Monday, December 22, 2008

A Christmas Story -- "Little Orphan Annie"

As previously noted, the weeks immediately before Christmas are usually tough in terms of animal adoptions. Most people are caught up in shopping, family and travel plans and this generally impacts negatively upon animals, shelters and rescues.

There have been calls over the past several days.

But, those calls have either been to "donate cats" to us or seeking to "adopt a Yorkie puppy" or our "Pongaramium" dog (and no, that is not a misspelling. The woman asked for a Pongaramium and told me her last one was stolen two weeks ago.)

It is easy to get down during times like these.

However, sometimes it's better to try and take things in stride and look back on what we might call the "lighter moments" in rescue.

This morning, when relating some of these stories to fellow rescuer and foster, Carrie, I was reminded of one that is particularly significant around Christmas.

It's the story of "Little Orphan Annie."

The year was 1999 and I was doing cat adoptions out of Petco on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

I had fought for and finally landed a prime spot in the store for Adoption showings. After complaining to a corporate supervisor that adoptions were difficult hidden away on the second floor of the store, we were suddenly moved to the main floor, right before the 86th Street windows.

Cat adoptions immediately took off with the better promotional site. Within months we were rescuing and placing up to 30 cats a week. I was working 7 days a week and almost 12 hours a day.

It was a constant stress, but at the time, extremely fulfilling and exhilarating.

I was fortunate during this period to attract a number of very dedicated volunteers.

One of these was a young woman named Judy, who, although a rescuer in her own right, came to me both offering and asking for help in placing homeless cats.

Judy was a petite, smart and very perky blonde. She had the persuasive powers of both a politician and an evangelist minister. I often joked that Judy could sell ice to Eskimos.
She used her charm, good looks and quirky sense of humor to talk casual passers-by into fostering or adopting cats and knew quickly how to sort out the true animal lovers from the losers and time wasters.

At least twice a week, when having enough volunteers in the store, I would make a trip to the pound (then called the "CACC) to pick out and rescue more cats.

On one of these occasions, Judy requested to come with me.

"We have enough volunteers in the store and I really want to see the shelter," Judy said to me.

Since it was a relatively slow day, a couple of weeks before Christmas, I agreed that it was probably a good thing for Judy to accompany me to the shelter.

As always before any major holiday, the shelter was packed in every ward. A long line of people waited in the shelter lobby, holding either boxes containing cats or anxious dogs on leashes, ropes or chains. The people weren't there adopting animals. They were dropping them off.

"Don't say, I didn't warn you, " I said to Judy when noting that she was becoming clearly and profoundly upset with what she was seeing. "Holidays are dump times in shelters. They have to unload their pets before they leave for holiday travel," I added, matter of factly.

Judy and I walked through cat wards as I objectively and dispassionately tried to look for what I considered to be "adoptable" cats that we could take back to the store.

But, while I was struggling to make tough decisions as there were so many pretty and friendly cats coming to the front of their cages begging us to take them, Judy was becoming unraveled.

"Oh my God, look at all these beautiful cats! How could people abandon them like this?" she cried. "This is so terrible!"

"Now you know what I've been talking about all this time," I replied sadly. "I guess it's something one has to see for themselves. Come on, let's go. I'll take you into the Euth ward. That is where the cats are who are going to be put down. Let's see if we can save one or two from there."

There was a handsome and very friendly red tabby cat that I picked from the Euth ward, but when I turned around, Judy was standing in front of one of the cages, fixated on a particular feline.

"Oh,. Patty, look. Can we take her?" Judy asked.

I was horrified when I looked in the cage.

The cat appeared more dead than alive. A wretchedly skinny and filthy black and white (although the white was a murky dark grey) tuxedo cat who appeared more than ready to leave this world for the next one. The present world had not been kind to this cat. She sat in the back of her cage and barely had the strength to move forward for a little petting.

"Judy, this cat appears very sickly. We can't take this cat back to show for adoption! She needs care and nurturing. She couldn't even be spayed now as she is too weak and emaciated. Who's going to foster her? I have too many cats in my place and so do you."

"Patty, PLEASE! I promise I will find a foster for her! Judy pleaded. "I swear! We can't leaver her here just to die!"

Judy then began to weep profusely.

As hard and "practical" as I tried to be, I finally caved to Judy's waterworks.

