Home for Life has now completed its 12th year. The milestone is bittersweet. We are proud that the concept of the 'third door' in animal welfare, which we believed was transformative and would save the lives of many unadoptable animals, has proven to be valid. Many of the animals who first came to Home for Life at the start of our journey as an organization, are now seniors-they came to us as young adults but after twelve years at Home for Life, are now in their mid to late teens. Some of them have died in the last year or two. The loss of some of the original members of our sanctuary is especially poignant. They were part of many important milestones of our growth,and it leaves an empty feeling to face the future without them.
Unwanted adult cats, even when they are healthy and well behaved, still have a terrifically tough time finding new homes. When a cat is old, has a special medical condition, a disability or a behavior problem, the opportunity for that cat to find a new home is slim. Not much has changed for cats in that regard in the 12 years Home for Life has existed. Adult cats still make up the majority of the five million unwanted animals euthanzied in the United States each year All our cats are so cherished at Home for Life that it is hard to fathom the magnitude of the loss of life that occurs each year among cats like them-forsaken from their first home,unable to find a new home- thousands and thousands of nameless faces -each as special as our cats at Home for Life. Currently in animal welfare the focus is on spaying and neutering cats to bring down the numbers of kittens born and therefore reduce the cats ultimately put to death. Aggressive adoption initatives showcasing and marketing the cats surrendered to shelters tries to find homes for the rest. For feral cats, trapping,altering and returning them to outdoor areas with people to feed them gives unsocialized cats a fighting chance to live out their lives and be content. Home for Life believes to save the lives of the millions of cats put to death each year will always require a multifacted approach. Our hope is that all these strategies plus the option offered by Home for Life sanctuary, the " third door" model in animal welfare, can save many cats from a premature and inhumane death. The cats who found their way to Home for Life could not have been helped by any other tactic but a care for life sanctuary. They were already born, had been overlooked for adoption, sometimes repeatedly, and were not feral nor capable of living outdoors on their own. Yet they did not deserve to die, and because they found their way to Home for Life, had many happy years with us. Their loss signifies an end of an era at Home for Life. Yet we hope their lives will demonstrate the viability of a new phase in animal welfare,where the contribution of the "third door" option will be recognized for the life saving alternative it can be, to diminish if not end the euthanasia of so many cats .
Below are rememberances of some special Home for Life cats whom we recently lost; they are very sadly missed:
Fritzl was a black and white neutered male with haunting green eyes. He suffered from respiratory problems off and on all his life. He was surrendered by a local no kill shelter and was so sick with an upper respiratory infection that, he was not expected to live when he came to Home for Life. When I went to pick him up at the shelter, he was in the lower bank of cages near the floor,hardly able to breathe. I knelt down by his cage and opened the door. He struggled to his feet and looked right into my eyes with a trusting yet sorrowful look, as if he knew I had arrived to help him at last,but that it was not a moment too soon because he couldn't have held on much longer. Fritzl was not ready to throw in the towel however, and thrived at the sanctuary, once he recovered, living on for nearly 11 additional years. He died Christmas Day in 2010, of a sudden stroke- healthy up to the last seconds of his life (that's the way I want to go!). Fritzl had a way of staring into your eyes to catch your attention,and to get you to pause and hold him for a few minutes. " Don't forget me he seemed to say, don't you have a minute or two for me...?" Given a second chance he made the most of every minute,right up to the last minute of his life. Last week, I heard about cats being pulled for euthanasia at the Animal Control Facility in New York City- for colds! and I thought of Fritzl and all the hapiness he had during his 11 years with us. Cats should not be killed at shelters because of treatable colds.
The Great Jack Frost,died this winter, of old age and complications related to his diabetes. I think his old body just wore out. Jack came to Home for Life from a nursing home,where he had lived for six years,serving as the therapy cat for the residents. The home had taken him in after he had been found frozen to the sidewalk outside the facility. Jack was at least 2 years old and maybe as old as 5 at the time. He lost part of his tail and the tips of his ears due to frostbite. So the elderly residents called him Jack Frost even though he was an orange cat. Jack was unfortunatley declawed on all four paws to avoid any chance of injury to the delicate skin of the elderly residents. Jack handled this surgery and his neuter, recovered from his frostbite and lived on at the nursing home for 6 years until two concurrent events happened: he became diabetic and the nursing home got new management. The new manager decreed that Jack had to go because the staff did not have time to care for the human residents and a diabetic animal as well. None of the staff could adopt Jack for their own and the local shelter said they would have to put Jack down given his age and medical condition. The staff nurses frantically searched for another option for their beloved Jack, and when they found out about Home for Life,begged us to help him. We strongly believe that an animal who has provided service for humans deserves a safe and loving retirement home themselves when no longer able to work, and did not have to think twice about accepting Jack Frost at the sanctuary. He lived on another 4 years at HFL and was at least 12 when he passed away.
