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Story of Mom Cat, Jake has a sad ending


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2000

It was the kind of story all writers like to do once in a while . . . a fluff piece. The cotton candy kind of story that starts out bad, ends up good and brings a tear to the eye and a tug at the heart. That was the story of Jake and Mom Cat, which ran on April 20.

Jake was one of eight puppies only a couple of weeks old, that had been abandoned in the woods and brought into the Citrus County Animal Control shelter, flea infested and anemic. Jake was the only surviver, and his chances were slim with no mother to care for him.

Mom Cat was a turn-in to the shelter when her elderly owner went to the hospital and the family didn't care to deal with the cat and her three newborn kittens. Mom Cat was presented with Jake and promptly adopted him.

When the story ran, several people called to adopt Jake. Nobody called about Mom Cat. But I figured she was good for a follow-up story that would find her a loving home. This is the follow-up story.

They are all dead.

Jake learned to nurse from Mom Cat, but her milk was too rich and he developed diarrhea, so shelter technician Debbie Ward took over his care. She fed him religiously every three hours, including through the night at her home, gave him medication and vitamins. He suffered through two seizures and two blood transfusions. But his future was already written by the fleas that had drained the life from his seven brothers and sisters, and he succumbed to the anemia.

"I cried like a baby," said Ward.

Mom Cat faced the same problem so many other animals do at the shelter: diseases brought in and spread by an ever-changing animal population. She developed an upper respiratory disease that failed to respond to antibiotics.

"She needed more care than we could give her," Ward explained. Soon her kittens were coughing. And they were all "humanely destroyed."

So my fluff story has turned into an obituary for five animals that could have offered love, loyalty and happiness to the lucky people who would have adopted them. And all because some people cared more about their convenience than about the lives of 12 living, breathing animals.

This isn't just about the animals. It's about the way our society has become programed to rid itself of that which encumbers it. We destroy the environment in the name of progress, our landfills are overflowing, trash lines our highways, we discard our babies with our garbage and toss our animals aside when they become an inconvenience.

On Saturday, the Humanitarians of Florida held Adoptathon 2000 to kick off their new location in Crystal River. It was a dream come true for this group that cares so deeply about animals. They invited the Animal Control to join the party and hoped for lots of adoptions to take place. Only four did.

Most of the folks on hand were members of the group. A few others came to look, pet the animals, then walk away.

When Frog, a pretty blond bulldog mix, was brought out to frolic with potential new owners she was on her best behavior, playing, asking for a tummy rub, and in general being the loving pet anyone should want. Then the couple walked away and the depression that settled on her was heartrending. Huddled against the fence, tail between her legs, her head was hung so low her chin brushed the ground. Her eyes held one question, "Will I ever find a home?"

The answer is "No." On Wednesday Ward had to put her down.

"I try to keep them as long as I can," Ward explained. "I let them tell me when it's time. When they become depressed and hide at the back of the cage, or their usual good disposition turns nasty, or they get sick, then it's time to put them down."

Frog told her it was time, but at least it was quick and painless.

In 1999 there were 4,982 euthanasias. Every year an average of 5,000 animals are euthanized -- a polite euphemism for killed. It's not easy on the techs at the shelter. I've known those who have left the job because of the pain and the nightmares.

Ward has the unenviable task of choosing, "This one lives. That one dies. I might as well be putting the needle in," she said. "It gets very depressing.

"We learn to love the animals that have been here three or four weeks. If they don't have someone to love them and take care of them, that painless injection is better than being left out in the woods or dropped off along the side of the road. There are a lot worse ways to go than euthanasia."

So what's the answer? How do we stop the fluff stories from becoming obituaries? How do we turn around what has become a dangerous trend, not just for animals but for us?

The Humanitarians hope to start a spay/neuter clinic. That will cut some unwanted births and eliminate some throw-aways and turn-ins. Maybe some of the numbers will drop at the shelter.

The county code requires all animals adopted from the shelter to be spayed or neutered before being picked up. The cost includes testing for heartworm or feline leukemia. It's a bargain considering the alternative.

We need to rethink our priorities and walk away from the "me first" syndrome that has plagued us for the past generation or so. Start teaching children the value and responsibility having of an animal companion. That will help them learn early the value of any life, human or otherwise.

If you are looking for a pet, go to the shelter or call the Humanitarians. Smokey, a beautiful black-smoke shorthair cat has been living with a Humanitarian volunteer foster parent just waiting to go home permanently. These people foster and socialize these animals just so you can have a great pet, and so another one doesn't have to die.

Jake and Mom Cat are gone, but their legacy lives on. It shows interspecies peace and harmony can exist. It shows animals have a lot of love to give. And it shows the cruel lengths we humans sometimes go to eliminate the inconveniences in our lives.

To help

For information on the Humanitarians of Florida, call 563-2370. They need volunteers and donations are welcome. Volunteers are also needed at the Citrus County Animal Shelter to walk the dogs, help clean the cages and in general make things a little nicer for the animals. Call the shelter at 726-7660.

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