Old Souls

When an old cat comes to our doors, we worry. We don’t worry about their health; their gnarled toes, frumpy coats, and ragged meows attest to their steadfast ability to survive what life has thrown at them. We don’t worry about their safety; we know, once they come to OAR, they will be warm, fed, and safe. We don’t worry about the heartbreaking circumstances that led them to be homeless and alone, left to fend for themselves as old cats on the street, with OAR as their last hope – the stories are often awful, but at least it’s behind them.

What we worry about, when these old souls come to OAR, is that there won’t be people who recognize their beauty under their coarse coats; their resolute spirits under their protruding hip bones; their enduring strength behind the lines in their eyes. We worry that we won’t be able to find them a happy ending – a loving family, a soft bed, the feeling of being cherished that they richly deserve. We worry that whatever family left them behind will be the last family they know. We worry because kittens are adopted almost as quickly as they come to OAR; but old cats spend months, years with us and no families notice them. We don’t worry about the capacity of these old souls to thrive; we worry about the capacity of the human heart to love them, old age and all.

We worry because we know loving an old cat takes a special person. Adopting an old cat means giving your heart to a friend that won’t be around for 20 more years. It means loving a little creature who is set in their ways; who sleeps a lot; who complains; and who is stubbornly devoted to their routine. It means bypassing those fluffy, silly, adorable kittens, and choosing a cat that’s more craggy than cute.

But choosing an old cat also means respecting life, in all its stages and in every creature. It means giving your love to a little one that desperately needs it, and also deeply deserves it. It means being there, when somebody else failed to be. It means convincing that old soul that family is family, no matter what time brings. It means practicing the golden rule in its best way, knowing some day you, too, will need someone to love you even if you’re not as bright and shiny as you once were. It means choosing love and kindness over the glitter of youth. And it means being loved back by a little, old soul that still has the capacity to love, in spite of the suffering she’s endured – a love and gratitude that has grown far deeper with age.  


The Hierarchy of Lives: An Irate Call from a Bird Lover

Several days ago we took a call from a bird lover, irate over the practice of trap/neuter/return in her neighborhood. A certain cat in her neighborhood was, she claimed, a particularly prolific bird killer, and it was irresponsible of the animal rescues in Cincinnati not to . . . well, kill the cat. The call was similar to the other calls we received from bird lovers: the caller professed, herself, to be a cat lover; the caller feeds the birds - but imagines that to be a very different act than her neighbors feeding cats; she had collected “thousands” of feathers that she would bring to us as evidence of the cat’s sociopathy; she would report us to the Audobon/Facebook/Yelp for our irresponsible handling of the situation. There’s almost a script that these calls follow.

What struck me about the call – as what strikes me with all calls from people concerned about cats killing birds – is the concern not about life in general (as evidenced by her rabid insistence that we kill this cat), but only about very particular lives.  In the more than decade I have worked in animal rescue, I have never fielded a complaint about cats killing rats, mice, bats, bugs, lizards, voles, or even pigeons. Indeed, we have people call us specifically looking to adopt cats for their proclivity for killing “pest” animals on their property. The lives that matter, in this case, are the lives of one group: songbirds. The lives that matter are the lives of the beautiful creatures; the melodious creatures; the colorful creatures – the creatures that please our senses and our imaginations. These are the creatures we have defined as pure and guileless, innocent, worthy and important. We make angry phone calls at midnight to protect these creatures, even at the expense of the life of another creature. This life, they tell us, is more important than that life.

The other animals that fall prey to hunting cats, meanwhile, enter our imaginations as pests. They invade our houses, dig up our gardens, get in our food. They spread disease. They kill their young. They’re dirty. They ruin our property (these are, of course, all assignations that came after the prioritization – we ignore the destructive or dirty habits of the animals we like, while placing those behaviors in relief for the animals we don’t. People are quick to point out that raccoons and possums spread rabies – even though this doesn’t hold up to statistical scrutiny per the CDC – but seldom will call the police or shelter in a panic over avian cholera, pox, salmonella, or influenza, all able to be spread by wild birds). The calls we make about these creatures are to the exterminator. And, when cats fall into this “pest” category (for killing our beloved songbirds), we want them killed, too. There will be nary a word from the songbird lovers about the mass extermination of any other animal, including the overwhelming loss of the lives of cats and dogs in shelters. The angry calls about birds are not an expression of compassion for life; they’re not even an expression of environmental concern. These calls are an expression of bias, of a preference for and prioritization of lives that are specifically of interest and beauty to us.

