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.


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