Cat Rescue, Part 3: Return to Sender

I’m writing a series of blog posts about my volunteer work in cat rescue with Cat Adoption Team (C.A.T.). Part 1 discusses how I got involved and outlines how it works. Part 2 talks about the happy endings that are so rewarding in this work, as well as the sad ones (and also the appallingly infuriating ones) that make some days very hard.

There is another kind of outcome to pet adoption, too. Despite good people trying hard, sometimes things just don’t work out. A cat turns out to be a bad fit for a family, or the family’s life changes in tragic ways that make keeping the cat impossible… and they return them to C.A.T.. This is sad for everyone, but it is absolutely the right thing to do in such circumstances.

I cannot stress this strongly enough: if family decides not to keep a pet, they should return the animal to us (and any responsible rescue group has this same policy). The most important thing to us is that the cat should always be safe. By rescuing the cat, we made a promise that we will never abandon this animal or allow it to return to the condition from which we rescued it, alone and forsaken in the world. Do not break our promise by abandoning the animal we entrusted to you at the time of adoption. Return it to us.

To date, out of the 65-or-so cats I’ve fostered, only one of my own fosters had been returned to us. The family tried hard, but they finally returned him to us. I was sad it had not worked out, but it must be admitted that Airy is a pretty challenging cat. He has also been through a lot.

Airy turned up in a feral trap as a starving young kitten on his own, looking for food, a couple of years ago. Before long, it became apparent that something was very wrong with him. It turned out to be an ear polyp, a growth in the middle ear that affects balance, which is why he carried his head at a tilt, was always falling off things, and hated being picked up (it was disorienting). The polyp was also painful (the surgeon described it to me as “like having a low-level migraine all of the time”). It would cause recurrent (and painful) ear infections, and it would eventually cause deafness. The polyp had to be removed, but Airy was too young for the surgery, so he stayed with me for a few months, then had the operation when he was big enough. Here’s a photo of him afterward, with “the ugliest haircut you’ve ever seen,” as the surgeon warned me. His leg was shaved for the IV, and his neck was shaved because the entry point for the surgery was under his jaw.

He recovered well and didn’t have any of the possible side effects (such as nerve damage), but he never lost his head tilt. Since he also has a clipped ear (common practice in Trap-Neuter-Release programs like the one where he entered the system) and an overbite, he’s a slightly odd looking fellow. He also has a very forceful personality, as well as some behavior issues. He was returned to me because he had started urinating outside the litter box and around the house soon after moving into his adoptive home, and no matter what accommodations they tried to make, they couldn’t get him to stop. When they decided to give him up, I was very glad they brought him to me rather than abandoning him or passing him on to someone who’d abandon him. They cared about him, but just felt they couldn’t live with him.

When Airy came back here, now an adult rather than a kitten, it was a difficult adjustment all around. He was very upset and disoriented (and even now, I’ve no idea whether he remembers having lived here before). Achilles, one of my cats, was appalled by an adult male moving in, and Airy never backs down, so the two of them had violent fights daily. Poe, my pathologically shy cat, hated him (and hates him still), and so Poe had shrieking fits daily for a while, whenever Airy upset him. Airy didn’t even get along with Hector (Achilles’ brother) when he came back—and almost everyone likes Hector. Before long, the stress ensured that I was having the same problem his former family had—he began urinating outside the litter boxes.

At one point, a kindhearted adopter expressed an interest in Airy… but as I heard myself describing him on the phone honestly, because I wanted to be sure the next adoption succeeded–which meant knowing exactly what they were dealing with… I thought, “Oh, good God, who is ever going to adopt this cat?” (That person did not follow up.) 

Finally, though, after about four months, things started settling down. Airy and Achilles stopped fighting and learned to ignore each other most of the time. Airy and Hector became friends. Poe stopped shrieking every day. Airy was using the extra litter boxes I had added to the cat area in the basement. He also stopped being so high strung, anxious, and fussy, and he started to relax, play, and purr more often.

Strangely, the turning point for Airy occurred, as far as I can tell, when he established a small cardboard box as his territory. I received a package one day, opened it, and left the box sitting on the kitchen counter for a few minutes. When I came back, Airy was sitting in the box. i figured he’d get tired of it soon, and then I’d recycle it. But, in fact, Airy has never gotten tired of that box. He sits, nests, rests, and sleeps in it. He also seeks it out as his “safe” place when he’s upset, scared, angry, or not sure what to do with himself. The box seems to be Airy’s security blanket, and ever since he chose it as his spot in the house, he has been doing much better here.

And once he adjusted and was doing so well here, I realized that adjusting yet again to another home would be very hard on him—even harder if it again didn’t work out (and potentially deadly if the next family wasn’t as conscientious about returning him safely to C.A.T.). And he was trying so hard here, and finally succeeding.

So Airy has his happy ending, too. I adopted him in November. And although we still have our moments of hair-tearing, he is doing well in his furever home.

The box, by the way, is so absurdly small, he has to cram himself into it. Yet when I have offered bigger boxes, he’s not interested. This is his box, thankyouverymuch. It’s still sitting on the counter, months after he chose it. Having a cat-in-the-box on my kitchen counter isn’t ideal… but if this is what it takes to get him to stop fighting, use the litter boxes, and feel secure, it’s a compromise I can live with.

Prospective adopters can find our adoption applications and our available cats via C.A.T.’s website or our Facebook page.

Also, please check out our How You Can Help page. Obviously, we welcome donations, but there are other ways to contribute, including something as simple as linking your Kroger card to C.A.T. so that Kroger will donate to our rescue every time you buy groceries—at no cost to you!

In some future posts I’ll talk about our criteria for rescuing cats and dealing with behavior issues.