In West Philadelphia, Born and Raised

Meet the new addition to the OAR family - this gal has quite a story to tell!

In October, OAR's Executive Director got a call from Philadelphia Animal Care and Control (PACC) - yes, you heard us right, PHILADELPHIA Animal Care and Control. A cat had just come into their shelter with a microchip that was registered to OAR (microchips save lives, folks!). OAR microchips all of the cats that are adopted from our shelter, but the chip number that PACC provided was not in the records of our adopted cats. We finally found the microchip number in our spay/neuter clinic database - it was a microchip purchased by a client who had her cat fixed at OAR. The client had not yet registered the microchip in her own name, so the chip was still registered to OAR.

Of course, we immediately called the client, to give her the joyous news that her cat was found - in, uh, Philadelphia. Puzzled, the client responded "well yes, I did have my cat fixed and microchipped at OAR. But that cat isn't missing - she's right here!"

Somewhere along the way, a mistake had been made, by OAR, by PACC, or by the microchip company. But we knew that this baby girl was at a high-intake municipal shelter, and the future of cats in city municipal shelters is typically a bleak one. We worried about the likelihood of her being put down while we investigated the mystery. So rather than focus on the issue of the microchip, we mobilized to figure out how to get her from Philadelphia to Cincinnati.

Working with Philadelphia cat rescue group Kitty Cottage (and thank you to them, for their patience and kindness!), OAR was able to find out a bit more information about this little cat. She had been relinquished by her owners to the shelter, due to financial difficulties. She also had a tail injury that would require surgery. But, once the mandatory hold period was up, and the surgery was done, OAR could pick the cat up.

We had lots of plans in place - old college roommates were called in for favors ("even though you're in the middle of selling your house, could you please foster a cat for the week?"), sisters were called ("how comfortable are you taking a cat on the plane with you?"). We mulled over whether to fly or drive. We had multiple people ready to mobilize to pick up this little gal, who we now call Philly. Little Philly was supposed to join an OAR volunteer's sister on her flight from Philadelphia to Cincinnati. But Philly had other plans - busting out of her carrier before they could get on the plane - and both cat and sister missed their flight. After being fostered by a very compassionate neighbor, eventually Philly made her way to OAR by car, thanks to two of our wonderful OAR volunteers and their tremendously good-natured sister.

Philly is now safely at OAR, and is up for adoption, after a whirlwind month. She's a wonderfully curious kitty, who loves to talk, and is very appreciative of having her back scratched. Oh, and that microchip? Turns out, PACC had misread the number - the chip actually ended in a B, not an 8, and it was registered to the family that had surrendered her. No matter to us - a life saved is a life saved. And a lucky cat lived to tell her tale.



A Future with no OAR

Yesterday we got an email that started this way: "I was unable to get my cat spayed before she ended up pregnant for the first time."

The email goes on to detail the kittens that have been born as a result - though the email didn't detail them all, we counted at least 20 cats and kittens stemming from this single unspayed female. The person who contacted us explained that she couldn't afford to have them all fixed, and was looking for placement in OAR's shelter.

In 2009, OAR opened up the doors of its spay/neuter clinic to address just this issue. Knowing that, no matter how big a shelter OAR built, we could not house all the cats and kittens that needed to find homes, OAR's Board and volunteers hoped to stop the problem before it began. With this low-cost clinic, OAR took away cost as a barrier to having a cat fixed. We work with clients to ensure that cats are fixed, no matter how many a client may have or what their budget may be. We offer transport services to 20 locations, so that access to our clinic is convenient. In 2012, we will fix more than 8,000 cats in our clinic.

OAR would like to put ourselves out of business. We hope to see a day when our shelter is empty, and the calls and emails like this one no longer come in. Help us get to that goal! Let your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors know that there are resources to get their cats fixed. Remind them that cats reach sexual maturity as early as 4 months - so that "kitten" that you're waiting to fix could be pregnant before you do! Let them know that the cats they feed outside their house, though maybe not properly "their" cats, will still have babies that will come to their door for food - as many as 3 litters every year (that's a lot of cat food!). Assure them that there is no such thing as "unable" to get a cat fixed these days - OAR will work with anyone to make it happen. And make sure your own kittes are all fixed, too. It takes our whole community to make a difference in the lives of these cats - and it starts with you!  