Of course, the predator also falls into this hierarchy of lives. We don’t get angry calls when someone hits a bird with their car; when birds run into the windows of the new house built in their mating territory; when birds’ nesting sites suddenly become the perfect place for a new coffee shop. When the lives at the apex of our priority list – humans – cause the rampant destruction, there are no righteously indignant phone calls demanding someone pay with their head.

Lives should matter in equal measure. The idea that some lives matter more – that the pretty ones, or the sweet-sounding ones, or the delicate ones – is hugely problematic not only for how we treat animals, but for how we treat people.*

When you make that angry phone call, demanding that we kill a cat for you, please know: we love birds, too. We rescue birds who have been hit by cars (our president has missed meetings doing this very thing). We recognize their unique beauty (our shelter director and our community cats director go on annual birding trips). We mourn their loss, and we are working – hard, and every single day – to reduce the number of free-roaming cats.

But we care about them ALL – we care about the turtle and the squirrel that staff members rescued from roadways this month when they had been hit; the bat that a terrified volunteer, in spite of her fear, insisted be removed from her house humanely; the billions of animals killed for food that our overwhelmingly vegetarian/vegan staff members advocate for; and yes, the cats, even though they hunt other things we care very much about. We care about the lives of creatures that aren’t conventionally pretty, about the ones that don’t serve any purpose for us, about the ones that even creep us out. Most of all, we care about the vulnerable ones. While there is no reliable data for how many birds are killed by cats, we do know this: humans are killing cats in our shelters by the millions every year. So please, when you call us and demand that we kill one more life that isn’t worthy of your consideration, please understand that that life matters very much to us.


*This is all, of course, a none-too-subtle parallel to the priority of certain human lives, in focus now thanks to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Just as with animals, the taking of some human lives – the lives of those we deem “beautiful” or “delicate” or “pure”– garners more outrage than others. And, just as with animals, the taking of the lives of those who are deemed less important is justified by attributing “pest-like” properties to them – they are criminals, they are unemployed, they use drugs, they arrogantly ignore cops, they are “invasive species” (aka “illegals”), they are a threat to the beautiful lives. At the same time, we ignore or explain away those very same properties in the beautiful lives. Criminality becomes “mental illness,” drug use becomes “recreational,” riots becomes “community celebrations,” just as we ignore or explain away the “pest” properties of beautiful birds.


Happy Birthday Joanie Bernard Home for Cats!


Today, August 18, marks a milestone of sorts for OAR. It's the first anniversary of the dedication of our beautiful adoption center and shelter, the Joanie Bernard Home for Cats. The JBHC was made possible because of a grant from the Joanie Bernard Foundation and is named after a wonderful woman who loved cats and left a legacy that continues to help cats in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Columbus.  During its first year of existence, the new building has made a tremendous difference in the quality of life for the cats in our care and enable us to help hundreds of homeless cats and kittens by placing them in loving homes through our adoption program. This includes longterm OAR residents Betsy and Lily Tortie, both of whom had waiting 10+ years for homes of their own. Then there was Pony Boy Curtis, a sweet FIV+ boy found wandering in the bitter cold and set to be needlessly euthanized. He found a home with an adopter who arrived at OAR looking for "his new best friend." More recently, JJ, a sweet, visually impaired cat who spent far too long on the streets trying to survive before he ended up at OAR, also found a wonderful home where he receive plenty of attention and the best of care. And, the stories continue. That's why we continue to need the help of our wonderful friends and supporters. Because there will always be another Pony Boy, another JJ, another scared orphaned kitten or abandoned adult cat. There will always be another kitty in need who needs OAR, who needs you. Please help us continue to help cats like Betsy, Lily Tortie, Pony Boy and JJ by celebrating our first anniversary with a donation. As always, the cats and kittens of OAR are grateful and send purrs and head bumps as thanks. You can make a donation at


A Pep Talk from Your Foster Mom

Meera came to OAR in November, 2013, when cats who were living outside a pizza place in Batavia were threatened with extermination by the shop's owner. Meera was born with two shortened front legs (making it virtually impossible for her to survive on her own outside). She was nearly brought to a shelter to be euthanized because her caretaker thought her front legs were both broken. Fortunately, she made her way to OAR, and has been in a foster home since December. This is the pep talk her foster mom gave her the morning she was coming back to OAR's shelter in the hopes of finding her forever family.

