Monday, September 22, 2008

I Feel For You

As I have mentioned here previously, I volunteer with a private cat-rescue organization. I don’t bring this up so my readers will think I’m some Converse-shod angel doling out kitty stars for public admiration. I bring this up because if you’ve ever been to Los Angeles and seen me someplace and thought to yourself, “Say, isn’t that the former child actor whose name I can’t recall! That’s odd, she smells like soiled cat litter…”, I just want to assure you that yes, I do.

On most days, I go directly home from the shelter but if I stop somewhere for caffeine and can’t find a drive-through I will at least try to stand next to an open window. Between the stink lines rising above my clothes, the pink runny eyes I sprout from the blizzard of cat dander and the rasping noises I make trying to expunge cat hair from my trachea, I resemble that thing small children are convinced dwell under their beds.

Week after week I have plodded in and I have cleaned. Not only do I clean cat boxes, I take home bags of laundry. Believe me, I am not a good person. I have personally lowered the limbo pole for all sinners everywhere and yet I do believe my time in hell will be reduced by a few decades for having laundered several tons of damp cat-infused rags during my tenure.

But this month, my nastier allergies finally trumped my nobler instincts. I couldn’t spend two hours in a confined space with dozens of cats and expect to breathe inaudibly the rest of the day. Luckily, my histamines hit critical mass just as we had an influx of new volunteers, all clear-eyed, eager to serve and impervious to kitty stank. I happily surrendered my on-site shift and took on another crucial responsibility: as of three weeks ago, I am the official chauffeur for cats going in for the Very Special Operation. You know what I'm talking about. One day you’re a kitten who finds your tail endlessly fascinating. Then you start to find the tails of other cats endlessly fascinating. Suddenly you want to pick fights, put on tight clothing and go to nightclubs. That’s when I swoop in and take you away for the day. After a week or so, you realize other cats aren’t nearly as interesting as a really big bowl of food.

Because kitten season is in the spring we now have lots of adolescent antics going on; many teenage cats are making a spectacle of themselves. Once a week, the director of the rescue group decides which cats are the most frisky and leaves me a message indicating who is on the chopping block, as it were. Every Friday morning, with all the car windows open to ventilate the clouds of dander and relentless screaming, I deliver this chosen few to our offsite vet. Every Friday afternoon I pick them up and bring them home. It’s the most organized thing I do every week. Or it should be.

Last Friday, I opened the shop and was greeted with a snarly mass of cats swarming around like a rebel army. It took no more than a second to determine what had happened. Usually, the volunteer who closes up at night puts food into each cage and the cats, hungry and tired after a day of glaring at one another and grooming, slink into their individual quarters and wait to be locked in. Everything is very regimented, very routine. Imagine the world’s most lethargic prison. Or the early-bird special at a chain restaurant in Boca Raton. The night before, however, had fallen under the command of a new volunteer, one who wasn’t well-versed on the ritual. So, of course, our normally well-mannered little charges turned into middle-schoolers testing out a substitute teacher.

Each of the cats milling around was a cat who, in the past, has shown a fondness for challenging authority figures. I could easily imagine how the volunteer spent a frustrating half-hour or so wrangling cats that rewarded her with hisses and scratches before cramming themselves into the quarter-inch space behind a cabinet. She probably then thought something like, “Fine! To hell with you and your cattish ways! Go without dinner and see if I care!”

We’ve all been there. I didn’t judge. But it did mean I was now slogging through a roiling sea of cats, hungry from not having had dinner last night and enraged that I wasn’t running towards the dry food bin. I felt badly for their hunger, but I knew another volunteer was arriving within the hour and there wasn’t a cat in the place who couldn’t survive that long. The cats disagreed. My ankles got nipped a couple of times but it felt less hostile rage than pre-prandial sampling.

I grabbed the carry-cages for the cats on my list and looked around. I knew I was taking Bosco, Ramon and Edgar. I had no idea who Bosco and Edgar were and only the dimmest recollection that Ramon wore a natty tuxedo but this wasn’t a problem as every cage has an information sheet. The first cage had a red sign indicating it was Bosco’s place but when I looked inside I saw a large elderly tabby whose man-feelings had been taken care of many years ago. A quick scan around the cages told me I had another problem besides the cats trying to rappel up my leg to eat the breath mints in my pocket.

The volunteer from the previous night had let the cats go into whatever cages they wanted. Even discounting the cats I knew were adults and the kittens that were too young, I had easily fifteen cats who might be Bosco or Edgar. There were three tuxedo cats, any one of which might be Ramon. Now what?

