Did you see Home for Life's latest mailing? The story of Diego, a black hound mix featured in the piece, could be the tale of any animal at Home for Life who doesn't have a dramatic story of survival or isn't a particular breed, yet who needed our help-and who needs the support of our sponsors- as much as those animals whose backgrounds are more distinctive or unusual. It takes someone special (you?) to look past a "plain" exterior wrapping to see the treasure that lies within these often overlooked dogs and cats.
Diego's story is also the story of any black animal entering the shelter and rescue system. As anyone who volunteers or works in animal rescue will attest, black animals have a much more difficult time finding a home than a lighter colored cat or dog. A couple of great rescue and advocacy groups are leading the way to change the perception of black animals:http://www.blackpearldogs.com/ and http://blackcatrescue.wordpress.com/about/
Read the blog post about Diego
When I think about the animals at Home for Life or any of the animals that have lived with my family, the last thing that ever stands out as a fond recollection is their coat color. The memories that bring tears to your eyes or laughter are their funny and endearing qualities, their often heroic stories, surviving so much before they came to Home for Life, the comfort and understanding they brought in difficult times as friends to us and other animals at the sanctuary.The treasured memories are the quirks of personality and expression that made them unique, and the joy of just having had them be a part of my life. I hardly think about what they looked like at all but what is distilled down like a homeopathic remedy and what you hold on to is the essence of them- in short their spirit.
I have always been partial to black animals since my first pet as a 7 year old was a black cat. On the day when I finally got to have my very own pet, I went with my dad and younger sister to the house of one of the secretary's i n his office. Her cat, a colorful long hair calico, had three kittens who were now ready to find homes of their own. My mom gave my dad strict instructions to get a male kitten. At the secretary's house the mother cat sat on a big overstuffed chair, cradling her three kittens. The woman told us that she wanted to keep the kitten who resembled the mother cat and had striking fluffy tiger and orange coat. So she said we could pick between the other two kittens who both had black fur. My dad decided we should take the fluffier of the two black kittens since he reasoned, the male kitten would have the longer fur. So that's what we did, and I was thrilled to finally have my own pet. We got home, and my sister Maura and I wrapped the kitten in a baby blanket from my new born brother's room, then proudly carried my baby around the neighborhood for all the other kids to meet. My mom was giving the youngest two sisters a bath, so my dad called me and Maura inside to show her the newest member of the family, and was he chagrined when she informed him that the length of a cat's fur had nothing to do with its sex. Shadrack- as my mom named her - was a girl! This was my first lesson that there was more to a cat or a person -than their appearance.
Shadrack grew to be a beautiful cat with luxurious black fur, a heart shaped face and piercing jewel green eyes. She was athletic, climbing trees, hunting mice and other rodentia, could catch birds out of mid air, had a boyfriend named Marshmallow who lived down the block and became a neighborhood legend because she was so independent and untamed in spirit , always attending to important cat business on her many adventures and once even wrestling and prevailing over a giant sewer rat. She had a sense of humor: for example she would steal my youngest sister's beloved blanket and carry it off under the dining room table. Amy, who was about age 3 would try to get it back, and Shadrack would act as if she was going to scratch her-she never did always keeping her claws sheathed, but Amy and any other kid would be too afraid to challenge her for the blanket. Amy would cry to my mom, who would have to rescue the blanket from Shadrack- who of course, knowing the fun was over, let mom take it back without any problem.
She did have one litter of kittens(she was spayed after that!) with 5 black kittens and one grey one. She wouldn't give up her adventures so our other family cat, a neutered male Siamese named Charlie, would jump in the cradle with the babies and take care of them while Shadrack was taking care of business. My younger sisters wanted to hold kittens all the time, and Shadrack was nervous about this so she and Charlie took them into the ceiling of the laundry room. One by one, she and Charlie carried them in their mouths jumping up on the top of the freezer, pushing aside a ceiling tile and then going up into the false ceiling so no kid could reach them. My understanding mom who had five kids of her own, let her do it!
She stayed there with them for the day, but that night, she carried them down, again in her mouth, one by one, and brought them each to my bedroom. She jumped right up into my bed, leaving each kitten to my safekeeping while she retrieved the next one, till all 6 were nestled in bed with me, Then she jumped up on the bed herself, and settled down for the night, and that is how my mom found us in the morning. When the time came to find them homes the grey kitten quickly found an adopter, but I had to work hard to find new owners for the 5 little black ones. Foretelling my future, I put up posters at grocery stores, at church, and cornered adult neighbors and friends of my parents til each one had a loving new home.Not bad for a nine year old!
Shadrack lived til age 20. Here's a picture of her,above, taken the last year of her life. When I was away at school and returned for holidays, the first thing I would do is pick her up to hold her But she was peeved that I had been gone so long and sat stiff and grumpy and then leaped away the minute she could. A few hours later, when she was ready be friends again, she would come around to find me and sit on my lap . If she was feeling especially forgiving she might even give me an Eskimo kiss, which she reserved for very special occasions when she was feeling especially loving. She was always fun to hold because she loved to cuddle and had a big purr. When my brother was stressed out from a day at his very intense and competitive high school, he would come home and grab Shadrack to hold her and watch tv to unwind.He was a guy and wouldn't admit he needed some solace but Shadrack's relaxed personality and purring must have comforted and soothed him after a long day.
Shadrack was my cat from the time I was age 7 until I was 27: she lived 20 years and is inextricably tied to all my memories of those years growing up and finishing school. It was so hard to lose her , and her passing just underscored that I was moving on to a new phase of my life. After she died, I looked forward to the time when I would be ready to have a cat of my own again, yet when the time came, I was always half looking for her , drawn to the black long haired cats with green eyes because that's what Shadrack looked like.' One of my sisters .a dog person, declared that she would consider having a cat if she could find one who was "just like Shadrack". She meant a cat with Shadrack's personality and spirit, but since this couldn't be guaranteed she stuck to dog ownership.
Now that I am involved with Home for Life, and have met and cared for many cats over the past 15 years, including many who resembled Shadrack, I realize that there will never be another cat like her. She was unique- as all our cats are no matter what they look like, no matter what their color is. We have many black cats at Home for Life. To help new staff, the black cats wear collars in different colors and designs: for example Edison has a collar that looks like a man's blue striped tie, Jonathan has a blue collar with a bowtie, and Torri has a silver sparkle collar. Some of our black cats like Alabama who has deformed front legs stands out enough that he doesn't need a collar. Once the staff becomes familiar with the the cats, the collars are a nice touch but not necessary anymore because they know them as unique individuals instead of identifying them solely by how they look, by their coat color.
In memory of Shadrack and in honor of Diego and all our unique black animals at Home for Life, and all those in shelters and rescues hoping for a home of their own where they will cherished for the special dog or cat that they are, we are reprinting an article about black animals we ran in one of our newsletters from 2004 . The article was written by Susan Easterly,a freelance writer who is published in many national magazines includingCat Fancy. (click on the image to view)