I confess to having been too aghast, angry and depressed to write in recent weeks, since the implosion of a dream for the first female president and the election of someone who instead champions dispassion and devolution. What will happen to the causes I value (and perhaps their funding) under this new administration? It’s possible that animal rights (and all the wonderful gains in recent years) could be rolled back, along with human rights. The nation seems to be in the grip of distrust and fear.
These are the thoughts that have been occupying my mind since coming home. Pretty much everyone I know has been grappling with how to deal with this turn of the tide… and what to do to make things better. I think the answer has to be conducting ourselves with greater integrity and compassion than ever before, taking stands when called upon, and finding joy in all the small victories.
For me, those often come in the form of progress made by former ferals now adapting to indoor life. The socializing of these sometimes tough cases is more of a zig-zag or a labyrinth than a straight line. But that makes forward movement all the more delicious.
Take Colby, the beautiful young Maine Coon with broken feet. As soon as I got home from vacation, I took him back to Adobe so he could be checked. It had been three months since I found him crawling on the ground because all his toes were broken and badly infected, and I wanted to know if he had healed. When the technicians came into the exam room with their long, “feral gloves” on, I had to tell them that he was not dangerous, and in fact enjoyed being petted! They were amazed and showed me on his chart where someone had marked USE EXTREME CAUTION!
The vet looked at his paws and noted that there a couple of toes were not “normal” (one had a claw that could not fully retract, another could not bend) he was basically sound and able to walk just fine now. Then he showed me the x-ray from three months ago, which made tears come to my eyes. The last bones on all his toes were neatly severed. That he can walk again seems a miracle.
But the bigger victory was yet to come. Upon taking him back to his foster mom’s studio apartment in the canyon, we agreed it was time to let him out of his dog crate, for the first time in three months. We set it up so that he would still have a shelter – a large carrier – but left the door open. My heart in my throat, fearing he would disappear under her bed and not come out, I hugged him goodbye.
The next day, Sara sent me a photo of Colby slumbering peacefully amid her couch cushions. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
And you can also teach old(er) dogs new tricks as well. I’ve had Big Mike for two years now – since trapping his torn-up body out of the same field as Colby. (What the hell goes on up this ravine?) He and I have a powerful bond thanks to the six months it took to repair his shredded leg. And although he’s adapted beautifully to indoor life, like many former ferals it has taken Mike some time to act “normal.” Robbed of his kittenhood by the harsh conditions of homeless life, he still loiters on the fringes at meal time (the law of the land for non-alphas), never begs for affection… and doesn’t play.
I’ve tried many times to engage him with toys, feathers and such, but he finds such things scary and moves quickly away. That is, until recently. I heard heavy scrambling on the kitchen floor and chairs being knocked around and, thinking a fight was going on, went quickly to investigate. And there was Big Mike, having liberated a crinkle ball from the toy box, batting it around with reckless abandon. I was thrilled. Now I offer him a toy every day, just for the joy of seeing him go nuts, and to help this big fella get the exercise he needs.
These small victories give me hope. If abused and abandoned cats can change – can learn to trust and love, even when fear is ever-present – perhaps humans can do the same.