I went to each cage harboring an adolescent kitten and opened the door. The kittens, coursing with testosterone and giddy with low-blood sugar and the cry of freedom, would attempt to leap out of the cage. If there was only one in the cage, I would simultaneously stop its leap to freedom and give it an exploratory grab in the back to see if I had snagged a male. For some strange reason, this always made the cat shriek in protest -- a noise which folded nicely into the rest of the caged cats voicing their irritation that I was feeding someone else as well as the free-range cats who were manifesting their hunger by batting one another and screaming like chainsaws.

Sometimes, the first gender-grope would be inconclusive and I would have to visually examine the rear end: are those small because he’s had the operation, or is he just one of those boys who’s going to have to develop a sense of humor? I would make an executive decision and either go to the next cage or go off in search of his roommates, if they had propelled themselves out of the cage when I was asking him to turn his head and cough. Every few minutes, I’d peel cats off my legs and sometimes my shirt. The din was indescribable.

After a half hour, I was beaten. I could only see out of one eye, the other being busy streaming tears so as to remove the pound of hair a well-placed tail had inserted. I had claw marks down my arms, my chest and my back, all of which itched and were starting to swell. Most discouraging, I had no more information than I had before. Nearly all the adolescent cats were male, as were all three of the tuxedos. I wanted to go years before I even considered the notion of cat testicles ever again.

Through my one working eye, I saw that I had ten minutes until we were due at the vet. I felt tired and I felt vindictive. Assuming that violence and physical strength are practical indications of testosterone level, I grabbed the three half-grown cats that had clawed me the most deeply and jammed them in the cat carriers. I stacked the cages under my arms and hobbled to the door. The cats not coming with me, gleaning that I wasn’t the caterer, started howling more loudly.

Emboldened by having captured my charges -- who might or might not have been Bosco, Ramon and Edgar-- I turned back to the wailing throng and shouted warningly, “Really? You want a piece of me? Just ask these three tonight what happens to cats who cross me.”

The new volunteers have vigor, but we veterans have style.


Blogger Unknown said...

The nice thing about you, Quinn, is that you do this all for love.

Too bad you end up paying for it with a pound of flesh.

But that's got to be worth oodles of brownie points with someone up there.

Peace - Rene

2:24 PM  
Blogger Chatty said...

You had me on the floor with this one. I FEEL for you, I truly do - but I was laughing so hard I got the hiccups.
Take heart - even if the cats you decided upon WEREN'T actually Bosco, Edgar and Ramon - their time for the big snip was coming, judging by their attitude and youth...
Who names these cats, btw? They do a vivid job!
I hope by the time you read this you are seeing out of both eyes again, and that the swelling from the scratches has gone down...

5:09 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

That was hilarious.

6:58 AM  
Blogger Pamela said...

I can well imagine how you felt when you left the shelter. I too have cat allergies so I can relate.

You are doing more for the four legged creatures than most of us can do. Reading your post makes me want to do something more.

I don't mean for this to sound too gushy, but you are an inspiration when it comes to helping out those in need.


7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree -- I laughed out loud!

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I was reading this I was picturing what this must have looked like. Okay, maybe not the part about checking the genital area for "boyhood" but this made my day. Thanks for sharing.


11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's not nice making a pregnant girl laugh so hard she had a little accident... I'm just sayin'



11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely good for points in heaven. Maybe not the people heaven, but the animal one is probably nicer anyway.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

We have one of those tween-age kittens that is just about due to lose her ability to ever be a mommy. I can so understand the wildness of what you encountered. I cannot even imagine having to deal with more than one of these feline whackos.

But aren't they cute!

10:48 PM  
Blogger BiPolar Wife said...

I saw the cutest cat segment on a Sunday morning news program this morning about Dewey the library cat, aka Dewey Readsmore Books..

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your blog, I just laughed so hard, I am crying. (P.S. I have 3 cats and can totally relate although there are no males here, just the human ones). I absolutely love the way you write, you should have an entire shelf of books dealing with the essays you write. Brilliant!!!

bvsfan (who can't remember her identity right now)

7:37 AM  
Anonymous La BellaDonna said...

Funny as your post is - and it IS funny, it's oops-a-little-accident funny, the overwhelming emotion rushing through me is ... hmmm, that's rage, that's what that is, RAGE at the new volunteer who couldn't be bothered to actually DO any of the things that a volunteer was supposed to do the night before. I'm thinking that I would have been dragging the VOLUNTEER off for a little operation, if you know what I mean and I believe you do.

Also? Rhinocort for the sinuses, Patanol for the eyes, Singular and Advair at home, and Maxair when you need those steroids, stat. That's what works for my cat-allergies-plus-cat-rescue.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous NancySongbird said...

ROFL... None of the cats in our rescue stay in cages unless they are newly arrived or for a temporary medical reason - they all live communally (because they are ones who have been deemed fit to do so - the ones who aren't are fostered) so this is the din that greets me with my every shift! Fortunately "identifying" them is NOT in my job description... LOL... Great post - and again, bless you for the work you do! :-)

1:30 PM  

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