New Mexico's Pet Resource FALL 2003



by Nancy Marano

The saying, when you save someone’s life, you’re responsible for that life is especially true if you save an animal’s life. That was brought home to me recently when I rescued a tiny, orange cat who’d been dumped out to survive on the streets.

One Saturday she appeared on the kitchen windowsill for a nap in the sun. Her coat was scruffy, and she looked as though she hadn’t eaten a good meal in some time. It was extremely hot weather with outdoor water sources at a minimum, so I put food and water on the patio for her twice a day. I hoped she would start coming at those times so I could catch her. Grateful for the food and working on the starvation principle that this food might be her last, she immediately ate whatever I brought for her. We settled on naming her Rusty, a rather common name for this lean, elegant cat with the look of an Oriental Shorthair, but she responded to it.

I managed to pick her up, get her in a carrier and take her to the veterinarian for a physical. I didn’t want to bring her into the house until I knew she wasn’t carrying any diseases that could harm my own cats. Since she had no identification, we couldn’t locate her owners to find out which immunizations she’d had. Assuming she’d had none, the veterinarian gave her rabies vaccine and other basic inoculations. I made an appointment to have her spayed and brought her back home.

It was time to introduce her to our animal family of two cats and a dog. Following expert advice, I isolated her in my office and exchanged her towels with those of the other animals so they could get used to each other’s scent. I let them look at each other through a gate, and then tried putting her out with the cats after the dog was in bed. For safety’s sake we kept the dog on a short leash during the initial introductions.

When Rusty returned home after being spayed, she needed to be confined during her recovery. As soon as she was ready, we began the introduction process all over again. Much to my dismay it didn’t go well at all. Although the cats, Sammy and Rocky, were edgy about her, they slowly began to accept her. The real problem came from our dog, Maggie.

Maggie is a West Highland White Terrier. Westies were bred to hunt animals in their lairs. While Maggie has never needed to hunt, the desire is still deeply embedded in her genetic makeup.

As Judy Halliburton says in her excellent book, Raising Rover, “Westies are enthusiastic…about everything they do. Even though Westies haven’t been used as hunters for quite some time, the ability and desire to do a job are still very strong, and very much part of who they are. Watch Rover the first time he spots something scurrying under a bush. You’ll see Rover’s tenacity and enthusiasm, firsthand.”

Unfortunately, we saw that “tenacity and enthusiasm” in Maggie’s approach to Rusty. After several horrific chase scenes, worthy of any movie director, that were punctuated by snarling, growling, hissing and gnashing of teeth, I knew it wasn’t going to be safe for Rusty at our house. In the midst of a chase, Maggie doesn’t even hear – let alone respond to – the commands that she knows.

This presented another challenge. I knew Rusty needed to be adopted by another loving family as quickly as possible. She’s a happy, confident, well-adjusted cat who does not deserve, as no cat does, to be harassed by a dog or other animal.

I wouldn’t take her to a shelter where she might be euthanized, so I needed other options. I considered putting ads in newspapers and at pet supply stores, but decided against it. Sometimes it’s difficult to screen the responses you get to such ads. Luckily, the Albuquerque area has several no-kill, rescue groups. I received help from the Albuquerque Cat Action Team. This group only works with cats, and I knew many of the caring people who foster animals for them. I was confident Rusty would be in good hands. Now she is being shown at the A.C.A.T. adoption clinic every Saturday until she finds her forever home. This solution was not my first choice, but I was more than grateful that it was available.

Once you rescue a cat like Rusty you are promising her a better life. If that life isn’t with you, for whatever reason, you’re still responsible for making sure she receives the love and care you can no longer provide. Spaying or neutering a rescued cat is essential. Turning a cat loose on the streets is cruel and never an option.

Do I think cats and dogs can live together in harmony? Certainly. I have three who do it every day. However, I’ve learned that introducing a new cat into a stable animal family may not always work, regardless of your best efforts. You need to understand the breed of dog you have and what her basic instincts are. Even using all the “correct” introduction techniques, you need to be aware that it just might not work. At that point it’s time to look for help. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a group like A.C.A.T. in your community to give you the support you need. But, whatever solution you find, the welfare of the cat you’ve rescued must be the uppermost thought in your mind. She deserves nothing less.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who lives in Albuquerque and is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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