(above: Dottie and Elvis at a few weeks)
A few months ago, my friend Jennifer and I went to the E-Vet to pick up four little kittens in a box lined with a ragged towel. A nice professor had found two separate litters of two in his back yard -- Elvis and Cash were both tiny, cold and dehydrated; Dottie and Consuela were plump, clean and fuzzy. "Oh, they're little," Jennifer said as we looked into the box. We had been told they were about two to three weeks old, but clearly, they were about a week, their eyes having just opened. Any kittens taken to the shelter at that time were being euthanized, due to overwhelming "surrenders." Because we by-passed the shelter and took in these four kittens, we saved their lives.
After getting the "all-clear" from the clinic, Jennifer took home Cash, Consuela and Elvis for a week, and although she was originally drawn to Dottie, she left Dottie with me while I prepared another litter for adoption. Cash died that first week -- we think he had a genetic abnormality. And when my Amigos were gone (Lucky, Dusty and Ned were all adopted), I took Elvis and Consuela in. They all had to be bottle fed, and sometimes I was up in the middle of the night, awakened by tiny peeps and squeaks... "We're hungry, we're hungry." It's hard as a middle-aged woman to get up at 2 a.m., but seeing those sweet furry little faces made it easier.
Consuela had a stroke (or other brain event) at about five weeks, and although she survived it, she was paralyzed, and we had to have our emergency vet put her down. Elvis and Dottie were like siblings, the only two left from the professor's back yard. Elvis has since been adopted by Jennifer and her family, and is enjoying life with two big (cat) sisters, lots of food, curtains to climb, and needlework to get into.
And now Dottie is big. She's had her surgery, her shots, her microchip implant. She's well past the stage where she needs "special" care like bottle feeding. When I come home at the end of the day, she comes running down the hall to greet me and rub on my legs. And when I'm sitting stitching or working on the computer, she's on my lap, purring while she sleeps. She burrows her way into my hair at night, keeping warm while I dream. And if I'm cooking, she'll come stand by me, periodically looking up to tell me something or to ask for a little attention.
I have struggled mightily with the idea of letting her go. I really like her. I love her, in fact. It's not unusual. I like all of the cats we foster, and could have easily kept any of them. They've all been wonderful. Why, I've been wondering, do I sit and look at her and consider keeping her? Why do I try picturing her as a grown cat on my lap?
"I have four cats already," I've been telling people. "I can't keep every seventh or eighth cat we foster."
I want to. I'm bonded to her. And the more I thought about it last week, I finally realized what it was. Basically, to her, I'm her mother. She came to live with us just after her eyes had opened, and I fed her warm bottles. I cleaned her when she was messy. I cuddled her and played with her. The care I have given her is part of her. Those things I gave her since her beginning: bottles, that attention and affection, the food, the grooming, the patience, they're all knit into her bones. They're knit into mine.
But she belongs to someone else. It isn't fair to my cats to have to divide their attention from me further. It isn't fair to Dottie, who should be receiving a larger portion of care and affection from an owner. I have to trust the community to bring forth a person who will love her, cuddle her, care for her just as I have...or better. On Thursday, I'll take her to a little cage at the store across the street where passers-by can look at her, consider her, and eventually, someone will take her home. I'm cutting that ribbon that connects my heart to hers. She's ready for her life.
Good-bye, Dottie. You may not remember me in a few years. But I will always remember you.
(Post script: Yesterday I was aided twice by fate. Jennifer was buying groceries yesterday and it turned out her cashier had adopted Soba, another of our foster cats. Judy (his new owner) said he is very loved, spoiled, and happy. And Judy told Jennifer to let me know that if I ever want to check in on Soba, I can go over to Wal-Mart and see if she's on duty. She'll be happy to give me an update.
And the shelter called me to ask if I could take six (yes, six) kittens for one week. They're about four weeks old and have a foster mother who can take them in a week (she's currently on vacation.) If I couldn't take them, they most likely would have been euthanized. Taking those kittens home last night reminded me that there are many more lives to save. I'm willing to get my heart broken a little here and there in order to help others. It's so rewarding.)