repercussions of being a crazy cat lady's daughter: Part II

I started this story in a previous post, but it somehow feels more possible if I break it up a bit. Probably better for you, dear reader, as this is definitely an indulgent long one.

You can read Part I here.

Part II: The Surrender
(or, how to feel like the most awful person in the world)

Trigger Warning: This is sad and may make some people cry

When my mother got sick in October of 2014, I started taking care of all of those cats. My mom's partner was disabled, and the nurse who came to care for him couldn't care for animals. When I was in town, which I was much of the time for the months that she was in the hospital, then the rehabilitation home, I cared for them. When I had to return to SF to actually work, I paid for someone else to come take care of them.

After a few weeks, it became apparent that my mom wouldn't be well enough to return the house. I convinced her that if she did get well enough to leave the rehab facility, she would still need to be in a retirement apartment of some sort. In the few of those places that do allow pets, they only allow one. Mom chose to keep her small dog, and I promised I would take care of the cats. By mid-December, it was clear to us that my mother would probably need full-time care in the nursing home for remainder of her life, and I went home to clean out the house.

Mom's partner had just moved into the nursing home with her, and I ended up only having about a week to clean out a 2 bedroom home in which my family had lived for more than 35 years. By myself.

I had spent the last couple of months looking for homes for the cats to no available. I called every sanctuary in the region - as far as Arkansas and Oklahoma - and I begged pretty much everyone I knew with a farm. I had thought a supposed friend of my mom's would have at least let them live in her barn if I paid for the food, but at the last minute she told me all she would do is open the doors for them. I thought as a last resort I could take them to the local no-kill shelter my mom had supported for years, but I harshly found out they don't accept surrenders. After spending some time there with all the cats who really wanted to be loved and pet, I honestly wasn't sure that was a bad thing. My mom's cats really only loved her.

And now I need to step back for a moment. I had spent quite a bit of time in my mom's house over the previous two years. I had SAVED Hannah and bottle fed her myself, but she wouldn't come near me. Brett curled up on me and let me love her, but her niece Precious wanted nothing to do with me. And then there was Caleb. Caleb wanted to know me. He wanted to find out about me. But he'd never let anyone other than Mom or her partner pet him. Remember, this is the kitten my mom saved from the driveway and bottle fed because he wasn't weaned. I had spent hours sitting there talking to my mom, intentionally leaving a hand dangling down so Caleb would come up and sniff it. I was so proud the few times he actually let me touch the top of his head before he ran off. Once, Mom handed him to me in an attempt to show him I was okay. The skin on my arms and chest did not survive that encounter. Yet, I had this need for him to love me. I seriously debated taking him back to SF. If I hadn't adopted Gracie and Nolan before this all went down, I probably would have. I loved that elusive little guy.

All to say that I knew that these cats wouldn't be easily adoptable. Hannah and Brett were both 12 years old, and Precious was only a couple of years younger.

I called animal control, in hopes of guidance and in hopes of borrowing some traps to catch the cats that didn't want to be caught. The guy on the phone told me I'd be better off taking a 22 in and doing it myself. He told me what kind of poison I could buy to leave around the house. Looking back, he was probably right, but I knew I was losing my mom and I just couldn't do that. I called the Humane Society and they agreed to accept them for a small fee and a big dollop of judgment, but they clarified that they would most likely have to euthanize all but Caleb, who I told them was only a few years old.

So I waited. I slowly removed everything from the house. My dad's best friend came and hauled away a full truckload of junk, and I left dozens of giant trash bags for the weekly pickup. Once I got enough stuff out of the house that I didn't feel that cats could hide as well, I decided to try to catch them. Brett was easy, she just let me pick her up and put her in the laundry basket. The others were much more difficult.

After about an hour of trying to catch the cats, I finally got a hold of Caleb. Understandably, he was terrified. I held on tight as he ran by, and he leaned back and sank his teeth into my hand. I tried not to let go - I knew I had traumatized the poor guy - but it hurt so much and I was afraid he'd do it again. I let him go.

Another quick step back - some of you may know this, but in 2011 I was bit by a cat and came a lot closer to dying than I'm comfortable with repeating. I spent 4 days in the hospital hooked up to an IV while they tried 8 different antibiotics and had me sign consent forms to remove my finger to ease the infection. So you might say I'm a little more scared of cat bites that some people.

I cursed myself and decided to wait until the next day to try again. I figured I could get more of the stuff out of the house and trap them in a room and try again.