Close Encounters of the Feral Kind

OAR, along with cat advocates all over the United States, celebrated National Feral Cat Day last week (October 16). Our staff and volunteers were excited to get back to our organization's roots - trap/neuter/return - and do a little good for the homeless cats in our city. But the zeal was taken out of our sails a bit when a fellow TNR group was faced with the following challenge: a long-established colony that volunteers had been feeding was threatened by a new renter who was moving into the neighborhood, and was demanding that all cats be removed. The group's volunteers had to scramble to trap the cats, but that was nothing in the face of a far bigger challenge: where to put them?

The issue this group faced is one that every TNR group has faced at some point - residents who, for one reason or another, prefer not to have feral or stray cats in their neighborhoods. Sometimes, neighbors advocating for removal of the cats are swayed by TNR logic. They hear and believe two central principles of TNR: 1) there is no place else for these cats to go, and 2) if there is no place else for them to go, and they can't stay here, then the other option is that they are killed. For those of us who embrace TNR, this argument seems like more than enough. But for some folks, the inconvenience of having cats nearby is of the greatest concern, and the outcome for the cats is not a compelling enough counter-argument.

In honor of National Feral Cat Day, and, more importantly, in honor of the lives of these remarkable, independent, resilient cats, we want to make the case for TNR again. We don't want to get bogged down in a debate about whether cats kill birds, and how many birds they kill (though if we do talk about that, we would like also to make honorable mention of the snakes, bugs, and rodents that fall prey as well!). We don't want to cite CDC statistics about the extent to which cats do or do not spread zoonotic diseases. We're not taking up the issue of whether and how you can dissuade unwanted cats (or other creatures) from entering your yards. We want to leave aside the issue of invasive versus non-invasive species. These are all important issues, but we think they pale in comparison to the one larger issue: these living, breathing, feeling, sensing creatures share the earth with us and with the millions of other creatures that make up this planet, and they have every right to do so. When we say "well, we just don't want them in our yard," or "we really aren't cat people," we are stating more than just a simple preference. We are denying the right of another living species to exist within our space.

In our country in 2012, the preference not to have cats (or any other living creatures) in your neighborhood has deadly consequences for those animals. When we call our municipal shelter to express dismay at the "stray" cats in our yard, the outcome for those cats, in almost every single case, is death. We are, then, saying more than just "we really aren't cat people." We are saying "the inconvenience we experience having these cats around is more important than their very lives." We are saying "we feel no obligation to live in harmony with other living creatures - it doesn't suit us." We are saying, in effect, that the diversity and beauty of the millions of living creatures on this planet is nothing in the face of the whim and fancy of humankind. 

Several months ago, our Executive Director was late for an appointment. When we called to check on her, she sounded upset. She was late, it turned out, because she had come across an injured bird in the road, and she was trying to rescue it. The case for TNR isn't coming from "crazy cat ladies." It isn't an emotional reaction to cute, furry kittens. It is a philosophy about how we share our world with other creatures. It is a commitment to live in harmony with the diversity of life on this planet, and to cherish and respect that life. It is a way of life for those who stop to rescue wounded birds, because we are stewards of this earth. 




Goodbye, Sweet Scruffer

We lost Scruffer on Tuesday - one of our beloved ferals, who we said goodbye to on National Feral Cat Day. You haven't seen pictures of this guy - he wasn't the most photogenic. His fur coat was usually pretty dirty, and his nose was usually a little runny, and no matter how many cans of wet food we sent his way, Scruffer was always pretty skinny. But Scruffer greeted our staff and volunteers every morning, awaiting his breakfast. He would sit patiently in the feral cat house - never the first of the OAR colony to get his food, just watching cautiously to make sure he got his share without us getting too close.

