Friday, January 29, 2010

Essay for Spay Day Contest

Just One Litter

“ Just one litter.” That’s what I heard the man say when I began to discuss spaying his female kitten. “We want her to have just one litter because it would be so educational for our children.” In my early years as a veterinary technician I held my tongue when I heard comments like this, afraid of offending or angering a client. Now, after nearly 14 years in the field of veterinary medicine, I have a different response.

Through the years I have heard many stories of sadness, stories of loss, stories of illness, stories of surrendering a much-loved pet. But the stories that are perhaps the most heartbreaking are the stories of the little lives that are lost before they have barely begun. These are the stories of the puppies and kittens who are tossed away because someone did not do the responsible thing and spay and neuter their pets. Innocent lives brought into this world and then disposed of because they are an inconvenience.

Meet Zoey, a big, beautiful calico cat. Zoey is now 10 ½ years old. Zoey would not be here today except for a stroke of luck. Zoey and 7 other newborn kittens had been placed in a backpack and tossed away at a local dump. Why the woman was at the dump that day and why she decided to pick up the backpack and look inside it we will never know. But she did. And there they were. Eight newborn kittens that needed desperately to be fed. Finding that caring for 8 kittens was a little too much to handle, she found friends that were willing to take one or two to care for. The woman who took Zoey to care for later decided it was just too time consuming. Zoey was brought to the clinic, was bottle-fed and raised to be the lovely cat that she is today. Just one litter.

Then there’s the story of Parker. Tiny, tiny Parker was found by a gentleman who was spending a Sunday afternoon at the park near the clinic where I work. He found her tied inside a plastic grocery bag and left there to die. He took her home, fed her, cleaned her up and brought her to the clinic because he wasn’t able to keep her. How many other kittens had been disposed of in this manner? Were they rescued by other caring people? Or did they die slowly inside their plastic bags? Just one litter.

Mia and Malcolm, brother and sister. Abandoned at the clinic. Sickly little barn cats that required medicines to treat their many medical issues. However, the person who “adopted” them did not want to spend any money on them so they were just left at the clinic. Now 7 years old, Malcolm is a huge affectionate boy. Mia is about half his size and is quite the talker. How many other little kittens were in the same condition they were in? The man who had brought them in had made a comment about them being the healthiest ones. I can only imagine what state of health the others were in. Suppose any of them survived? Just one litter.

Sweet Hailee. Found during a hail storm at my sister’s place in the country. Dumped there in the country to fend for herself. Hailee had a huge parasite burden and other medical issues. With many treatments of antiparasitic medications and with surgery, she overcame these hurdles. Had she been the only kitten left out on that country road? Had there been others? Just one litter.

Big beautiful Ben looks like a Russian Blue. I discovered Ben sitting in the neighbors driveway on the hottest day of summer several years ago. I had heard from the young girl next-door that there was a little gray kitten roaming the neighborhood. I decided this must be the one she was talking about. I tried to be tough. I did not need another cat. But when I heard his pitiful cries and saw him sitting out in the heat panting I just couldn’t leave him there. Where had he come from? Why wasn’t anyone looking for him? Were there others that needed to be brought in out of the heat? Just one litter.

Danni and Elliott, two tiny kittens found in a backyard on a cold fall night. They were found by the family dog who refused to go in the house until someone rescued these two tiny creatures. Cold and hungry, all they wanted was a warm place to be and food in their tummies. Just one litter.

Stanley and Iris, two of a litter of 5 kittens discovered under a building, cold, hungry and alone. Where had their mother gone? It is a hard life for a feral cat. She could have been hit by a car, taken by a bird of prey, mauled by a dog. The list goes on and on. Fortunately, their hungry cries did not go unnoticed and they were rescued. Now all five have been adopted into loving homes. But it makes me think about the orphaned litters that are not discovered. What about them? Just one litter.

One of the most heart breaking stories I have ever heard, though, is the one about a lone surviving kitten. He had been found clinging to the rim of a 5-gallon bucket. The bodies of his littermates were floating in the water that was put in the bucket to drown them. He had survived by standing on the bodies of his littermates and clinging to the rim of the bucket. He was cold, wet, terrified and hungry. He did not deserve this. Nor did his littermates. Just one litter.

There is a saying that goes, “We are responsible for that which we have tamed.” We are a species that is supposed to be intelligent enough to know better than to treat fellow creatures in this manner. We are a species that has the capability to show great compassion and caring. We have the capacity to love and show respect to those that share the planet with us. Let’s start doing it.