And then my hand swelled up like a balloon. It hurt like a mofo and I knew I was in trouble. So the next morning, instead of spending valuable time clearing out the house, I went to urgent care. I explained the situation to the doctor, who was amazing. First of all, he assured me that cat bites turning into major infections were super common, but that he wouldn't let this one get as bad as the other one. Then he told me I should have just taken a 22 to the cats. He told me given how swollen it was, I'd probably have to stay in the hospital for a night or two, but we had some time to try to ward it off. Then he gave me a giant shot in my butt, a bunch of antibiotics, and traced the line of the infection. My instructions were to not use my right hand at all, to keep it elevated, and to go to the ER and have them page him if the infection went more than an inch past the line he'd drawn.

During this time, I was also trying to spend as much time with my mom as possible. So of course she noticed the bandage on my hand and felt horrible when I told her what happened. She felt like it was all her fault and told me we could wait until she could go to the house to help me catch the cats.

But I knew that my mom was never going to the house again.

So I went back to the house. I realized I had a limited time before my hand was so swollen I couldnt use it, and I still had half a house to pack up. I decided I could hire someone to put traps out for the cats later if I had to, so I worked until the fever set in.

Before I got so sick I couldn't, I made the almost hour-long drive back to my friend's house where I was staying. The infection wasn't past the line, so after a long teary conversation with my friend about how I didn't have time to go to the hospital, I decided to fight through and just get some rest. I went to sleep terrified that I was going to wake up and have to go to the hospital. I fell asleep feeling like I've failed at everything

Thankfully, I woke up and the infection was down a bit. I spent the next day slowly packing up the house in between visits with Mom. The last day possible, I decided to try again with the cats.

I had a laundry basket with a lid, a box, a couple of blankets that smelled like Mom for them, tons of treats, and a bunch of duck tape. Again, Brett was easy. She was happy to curl up in a box and wait. I chased the remaining three cats into the bedroom with the least furniture left in it, I armed myself with work gloves, and I grabbed a big towel. I wish I could tell the story in the way that shows the humor in this moment. Maybe someday I'll be able to. If it was me catching them to take them to the vet, I could have you rolling in laughter. But I wasn't catching them to take them to the vet. And I can't make light of what it really was.

I spent 3 hours chasing cats in circles around a room and grabbing them with towels, forcing them into a box, and trying to hold them in there without hurting them. It was terrible.

The drive to the Humane Society took over an hour - it's far on the north side of Springfield. I cried the whole way. The woman I had spoken to about the cats saw my face and realized that I wasn't deserving of the judgment she'd given me on the phone. I filled out the paperwork for each cat. I paid the surrender fee. They told me they'd most likely have to euthanize all of them, but if they could socialize Caleb they would him up for adoption. They noticed the bite, and they told me they would definitely have to euthanize the cat who bit me. I told them Hannah did it because I knew she'd be euthanized anyway. I didn't want to hurt Caleb's chances.

I leaned down to say goodbye. Hannah and Precious were in one box and had no desire to be touched, so I just told them I was sorry through the cracks.

Brett and Caleb were in the laundry basket. Brett kept reaching up against it to be rubbed me. I hesitantly reached in to hold her, and Caleb didn't seem to mind, so I pulled her to me for awhile. I talked to both Brett and Caleb while I was doing this and I told Caleb I needed him to be friendly. I told him if he was friendly he might get adopted. I PRAYED - and I don't pray - for him to be friendly with them. All of a sudden he came forward and pushed his head against my hand. He was obviously scared, but he let me pet him. For the first time ever, Caleb let me pet him. It was a beautiful goodbye.

I can only hope he did the same with the technician who took them. I like to think that being in the basket with Brett led him to follow her cues. I like to think they saw how beautiful he was and were patient with him.

One of the conditions of surrender to most shelters is that you give up the right to know what happens to the animal. You legally sign away your right to know if they find a home or if they are killed. I know what happened to the other three. I know I saved a kitten in 2003 who I ended up loving and naming Hannah, and then surrendering to be euthanized in 2015. I know I took the cats my mom viewed as the gifts of her relationship with her best friend to be euthanized. But I hope, I HOPE, that I took Caleb to be adopted. I don't ever get to know.

And this is what I dream about. I dream about saying goodbye to animals who never asked for this.

And in awful twist of meanness, I hope that Brett went out getting pet and loved, and that Caleb, if they did euthanize them, bit the hell out of them first.

repercussions of being a crazy cat lady's daughter: Part I

I've been trying to write this for a long time. Every time I start, I stop and push it back. Tonight I decided I needed to get it out. Maybe if I put it here the nightmares will stop. Or maybe, at a minimum, someone out there will at least have a better understanding of why I have nightmares every single night.

The dreams aren't always about cats, but more often than not the worst ones are. It's always been that way. This won't be short.

