Friday, March 12, 2021

 I mentioned in my last post that I had started volunteering with an animal rescue – which is a bit of an understatement because as is typical for me I threw myself into it with wild abandon and very quickly went from “just” fostering “a few” kittens to having a finger in waaaaaaaaaaaay too many pies. At this point, there really isn’t much going on at the rescue that I’m not involved in to one degree or another and during the height of kitten season I had as many as sixteen cats and kittens in my home. (That…was nuts. Fun! But also nuts.)

It’s been an amazing experience. I had no idea what-all went on behind the scenes in the animal rescue world, from the sheer volume of “unwanted” pets in our sleepy little town to the downright insane costs involved in upgrading them from ‘unwanted’ to ‘beloved pet.’

One of the things I found the most surprising was that the adoption fees only cover about half of the actual cost to rescue these babies. Like everybody else who has forked over $100 or more to adopt a kitten from a rescue, I assumed that my fee was actually more than the “true cost” of getting that kitten into my hands.

After all, the animals themselves are usually free, right? Found in boxes and bushes, sent over from an overwhelmed city shelter, turned in by people who do not want a bunch of feral babies living in their garage – how much could it possibly cost to feed them for a month or two, get them fixed, and get them up for adoption?

It’s true that if everything went absolutely perfectly for every single rescued pet, we would at the very least break even and possibly even make a few bucks on each adoption. (At least on the cat side. The puppies are a whole different level of expensive, and I doubt we’d be able to even break even without pricing 99% of our adopters out of the equation.)

But we’re a rescue. We’re the people the city shelter will reach out to in desperation when they have pets come in that they aren’t equipped to save themselves – the ones who are too young to survive without specialized, round-the-clock care. The ones who are injured and need expensive surgery or other extreme care to recover. The ones with psychological issues, born to feral mothers or having suffered at the hands of “bad” owners, who need a lot of extra time and effort to turn around.

While we do sometimes get those “perfect” kittens who come to us healthy, happy and well-adjusted…they’re the exception, not the rule. Most of them come to us at the very least suffering from upper respiratory and/or eye infections, heavy parasite loads, and malnourishment. 

Far too many of them come in with even worse problems; Cherry Darling is a perfect example.

We have no idea what happened to her leg before she came to us (our best guess is that she tangled with a car), but it was bad and the leg had to be amputated ($1800 even with a rescue discount). It took about six weeks for her to recover (roughly $400 in supplies and medications), and to receive her spay operation ($70).

Her adoption fee? Still $135, just like every other kitten her age.

There is an elephant in the room on this deal, a question that everybody is thinking but is reluctant to put out there: Is it worth saving kittens like her? Wouldn’t it be better to simply put them down? Sure, euthanasia isn’t free so we’d still be “losing” between $200 and $500 bucks on that deal depending on which vet did the deed, but, isn’t that better than throwing over two thousand dollars into saving her?!

Believe me, we are forced to ask that question over and over again…our decision making process is exactly the same as it would be for our own beloved pets and the primary question to be answered is what is the expected outcome?

If they are going to be able to fully recover and live long, healthy lives then we will choose to fight on.

If all we’re doing is buying them a little more time that is going to be full of pain and misery…we will authorize the vet to let them go.

But I understand where people are coming from when they think we should be more focused on minimizing the cost – the world is full of big problems, and there are always more needs to be filled than there are dollars to throw at them. And with so much human suffering, is it right to be spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to save just one (1) kitten?

I can respect those who disagree with me that it is worth doing, but would humbly submit that saving companion animals is also saving humans – not in a direct physical way, granted, but, well, hear me out.

I facilitated over five hundred cat adoptions last year – I’ve seen over and over again how uplifting and healing it can be for people to welcome a furry ball of unconditional love and trust into their lives. I’ve seen people grinning from ear to ear, or even breaking down into tears of joy as they clutched the pet they’d just adopted to their hearts.

I often get updates after they’ve gone home, too. So many stories of kids who have found it easier to cope with distance learning with their new kitten purring on their lap while they work, of lonely adults who feel less isolated and alone with their kitty sleeping in a bed on their desk while they work, of families drawn together by sharing the duties around their new puppy.

And for me personally, well, there’s this guy.