Now when I hear the words, “Just one litter”, I tell them that perhaps a trip to the local shelter would be a better educational tool for them. Show their kids what happens with just one litter. I tell them that if they feel their children really need the experience of watching kittens being born, perhaps they should foster a pregnant cat from the shelter. They are always wanting foster homes for their pregnant cats so those babies aren’t born at the shelter where they could possibly be exposed to disease. I ask if they have homes for these kittens and if not, perhaps they should take a look at the many, many ads in the local newspaper for free kittens and figure out how they will find homes for their kittens when there are already so many needing homes.

The stories told here are just a few of the many. Undoubtedly, there are countless stories left untold. Untold because nobody found the orphaned litter under the building or the backpack full of kittens, or the bucket of drowned kittens. Nobody found the tiny waif along the side of the country road. Nobody found them; and nobody cared for them; and nobody will tell their stories. They die unnoticed and unloved. Just one litter.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of faith…

I work at a veterinary clinic as the receptionist. The day that I started working there, I had 2 dogs. Today I have 5 dogs, 12 cats, 3 rabbits a guinea pig and too many fish to count. I promised my husband that I wouldn’t let the cat count go over 12 (there have been up to 16 here at a time). The last cat that adopted me showed up in my back yard in the early spring a year ago…

I had seen her several times when I went out to take care of my rabbits. I would catch a glimpse of her tail as she dashed in and out of the corrugated fiberglass cover that my husband had put over his koi pond for the winter. I thought she was a squirrel—her tail was the same color as the squirrels that raid my birdfeeders and frequent the pond all year as a water source. Then one morning as I was in the yard tending the bunnies I got this strange feeling that I was being watched—it was very early—still dark in western South Dakota. My house is situated on a small lot and my neighbors are very close—I am often observed by the elderly residents that live in the apartment building next door to me when I am in my yard. But this felt so odd, I looked around but saw nothing—then I heard her cry. One soft faint plea for help. She was on the deck, sitting behind the lattice work that supports gorgeous roses and lush grape vines all summer. It was now draped with the remainders of last years’ growth—tangles of dried vines and brown leaves. I studied the deck for several minutes but saw nothing. After a few minutes I realized that there were a pair of amber eyes locked on to mine. Then she spoke again—this time a little longer and a bit louder. Softly I spoke to her—“Are you hungry sweetie?” She just sat there—stonelike. I went inside, opened a can of wet food, put it on a plate and scooped up a bowl of dry food. This took a few minutes, I figured she would have been spooked by something and would be long gone by the time I returned. When I came back outside she had not moved a muscle. It was like she knew—finally someone was paying attention and was going to help her. When I put the food down she went down the steps off of the deck and sat down again to watch me. Okay, I thought, she’s feral. She will maybe eat this meal and be off. I left the food and went back in to get ready for work. I didn’t think about her again that day or even the next morning until she repeated the performance of the day before. The bowl and the plate were empty. This time she let me pick her up and started purring for a few moments—then she jumped out my arms and sat a few feet away from me. She spoke again—a little louder, and with a sense of urgency and conviction. I again filled her dishes and went about my day. I did worry about her during the day because I had been listening to the weather report—one of South Dakota’s typical spring storms was predicted to hit the next day. I think my little visitor listened to the same broadcast. That night when I got home I bundled up my bunnies in their cages and looked for the little cat—she was in the same spot on the deck—watching me—intently. As I bent down to pick up the dishes she rubbed against my arm and looked pleadingly into my eyes. That one look spoke the plain and simple truth—“ Please help me—I’ve been on my own for months, there is a huge blizzard coming, and…I’m pregnant.”

I picked her up, took in the house and set her up in the apartment in my basement with a bed, a huge bowl of dry food, a can of wet food and water. My little apartment has been used as a maternity ward several times. I have lost track of the number of kittens that have been born here—they were all placed in good homes—a few stayed on here as permanent residents. I named her Faith—because she had a lot of it. The predicted blizzard showed up. But she , and her unborn kittens were safe and warm.

About a week after she moved in I figured out where she came from. There is a small house next door to us that had been empty for awhile—the owners moved out quickly on Easter Sunday. On my walk with the dogs one day I noticed that the door was standing open. I live in the historic district in my town. The neighborhood is a hodge podge of rentals and owner occupied homes—there have been several incidents of vandalism. So I thought that I would just shut the door. When I looked in the living room, I was amazed by the piles of stuff that were on the floor—clothing, furniture—you name it. Later that day my husband and went into the house and found the evidence of a cat having been there—broken carrier, empty litter box a spilled bag of litter in the kitchen. The owners had defaulted on the mortgage and had left quickly only taking the possessions with them that were valuable. Evidently a little pregnant cat was no more important than the old coat that was on the floor. She had been on her own for about a month before she made her presence known to me.