Part I: The History 
(or, the part where you think I'm just going to talk a lot about cats)

Growing up, we lived on about an acre in a family-oriented neighborhood close to the middle of a small town. We always had cats, and more often than not they were indoor-outdoor cats. When I was born there were two: Babsy and Boots. Babsy was my brother's big blue tabby cat. I used to draw pictures of her with my blue and purple crayons.

Boots was an asshole siamese that didn't love having a toddler in the house who wanted to bug her all the time, but she was named after one of my favorite people on earth, so I loved her anyway. My first real memory of losing a pet was when the neighbor stopped by to tell my mom that she had hit and killed Boots. I don't remember being that sad.

But then there was Thomasina. Thomasina was a boy, but I refused to call him Thomas because I was in love with the movie. A neighbor saw him try to jump across the main road and hit the side of a delivery truck. I told Mom I wanted to see him one last time. I shouldn't have looked. His face was completely flat, and it still haunts me.

Then my dad let Timothy out on my 8th birthday. Timothy had never been outside, and he never came back. I'm still not sure I've forgiven Dad for that one, although I'm pretty sure Timothy went to live at a neighbors house who just fell in love with him and denied that he was stray when we asked.

That's probably when the first nightmares started. We had several other cats, and I started waking up screaming telling Mom that someone had returned Timothy's body and it was in the mailbox. I started crying in the middle of the night thinking that the other cats were going to disappear.

As a teenager, L.D., one of my most beloved cats, disappeared. Mom thought she saw his white fur toward the edge of the property, and thought the neighbor's dogs got him. She only admitted that later, though. For months she told me someone stole him because he was so beautiful. I was devastated, and honestly, so was she. I had dreams about him all through my freshman year of college.

We had other cats, Katie, Pepper, Bart, Gatsby - all who lived long happy lives in our home.

After college I briefly moved home, and a couple of pretty important things happened the few months I lived with my mom. Mom's best friend, Pat, had found kittens in her yard - beautiful kittens who looked like furry monkeys with giant eyes - and needed to find homes for some of them. Mom adopted two. I named them Brett (she was dignified and elusive, like her namesake from The Sun Also Rises) and Mallory (she would climb up to the highest point she could get and strand herself, never coming down unless we rescued her).

Shortly after we brought these guys into our house, I walked into work at Silver Dollar City and found that the sawmill guys were about to shoot some kittens. They had found a pack of feral kittens whose mother had "abandoned" them (or maybe she was scared of the big loud men with guns and ran away?) The kittens were under a shed, and some of them had already died or been killed. My arms were just long enough that I could get to them (and they were MAYBE 4 weeks old - too small to hurt me with their bites). I pulled out three tiny little beautiful kittens and kept them in a box all day. I ended up finding a home for one of them during the course of the day, and took the other two home to place them later. Of course, we ended up keeping both Talulah and Hannah.

I have great memories of hanging out with my mom and Pat, the four kittens, and Gatsby, the remaining grown cat. I moved out of the house a couple of months later. Talulah disappeared one night - she'd never been outside and she never came back. Mallory got out before Mom spayed her and ended up having a litter of kittens that all died except one. My mom's partner named it Precious - it's important to be clear that I would never do that to an animal - and they kept it.

Mom and Pat were both recent breast cancer survivors, and a couple of years later Pat got really sick. She died from complications of treatment. I don't think my mom ever recovered.

Right after that Mallory died, and something changed for my Mom.

She had always taken care of strays when she felt it was needed, but she started caring for a few of them to the extent that twice a day she was leaving out a bowl of dry food and a bowl of wet food, and they all started letting her pet them. One day she found that one of the strays had kittens - 3 of them were in the driveway. A dog had gotten to them and only one was still alive. Mom saved it, bottle fed it, brought it back to life. Like she had with so many other things while I was growing up. That cat became Caleb. He was one of the most beautiful cats I'd seen, with crazy big curious eyes.

Mom found it entertaining that she'd get the occasional opossum or skunk feeding at her house. She ended up feeding a litter of 5 identical cats, only two of which would let her get close. There was a gross-looking orange and white cat outside, and another cat that lived outside that my mom named Rags - ugly little fucker. There were a couple others who came over occasionally, but those were the ones I knew.

The last couple years, Mom had 4 indoor cats and 7 outdoor cats that she had fixed and vaccinated and felt responsible to feed. For years I'd been begging my mom to move into an apartment that would be easier for her. Her number one reason for not moving was that she wouldn't be able to choose which cat she could take. She felt like her moving into a home would be her choosing to kill all of those cats.

While I didn't agree, and while I promised I would take care of them - I had just lost my beloved cat back in SF, my mom had lost her best friend and so many things in her life, and there was no way I was about to force her to go through that.

Until she got sick.

But that story is in Part II.