The staff and volunteers at OAR loved this boy fiercely, even though we had to love him from afar. Scruffer stayed feral to the end; we never mentioned to him about all the kisses and chin scratches he got while we had him under anesthesia to get him cleaned up and back to health over the summer! As Scruffer started getting sicker, all anyone at OAR wanted to do was scoop him up, bring him inside, and snuggle him. We never got the chance. But we gave him the best life we could give him, and were with him to say goodbye. We know Scruffer understood that he was part of the OAR family. We know he trusted us as much as he could trust anyone. And while it may not feel like enough to the OAR family right now, we just hope we did enough for this tough little guy. And we hope he understood that he was loved to the end.


The Value of a Life: Grace Love Munchkin's Story

On August 28, one of our volunteers came across a black cat dragging her back legs in the street. The volunteer, figuring the poor cat had been hit by a car, brought her into OAR. Her prognosis: the cat would probably need to be euthanized.

But OAR means it when we say we are "no-kill" - if a cat is mendable, and the mending will not cause undue suffering, OAR staff and volunteers will do what we can to give the cat a chance. And so, rather than ending her life that morning, the cat was taken to a veterinarian for x-rays and treatment. She became "OAR Cat Hit By a Car" at the vet's office (that's a name to remember!), and the x-rays revealed she had a badly broken back leg, broken tail, and fractured pelvis. In spite of the broken bones, though, there was no internal bleeding, and she was eating, drinking, and using her litterbox normally. There was hope!

Our glimmer of hope was dashed, though, when this sweet girl tested positive for FIV and Feline Leukemia. She would need to have her leg and tail amputated, but with the prognosis that a double-positive test gave her, all the vets we spoke to recommended euthanasia. The surgery would be hard on her, and the vets didn't think she would ultimately survive the recovery period.

We were faced with the toughest decision anyone in animal rescue ever makes: when to end an animal's life. The sweet little girl in front of us did not seem aware of the stakes; as she sat in her carrier, on the verge of losing her life, she just kneaded her blanket and purred softly. Her eyes were half-closed in contentment. In spite of her injuries and the pain she must have been in, in spite of the poking and prodding at the vets and at OAR, in spite of whatever hardships had led to her being alone and badly injured on that August morning, she had put her trust in us, and felt safe. The moment was heartbreaking.

We would like to tell you that the decision that followed was informed by science, or by medical experience. That we made the decision because there is a margin for error on the blood test for FIV and Feline Leukemia. That we have personally seen that margin of error play out with cats in our shelter, cats that have tested positive when they did not, in fact, have the disease. And while that's all true, what was at the foundation of our decision not to euthanize that cat on that day was our overriding commitment to the value of every animal's life, and our promise to every cat that comes into our care to do everything we can to give it a happy, comfortable, safe life from then on. The cats we see often haven't had that privilege before reaching our doors. They are cats that have been abandoned, neglected, left alone on the streets, and, in this case, injured badly and left to die. We owed this cat more.

And so our plan was simply to give her all the love and baby food we had, give her lots of kisses and belly rubs, and keep her pain-free while we determined her health status. And we finally gave her a name - Grace Love Munchkin.

Our commitment to Grace ended in the happiest way: a week after her initial FIV/FeLV test, we retested her, and she tested negative. Her bloodwork was looking good, so Grace Love Munchkin had her surgery and came through just fine. We didn't want to put Gracie Love up for adoption until we could confirm the negative test result, so we held her for a month - maintaining a constant diet of love and baby food, of course! - and tested her again. Grace Love Munchkin was, indeed, negative for FIV and Feline Leukemia. We had made the right decision.

Now, this bundle of fluff and love is available to be adopted. She has been a reminder to us every day since August of why we do what we do, and why we must take very seriously the care and commitment we give to these vulnerable creatures. She has been a reminder to us that every life deserves consideration and care - that lives are not a matter of numbers or dollars or convenience, but are individuals who knead their blankets and purr while you weigh their worth and their fate. We think she will help remind you of that too.

Grace Love Munchkin right after her surgery 

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