more control, their fates could have been known, and good. Even still, Steve and I waffle back and forth on making a decision about our current foster, Mona. 5 cats in our house is too many, and Gracie beats up on her. But would she be happier somewhere else? We can't know that she would be, and we can't hand pick a new home for her. I know too, that even if we did hand pick that home, life happens. There have been a lot of animals that I know have had amazing fates--or at least, I know that for the first few years of their lives, their outlook is good, and assuming the homes they ended up in stay secure (we all know something like Hurricane Katrina or a lost job could turn it all upside down...), all will be well.

Ultimately, each of us has to act with knowledge and compassion, with the understanding that what is in our control we have responded to in morally and ethically consistent ways. Each of us can only act on the information we have and do the best we can with it, at any given moment in time. And when we make a decision and act, we HOPE that our decision will have positive outcomes, that our information and reasoning was sufficient and good. Once a decision is made, we have to move on, to acknowledge we did the very best we could, and that the very nature of the dynamic world in which we live means that chance may always throw a wrench in, despite our good, moral, and ethical intentions and actions. Of course, knowledge also allows us to predict and act preventatively rather than as a reaction. As Rebecca Solnit has written: "Hope and history are sisters: one looks forward and one looks back, and they make the world spacious enough to move through freely." Truly, that freedom is what every existentialist thinker seeks.

Foster! Adopt from a shelter! Never buy from a puppy mill or breeder! One day, there will be wait lists for kittens. Let's envision such a future.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Disruption and Change: A PW and BLM at TCM

Twin Cities Marathon, October 4, 2015
I ran Twin Cities Marathon for the 6th time last Sunday. My goal was to finish. As seems to have become a pattern every few years, I have injured myself. Notice the verb tense...I did it to myself, not a passive "I got injured." I need to take responsibility for running with pain and continuing to run with increasing pain. Ironically (or just bad luck?) the trail running goals that I set and blogged about in January seem to have exacerbated the pain by causing a lot of foot and ankle strain. In August, I did Mines of Spain 1/2 (more like 15.5 since I got turned around...) and since that early August day, my right foot has not been okay. I proceeded to get help from a physical therapist, as I had done in 2012-13, and I also asked for help from a chiropractor, for the first time. I honestly don't know what exactly is the root of the pain. Is it stress? Twisting and weakness and imbalance from trail running? A pinched nerve somewhere from some spinal misalignment? That's what the chiro thinks of course, especially since it's gone right/left/right in terms of foot injuries 2008/2012/2015.

My injury isn't the point of this blog (if you want to read more about mentally overcoming the frustration of injury, see my blogs from 2013). Suffice it to say that I finished the marathon and obtained my finisher tee-shirt (very important!). I also clocked my slowest time ever (PW! Personal Worst). But I am grateful! The point is to draw attention to the power of DISRUPTION and the importance of reflecting on the imbalance that causes the need for disruption. Disruption is a powerful form of resistance that can facilitate some healthy and necessary changes.

On the micro scale, the disruption of injury forces one to change one's activities--or continue hurting oneself to the point of incapacity. I personally need to re-adjust and rest and let myself heal. I need to acknowledge and be witness to the disruption my body is signalling. If only we as a society would listen to our Body too. There are integral and important parts of this Social Body that are injured and sick and only the DISRUPTION of something like Black Lives Matter or Occupy--the disruption of populist social movements-- might prompt the changes necessary to heal it.

In case, dear reader, you are unaware of the controversy that surrounded this year's TCM, the St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) had announced plans for a disruption event at the marathon. This announcement caused quite a kerfuffle among the white-bourgeois-dominant running community who, perhaps, did not quite understand the inconvenience of a disrupted event is nothing compared to the "inconvenience" of systemic social inequality. The best essay I have found on the TCM BLM issue was written by the blogger at Run Vegan, and I encourage you to read it in full.

Disruption is a powerful force for reflection and change--even with seemingly insignificant changes (see for example, this NY Times blogger on how changing the direction of his yoga practice disrupted his world). I want to change, but it is hard. I am in the habit of running a lot, almost everyday. But I can change. It will be easier with support of friends and family, and those who are willing to call me out if they see me doing something unhealthy, especially now that I have expressed my desire to change these habits. I have decided to take action. Similarly, changing the presumptions, privileges, and the blindness, deafness, and dumbness of dominant society and media to the rampant racism and inequality of our Social Body is hard. It will continue to be difficult because our Social Body is in the habit of inequality and of justifying it through all sorts of tautologies. But here too, disruptions, and subsequent support and reminders are, and will continue to be, necessary. We have created this imbalance in our Body, and we can heal it, together, through mindful action. Let's remind each other, daily--in class, in friendly gatherings, at the gas station--wherever we see inequality and racism in action, call it out. Support and love those who are already calling it out. With love and compassion, let us work together to heal our Social Body.

From N. Scott Momaday:
House made of dawn.
House made of evening light.
House made of the dark cloud.
House made of male rain.
House made of dark mist.
House made of female rain.
House made of pollen.
House made of grasshoppers.
Dark cloud is at the door.
The trail out of it is dark cloud.
The zigzag lightning stands high upon it.
Male deity!
Your offering I make.
I have prepared a smoke for you.
Restore my feet for me.
Restore my legs for me.
Restore my body for me.
Restore my mind for me.
This very day take out your spell for me.
Your spell remove for me.
You have taken it away for me.
Far off it has gone.
Happily I recover.
Happily my interior becomes cool.
Happily I go forth.
My interior feeling cool, may I walk.
No longer sore, may I walk.
Impervious to pain, may I walk.
With lively feeling may I walk.
As it used to be long ago, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.
Happily, with abundant dark clouds, may I walk.
Happily, with abundant showers, may I walk.
Happily, with abundant plants, may I walk.
Happily, on a trail of pollen, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.
Being as it used to be long ago, may I walk.
May it be beautiful before me
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
With it be beautiful all around me.
In beauty it is finished.

[Acronyms! PW= Personal Worst; PR= Personal Record; TCM= Twin Cities Marathon; BLM= Black Lives Matter; PF= Plantar Fasciitis]

2008 TCM 4:41:29 (1st marathon; PF right foot)
2010 TCM 3:53:27
2011 San Francisco 4:00:24
2011 TCM (PR!) 3:49:34
2012 TCM 4:24:51 (PF left foot)
2014 TCM 4:19:54
2015 TCM (PW!) 4:47:08 (PF right foot)
BLM and 'Merica