Tagalong here was also one of the “expensive” kittens whose cost to rescue way exceeded his adoption fee. He came into rescue at only two weeks old, and not only needed to be bottle fed every few hours around the clock for a couple weeks (kitten formula runs $25 for a 12-ounce cannister of powder, so it adds up in a hurry when we have to bottle feed!), but also needed stitches for a leg wound.

He then came down with a raging case of calicivirus that ultimately required three rounds of increasingly intense antibiotics to treat the side effects of the virus, and several trips to the emergency vet for things like spiking fevers, astonishingly intense diarrhea, and nasty infected mouth sores that made it impossible for him to eat or drink.

Was he worth all that extra time and money to save? I’d say so, because he rescued me from an intense grief over losing my sweet little Pooh Bear the previous year. I’d never had such a deep emotional bond with a cat before she came along, and just couldn’t get over suddenly losing her to feline infectious peritonitis at only nineteen months old.

There was a lot of ugly-crying, and every time I thought I was finally past that phase of grieving…nope, suddenly thought of her and here come the next round of waterworks…

And then suddenly, here was this foster kitten crawling into her spot at night. Insisting that I arrange the sheets into a little ‘nest’ for him, just as she had always done. Suckling on my shirt exactly as she did. Following me everywhere I went. Interjecting himself into every moment of my day as if he thought it was his sacred duty to do so.

He didn’t “replace” her – but he definitely filled up that big empty space and make me feel whole again.

There are two sides to rescue: The animals who are in need, and the humans who need them.

By caring for the former, we are also caring for the latter.

It’s worth doing. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Every year...

Every year, I get the notification that the domain registration is due for this all-but-forgotten blog domain. 

Every year, I go through the same thought process: Should I even keep this? I haven't blogged anything in literally years, maybe it's time to just let it go

And then I go ahead and pay it, because I can't stop believing that eventually, I will get back to blogging again. 

OK. Y'all. I just wrote 68 words, and was interrupted five times. FIVE. People shouting to each other right outside my door. Coming into my office with announcements. Asking me if I bought the stuff from the place on the link that they sent me. Weaving complicated webs of who is going where and with whom and for how long

That settles it. I have to keep this Den of Chaos domain. It isn't just a cute little phrase, it is my entire life condensed into three little words. 

So. I suppose I should try to catch things up a bit... 

All but one of the Denizens are now legally adults, but are all still living here with us...which brings its own set of challenges as they appear to have stepped into Krazy Glue and have been unable to leave the nest. One of the most frustrating things about the COVID-19 fiasco has been that my daughters who had just discovered their wings got them clipped right as they were learning to love being able to soar on their own. 

"Go forth, my children, and enjoy your freed-...wait, no, come back and stay put..." 

I left my job with MegaBank almost two years ago due to a very long and complicated list of reasons, and have been volunteering full time with an animal rescue since shortly after I turned in my badge. 

Over the course of 2020, I was able to upgrade the technology for the rescue, redesign the website, digitize a decade worth of paperwork, facilitate over five hundred cat and kitten adoptions in 2020, fostered thirty-two kittens, and took over the role when our treasurer left us. 

I really wish that more people could have this kind of "gap period" experience, especially people like me who have "expensive" skills. The barrier to entry for most itty-bitty nonprofits isn't the price of the software or hosting, it's the salaries of people like me to set them up and maintain them that puts them out of reach. It's been an absolute delight to spend my days doing not only what I love to be doing, but for a cause that is near and dear to my heart.

Plus, I get to have kittens in the house almost all the time. #LiterallyBestPerksEver.

Volunteering also did wonders for my burnout, which had gotten really bad before I left MegaBank...but before you jump to conclusions, it wasn't my job that did it to me. It was the home front that had worn me down to the point where I just didn't have a drop of fuel left in the tank.

If I'm honest, I'm still smoldering a bit. It took a long time for my burnout to start mimicking depression, so I guess it is only reasonable to expect that it will take an equally long time for me to regain my energy and interest in doing things, but, well, patience has never exactly been my strong suit.

The garden is in ruins. The house isn't much better. I have a lot of work to do if I want to get things back to where they were back in 2016, before the burnout started eroding away both my physical ability and emotional interest in keeping on top of things. 

Guess it's time to roll up my sleeves and get going. I know what I want my life to look like, and I'm not going to get there by sitting here grousing about the steps not doing themselves.