I know you know what it feels like to be abandoned. I know you’ve felt unsafe, unsure, and unloved. Worse, I know that you’ve actually been unsafe and unloved, with an uncertain future. And I know you’re feeling that all over again now. I worry that, whatever circumstances left you out in the cold, in a commercial neighborhood in the middle of winter, with no way to defend yourself – I worry that it started out looking like this. That it started out with the person you loved and trusted pulling you out from under the comfy covers on your favorite bed, stuffing you in a carrier, and shutting the door behind you.  I worry that the panicked look you gave me is the same panicked look you had when you realized you’d been left behind, with no food, no shelter, and no way to fight off whatever predators (human or animal) came your way.

 But I want you to understand the difference. I promise you, we will never let you be in danger again. The next few days are going to feel rough. I hesitate to break this news to you, but you won’t have your own bed for a little while. And you won’t have your own person to snuggle up to in that bed at night, curling your tiny little body as close to mine as you physically could. At first, you’re going to have to hang out in a cage. And you’re going to meet a lot of new people that you’re not sure if you can trust yet. But listen: you can trust them. Let me give you some advice: that sweet little chirp you do, when you throw yourself on your back so I can rub your chin and belly? And that pose you do, when you stand up tall on your back legs like a meerkat? They’ll eat that stuff up – keep doing that, and you’ll get more treats than you get at home (the OAR volunteers are kind of softies).

But it’s not them you have to charm. You’re going to also meet some families who are looking for a kitty just like you. They might not know it when they first come to OAR – they might think they want a fluffy, cute kitten; or one of those fawning cats who throw themselves at adopters. So here’s where you have to work your magic. Because what they really want is a cat just like you. They want a little peanut, who has overcome such tremendous adversity. They want a kitty who doesn’t care that she was born with funny little legs that don’t work the same way other kitties’ legs do. They want a kitty that runs like a Komodo Dragon, and stands up tall on her hind legs when she’s feeling curious and checking out her digs. They want a kitty who greets her favorite person at the door by chirping, throwing herself on her side, and rolling around until she gets her beloved chin rubs. They want a sweet little girl who runs around and hops like a crazy bunny when she’s feeling playful. They want a tiny, furry little lady who likes to sleep under the covers, because that’s the best way for her to cuddle as close to her person as possible. And when they see you, I hope they’re going to see through your tough exterior – because I know, when you’re feeling nervous, you react by being a little hissy and using those funny little legs to swat the person you’re not so sure of. Do me a favor, and try not to do that. Try to show them just how special you are, and how much love you will bring to their home. And we promise to find you a family that will love you unconditionally and forever, so nobody pulls you out from under your favorite comforter on your favorite bed ever again.    


A Rainbow Bridge Over The Precinct

Mikey (in foreground) enjoys a snack at the Precinct colony.


Mikey, the last survivor of OAR’s first successful Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) colony, died at the age of 15 years on July 22 after a long life enriched by the loving care of Pam Stewart.

For the cats originally living behind the Precinct restaurant, TNR fulfilled its promise of food, water, shelter and oversight to support a healthy, safe outdoor life for feral cats until the colony disappears by attrition.

OAR fought to protect this colony from neighbors who threatened them despite efforts at education about TNR. Several volunteers attended community meetings and distributed educational materials describing TNR but eventually the colony had to be moved for its own protection. With support from OAR, Pam accepted her much-loved feral colony into her yard and cared for them faithfully.

Pam would like to express her gratitude to everyone who supported her through this experience. As she says, “OAR and I learned together about TNR and colony care. I am so grateful to have had help from people who care about me and the cats.”

Although every feral colony has its own special aspects and wonderful cats, as our first true success, the Precinct colony will always hold a special place in our hearts.