THE SOUNDS OF MEOW Text and photo by Debra J. White
Debra and family
It’s a Wednesday morning at the county animal shelter in Phoenix. I ready myself for another day of aggravation, heartache, and strained nerves. I often wonder why I go back. But the sight of so many unwanted animals tugs at my heart so I swallow my blues and get the job done. My experiences replay in animal shelters across the United States. I am not unique.
Dozens of homeless cats peer at me from behind bars. Some are old. Others are battered from life on the streets. Most are young, even kittens, and lots are friendly. Who can resist those pleasant purrs?
I load the basket on my scooter with canned cat food. Employees feed both dogs and cats dried food. For the finicky feline or the cat depressed about confinement, canned food is special.
“Who’s ready for a treat?” I ask as I roll by. As soon as I open up a can and the savory smell tickles their noses, the sounds of meow rouse the cat wing.
“OK, OK, I’m coming,” I say, trying to reassure the kitties I’ll get to everyone.
I admit to being a dog person. I never owned cats. I always loved the cats of family and friends so I have an ample feline background. Spending so much time around shelter cats honed my ears to the meaning of meow.
“Do you want some fishie?” I ask each cat I pass. Some show no interest. I move on to the next customer.
“And how about you?” From the wallop of that meow, there’s no doubt the cat wants canned food.
“What about you, my little princess?” The lady utters a series of tiny meows. My human friends say that could be a plea for affection or a mere request for food. If the cat is a stray, I can’t offer the warmth shelter rules. If she’s available for adoption, then of course I can stroke her and tell her what a lovely lady she is. Naturally, she gets canned food, too. I hope she finds the great home she deserves.
Sometimes our canned supply is scarce. Because we are a municipal shelter, canned food is not within our budget. We rely solely on donations of that. During hard times, I limit the moist food to kittens, older cats or cats just having a hard time. When donations are plentiful, everyone is rewarded with a scoop.
The feeding process is cumbersome, messy and time consuming, but that is why I volunteer to ease the discomfort of cats in the shelter. I go through the same process with dogs.
The cat in cage 326 came to us because the owners moved and viewed taking Samantha as an inconvenience. I trust they took their children.
Missy’s owners redecorated their home and Missy’s colors clashed with their new digs. I hissed at them; Missy was the lady. Dignified, she sat in her cold, unfriendly cage, obviously wondering where she was.
The gray, male cat in 350 came to us because the owners said he “no longer liked them.” Odd reason, I thought. That was most likely another paltry excuse to get rid of an unwanted cat. The cat’s sweet sounds suggested he liked me and everyone else who passed by.
Feral cats cowered In the back of their cages, terrified of captivity in a strange place with human companionship. From their tattered looks, these ferals had rough lives.
Some of our customers lift my sagging spirits. Every day they come and look for lost cats. I tell them about lost and found services.
“Quite often,” I say, “lost cats turn up weeks, sometimes months after they initially get lost.” County animal control officers do not pick up stray cats. “The public brings them to us all the time. Check back regularly.”
For a municipal shelter with a shoestring budget, our adoption rate is fair. On busy days, my being disabled works to the animals’ advantage. My scooter enables me to help lots of customers in a short time. Even if I am tired and ready to call it quits, if a customer wants to see a cat, especially an older one, I always make time. I am particularly delighted to see older or special needs cats leave the shelter with responsible owners.
Debra White volunteers at Maricopa County Animal Care and Control and is a pet therapist with Gabriel’s Angels. She is an award winning free lance writer, and the author of Nobody’s Pets. She is a former social worker whose career was cut short by a car accident in 1994. Debra now lives with her rescued dogs in Tempe, Arizona.
A family cat is not replaceable like a worn out coat or set of tires. Each new kitten becomes his own cat, and none is repeated. I am four-cats old, measuring out my life in friends that have succeeded, but not replaced one another.
- Irving Townsend
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