About 2 weeks after she came, on Mother’s Day, Faith delivered a beautiful litter of 6 kittens. She was an awesome little mother—so young herself, but managed her family quite well. So, now I had 16 cats in my house—not good. I started bringing the kittens to work with me to try to find potential adopters for them with not much luck. As they got older, I was getting worried. I can usually place kittens easily, but this time I was striking out. Then the veterinarian that owns the hospital I work at saved the day. Her parents live on a ranch and all of the barn cats were getting elderly and several had recently passed away. She said that her mom would take the entire litter. And what a home they would have! They have a mobile home on the property that is used for the cats. Imagine that—“barn” cats with their own house! Her mom goes down to the trailer every morning to have coffee with the cats-what a deal. I hated to see them go—they were all long haired fluffy beautiful cats, but I could not have any more cats. And I still had Faith to deal with.

After the kittens were gone, I started working her into the the rest of the population. But it didn’t go well—it is really hard to introduce an adult cat into an established society. There was a lot of howling, fighting, and urine marking. Needless to say, my very patient husband was getting a little testy about this situation. After she was spayed and vaccinated, I decided that my home was not the best place for her. Again, one of the other vets in our practice stepped up. She was also in need of a good barn cat and agreed to take her. So Faith’s story ended well—one of a very few that do. She was given a good home and all of her kittens found a wonderful place. They were all spayed and neutered so they will not add to the problem. As for the people who left their little pregnant cat behind—I believe that people are basically good, and that sometimes circumstances arise that make humans do really stupid things. I have forgiven them for abandoning their trusting loving cat. As we have all been taught since we were children…”and these three things remain: Faith. Hope. And Love. And the greatest of these is Love.” But in this case, it was Faith.


Essay for Spay Day Contest Officially Open.
Inspire others, including rural residents, to spay/neuter their pets or feral cats. Write an essay on that topic,  email your essay to
 Winners will be announced on Feb. 23, Spay Day!
Prizes include DoubleHP logo tshirts, notecards, and calendars
Spay Day is The Humane Society of the United States' and Humane Society International's annual event to inspire people to save animals' lives by spaying or neutering pets and feral cats. Spay Day officially takes place on the last Tuesday of February—but events will be running all through the month! The 16th annual Spay Day will be Feb. 23, 2010.
This, from the website. "Many people are surprised to learn that nationwide more than 3 million cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters. Spay/neuter is the only permanent, 100 percent effective method of birth control for dogs and cats."

There are hundreds and hundreds of Spay Day events scheduled throughout the nation in February. As of this post, only two organizations in South Dakota have received eligibility.
Our 501c3 nonprofit organization, Horse Help Providers Inc., and the other is Pet Pawz Clinic in Emery, SD
Pet Pawz is offering low-cost spay/neuter for dogs and cats Feb. 15-Feb. 27.
You should call them to schedule though. Phone: (605) 421-4855 or Email:

If I were going to write an essay, I would probably tell the story of some of my rescued cats. Maybe Eli. Eli didn't always look like he does in that tree photo above.

This was my journal entry from Dec. 3, 2007, the night we found Eli in our barn. Looking like this:

This is Eli. Named Eli because he is thin and slimy and black, like an eel. He does NOT have rabies. And, he also is not wild. He magically appeared at my house though, as so many of them do. But when they are friendly and nice, I believe they deserve a chance.
Was he someone's house cat? Or what? He is skinny skinny skinny. And, well, snot everywhere. Eyes, nose, mouth.
I am going to tell you what makes me the most mad about this. What if I didn't vaccinate my barn cats? They would all end up like this. The Vet thinks we are dealing with a viral thing. Can't remember the name of it, but a very common thing to vaccinate for. And if my kitties weren't vaccinated, well, does this look contagious to you? I don't think living in the country means you don't have to spay and neuter. I know that some people have no idea where some of their kittens end up. THEY END UP LIKE THIS, OKAY? They go over to the neighbors' house and they make other cats sick! and it makes the neighbors mad! My barn cats are all vaccinated, all dewormed, all spayed & neutered. All of my barn cats are someone else's fault. But I know that if I don't take care of them, they will be sick and I will have kittens everywhere and they will be sick too. And then they will go over to the neighbors' house and make their cats sick too!

When we moved in here there were 6 wild female cats in the barn. Of course they all had kittens. I found new homes for 30 some kittens that first summer. We tamed a few of the mamas and got them spayed. The others just disappeared or stuck around and had more kittens, which I captured when they were 4.5 weeks old, not wild yet, and taught them how to be house cats and then found them homes as house cats. Eventually, after a few years, our cat herd was under control!

If I can do it, anyone can. It is important. SPAY & NEUTER AND VACCINATE YOUR CATS! Healthy barn cats can live for a long time!