Although I was convinced that I would end up with the cat as I couldn't see anyone agreeing to take home a scrawny animal that looked on the brink of death, Judy had successfully widdled me down.

The cat had arrived at the shelter as an obvious "stray" and Judy and I thus named her "Annie" after the Broadway show.

We finally returned back to Petco with a total of five cats, four of whom went immediately into adoption cages. But, Little Orphan Annie remained hidden away in her carrier, where we had placed some food and water. There was no way we could "show" her.

Hours passed and the store was nearing closing time. Judy, another volunteer and I began preparing the cats in cages for their overnight stays in the store. I was also anticipating taking Orphan Annie home with me, though I was not at all happy about it.

But, then a young man sauntered into the store and casually walked by our cats for adoption.

Like a hawk suddenly sensing prey, Judy opened up a conversation with the clean cut and kindly looking passer-by. I could see her utilizing the full brunt of all her charms. Judy asked the young man some questions and talked to him about some of the cats. A couple of minutes later, Judy walked him over to the carrier where Annie was still contained.

I couldn't believe my eyes!

About twenty minutes later, Judy walked over to me with the young man.

"This is Josh," Judy said to me. He has kindly agreed to foster Annie. Isn't that nice?"

"Really?" I said incredulously. "Did you explain that she will need Nutrical (a high calorie nutritional supplement), extra food and careful watching?" I asked. "Did you tell him she can't be spayed yet?"

"Oh yes, I explained everything," Judy answered confidently. "I also told him, if he has any questions or problems to call you."

"Yeah, OK...."

We sent Josh (who merely wandered into the store out of curiosity, but fell victim to Judy's charms and persuasion) home with Annie, some food, Nutrical and cat supplies. I crossed my fingers and prayed this wouldn't turn into some kind of disaster.

But, my prayer was not to come true.

Later that evening, around midnight I got a call from Josh.

"Hm, I'm not sure what's happening here," Josh said with concern in his voice, "But, Annie's in a corner and she's just ex spelled several small bloody masses. What should I do?"

Oh my God! I thought frantically. The cat's having a miscarriage in this guy's living room!

I tried to gain my composure so as not to panic the young man.

""Well, I think she may be having a miscarriage (trying to make it sound like this sort of thing happens all the time). If the cat doesn't appear to be in great distress, we can send her to the vet in the morning. Unfortunately, since the kittens weren't formed, there's nothing we can do about them."

After speaking with Josh for some time to help ease him through the situation (thanking God all the while, it didn't happen in my home as I surely would have panicked!) I immediately called Judy.

"YOU KNOW THIS POOR GUY JUST HAD A CAT WHO HAD AN ABORTION ON HIS LIVING ROOM RUG!!! We're damned lucky, Judy the man is so nice about it. Someone else would have OUR HEADS ON A PLATTER!"

"I'm sorry, Patty, but how was I to know the cat was pregnant? Jeeze, she's so skinny! How could anyone know that?"

I knew I was just screaming in vain. Judy was always going to be Judy. It was impossible to be mad at her for any length of time.

The next day, we rushed Annie to the vet where it was confirmed she had a miscarriage. The cat was so debilitated, it was a blessing in disguise. There was no way she could have carried a litter to term.

Annie was sent home with antibiotics. Fortunately, for us, Josh agreed to take her back to foster.

About six weeks later, Annie had recovered enough and gained sufficient weight to be spayed.

Following the spay, Josh adopted her. Having gone through so much with Annie, the young man who hadn't even come into the store originally to adopt a cat, had fallen in love with a scrawny, homely and wretched little animal who simply needed him and later repaid his kindness with bounds of affection and devotion.

Almost ten years later, Judy has moved on to a home in the suburbs, a husband and family.

I eventually "burned out" from the grueling schedules at Petco, though the constant treadmill of 11th hour rescues still remains.

I still think of Judy from time to time -- especially around Christmas when we send each other greetings.

She was the most charming and persuasive person I've ever known. She could indeed, "sell ice to Eskimos."

But, Judy never accompanied me again on trip to the pound.

Underneath all that bravado, confidence, charm and quirkiness, was a sensitive heart that was too vulnerable and easily wounded in the confines of the animal shelter.

But, for one very lucky little cat, "Little Orphan Annie," it was a good Christmas and indeed, a miracle, the day Judy showed up to save her. -- PCA