About 30 years ago, long before I became a rescue and shelter director, and ultimately a certified cat behavior consultant, I learned a valuable lesson. Unfortunately, my three cats were the involuntary, unwitting, unwilling and unintentional victims of what happened. My family had planned a one-month vacation and had motel reservations lined up in advance along the planned itinerary. We left on time, for once, and were feeling confident we would make all arranged stops on schedule.
And then it happened:
As we pulled out of the driveway, the cell phone rang. Our pet sitter called and canceled at the literal last minute. Gasp!
Unable to find replacement help despite frantic calls to everyone we knew, we felt we had only one choice: Go back inside and set things up for the cats’ extended needs. We didn’t know as much about cats at the time as we later learned, so we figured the new arrangements would work. Cats are independent, right? They sleep all the time, right? They’re low maintenance, right?
We filled the bathtub with water and left a sink faucet dripping slowly. We opened two 25-pound bags of kibble in a large box. We poured 50 pounds of litter into two large metal pans in the basement. And we left a radio playing and toys all over the floor.
We took our new kitten with us, and she had a ball. But there simply was no room for three adult cats in our camper van, too. We continued on our journey and “a good time was had by all.”
We had misgivings, but with everything “set in stone,” we forced ourselves to hold onto an optimistic mindset. Plus, we used the phone every few days to ask neighbors to stop by and peek in the windows. We discovered on our return, however, no one had had the time to do that.
When we came home, we got quite the wake-up call. My three cats, two Siamese and one calico, were beyond upset. They were virtually insane. Yowling constantly for the next three days in the crawl space, they refused to come out. They stopped eating. The litter box was being used, but they couldn’t stop “yelling at us” for leaving them alone. They finally went hoarse and couldn’t say anything anymore.
This is the part that amazes me: I was raised during a time of “great scientific revelation” and was taught that animals do not have feelings; they are simply reflexively acting on instincts and reacting to anything unfamiliar. Even my science teachers in school taught that animals don’t feel pain! It’s “just a reflex” if they flinch or howl. But now I could no longer accept that thinking. This was not “reactive reflexes.” This was gut-wrenching emotion! Watching my fur-babies in such distress, I actually shouted out, “On my gosh, cats have FEELINGS,” and I vowed to never hurt them again! How could I have missed that? But a lot of people do.
It’s no exaggeration to say this awakening jolt completely changed my life. I vowed to devote the rest of my life to saving and respecting them in the process. As a result, I now have tamed numerous so-called ferals, strays-gone-wild and unmanageable cats with behavior problems. I started my shelter in 2002 and have been rescuing and rehoming mostly cats (over 1,000) since then. I took in many dogs, too, but I am a quintessential Cat Lady now. I will never live without cats.