Jack was a leader among the other cats, keeping order among the hooligans and troublemakers with dignity and his strong will. For example, we had a naughty himalayan named Xander who thought it was a good idea to poop on the catbed where Jack and other cats liked to recline. Xander enjoyed making a mess especially when the bedding had just been changed. Once Jack figured out Xander's MO he would stand guard over the bed and as Xander approached to do his "business" Jack would block his path and lower his head,giving him a hard gaze. Jack never laid a paw on Xander( and couldn't have done much damage having no claws) but Xander steered clear of the bed after a few encounters with Jack and even started to use the catbox. What Xander's former owner could never get that Xandercat to do ( use his litterbox) Jack finally achieved. Jack loved to go on walks and had his own leash and Cat Walking Jacket made by MetPet.com. of Oregon. If he saw me take his leash and harness out, he would start meowing and run to the door, eager for his walk. He could walk for a couple miles exploring and looking around and loved to be accompanied by whomever was walking him. I was sometimes able to get my young nephews to walk him if I was busy, and they thought it was fun to be walked by Jack. He was a well recognized and well loved particpant each year in our annual holiday event at the Mall of America,where surprisingly, the cats drew much more attention than the dogs, probably because it was so unususal to see a calm friendly cat in a public setting like a huge shopping mall. It warmed our hearts to see how many true cat lovers were out there, so happy and surprised were they to see a cat at the Home for Life display. It takes a special cat to put up with all the attention from strangers,many children, among them at events like the Mall,but Jack handled each appearance with his usual friendliness and kindness, the same qualities which made him such an outstanding therapy cat for so many years.
Olive aka Olive Oyl was a beautiful soft, sweet, white cat with a musical meow, medium fur like a bunny and arresting bi-colored eyes: one blue and one yellow. Olive was surrendered to Home for Life by a cat rescue group as an older kitten because she was born a manx and required special care to keep her clean and healthy. The cat rescue group did adoptions and despite Olive's beautiful appearence and sweet disposition, no one was able to take her on as a house pet. The tailess Manx are often born with spinal problems and nerve damage that cause incontinence. The females especially are not known to have long lives because their anatomy creates tendencies towards urinary and bladder infections. Olive did use the cat box but also needed help keeping clean. It is a real tribute to Home for Life's staff that she lived in good health at the sanctuary for over 10 years. Their meticulous care of Olive ensured that she was always clean, and prevented the infections to which she would have otherwise been subject. Olive learned to hold still on the stool in the grooming tub while her 2x daily bath sessions were performed and enjoyed being pretty and clean. When she was about six years old ,she became very sick and it turned out that she had developed a huge mass in her bladder,made up of collection of white bloodcells and other infectious tissue. The mass was removed at the University Veterinary Hospital, and Olive bounced back, as good as new. But that incident demonstrated how fragile her health was due to her condition. Nonetheless, Olive lived on, living her her life as a normal cat, running,climbing, going outside into the cat runs and eating heartily. It was only in her last few months that the inevitable exposure that even our best efforts could not forestall took its toll on her aging immune system. This winter,Olive died of a systemic infection that we could not contain- she was about age 11-12. She was a special favorite of many of our donors. The daily effort made on her behalf by our staff allowed Olive to live a full and happy life at Home for Life for over 10 years.
Calico Tootsie was a southern belle from Louisiana. She had only 3 legs and was leukemia positive. The Lousiana rescue group had no idea how she lost her hind leg. She was always special to them as she was to us as she had obviously had two tough breaks early on in life: contracting a contagious disease and losing her leg. Tootsie was an adult when they found her,so we are not sure of how old she was when she passed away- probably a middle aged cat. She was very ladylike and almost regal with her bearing. The Louisiana rescue group found Home for Life on the internet, learning through reading about our work that leukemia was not an automatic death sentence for a cat. Up to that point, they had thought they had no other choice but to put Tootsie down. The rescue surrendered Tootsie to us in the winter,travelling from the south to bring her to us and to see Home for Life for themselves. We have a treasured photo of Tootsie that the rescue representatives took of her on the cat tree outside in the run: Tootsie is looking around at the snowy landscape, and the expression on her face looks like she had just landed on the moon! Once Tootsie figured out that she had to stay inside until the winter months were over, she became quite comfortable at the sanctuary,even making friends with Emmie, a dachshund who allowed Tootsie to share her favorite chair.Tootsie was with us for nearly 3 years, in good health til the last few weeks of her life.
At Home for Life we are very happy that many rescues around the country, like the one from Louisiana who helped Tootsie and even veterinarians are thinking twice before automatically euthanizing leukemia positive cats. We hope that talking about our work with leukemia cats, and allowing people to see our facility and the cats " in person", in our newsletters, and thru social media outlets helps those involved with rescue realize how much these cats love and enjoy their lives, like any cat. Leukemia cats, even if carrying the virus, can live long healthy lives if not showing symptoms of the disease and do not need to die before their time. We hope our work on behalf of leukemia positive cats like Tootsie can persuade those entrusted with their care to pause before assuming that their lives are not worth saving. The quality of her life was not dimmed by the short time she had.