Elisabeth Strillacci: The rescue world has its issues

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 12, 2024

By Elisabeth Strillacci

The world of animal rescue is, at its base, a noble cause. People who come together to try to help animals who have been abandoned, were born on the streets, or injured and need a safe home.

Most of the folks I know who are involved have hearts as big as all outdoors, and being a part of the process makes me feel like I’m doing at least some small thing in the big world of problems. Trying to help living beings that cannot speak for themselves end up in safe, happy homes.

But once in a while, something happens that reminds me that even in an industry that you would think would be nothing but good folks, there are a few that just should not be.

It’s story time, so bear with me.

This past week, on a walk with one of the dogs I help care for, I heard a very small mewing.

It was in the bushes on the corner of two wildly busy streets with no residential buildings nearby.

The dog I was walking would have made short work of this animal, I knew, because the voice told me this was a wee kitten.

So I walked the dog home and came back.

I found the tiniest gray kitten with bright blue eyes hunkered down under the branches of a boxwood. He hissed at me once, then immediately clambered into my hand and crawled up my arm.

I was not quite sure he was truly old enough to be without mom — did he need a bottle feeding? So I called my wonderful vet, Jordan, here in Lexington and they were able to squeeze him in at 10.

Off we went, and I learned he was indeed a he, probably Persian and Russian Blue mixed with anything else, and he was just at about seven weeks, maybe six and a half, but his canine teeth were fully in. That meant he did not need bottle feeding but he did need pureed kitten/baby food and he’d need it a few times a day. Too small and young for any vaccines yet, he was nonetheless pest and parasite free, in amazingly good health.

About two hours after I brought him home, a thunderstorm passed through, and then another.

The vet was clear that he likely would not have made it.
But at home I have dogs that are not fond of cats but learned to live with the one we brought home years ago, and they were not keen on a new addition. Our cat was having serious issues with the new development. I myself am caring for various and sundry animals and people and I knew this could not be permanent, so I started looking for a new home.

And I found one! A mutual friend connected me with a couple in New Jersey that immediately fell in love. To have someone vouch for an adopter is a gift, and I was over the moon!

One small hurdle, the couple are on vacation until the end of May. I needed a short-term foster.

I thought I found one. The woman works with a volunteer group, and offered to take him.

But then she began to insist that if she took him, she wanted to put him on the adoption floor at PetSmart this weekend.

I was confused, because animals are not adopted out at PetSmart until 8 weeks, and need their first shots. This cat was and had neither.

I also explained that I have an adopter. But I said if she would be able to have him available and he got adopted, I would let the couple know he had found a home. But I did make one stipulation, per the vet. No small children. The kitten, which we named Bugsy Chesterton, was too small, she said, for children under the age of at least five. They could potentially hurt the cat unintentionally.

The woman said she would make sure, but as we went along, I began to realize she was not actually listening to what I was saying. When we finally met, as she was leaving, she said she would instead put him out at an event in High Point on June 1.

She got away before I could stop her, so I messaged her and said a flat no. I said she had insisted on listing him tomorrow, that I had been clear I had an adopter that would take the kitten at the end of May, and that if she was not putting him out tomorrow I was going to honor that initial adoption. She tried to say I had said the cat was eight weeks and she can’t adopt before that. But I checked my messages and I had said no such thing.

I then said I had asked from the start for a three-week foster only. She was the one adamant that if she took him she had to list him immediately.

She initially agreed to permit me to honor the original adoption, but then came back and said she thought she was adopting him out.

I still do not understand how it went so horribly wrong, because I was very clear with all the information from the start.

I am choosing to believe the woman had no ill intent, but she was not paying attention to the information I was providing.

In the end, I am reclaiming the kitten until I can get him to his new home. We’ll work it out.

But even after letting her know I wanted to just reclaim the cat, that we had gotten wires crossed and it would be best for me to just have him here until his new mom and dad are ready, she sent me a message that a sanctuary was interested in him.

A sanctuary. After already hearing, many times, that I have an adopter.

Sanctuaries are Godsends for many animals, but this is not one.

I came away from this with many concerns. This person fosters for a particular rescue, but did not tell me that until it all went off the rails. She was ready to put a too-young cat up for adoption, and was willing to hand him off to a sanctuary despite knowing a family wanted him.

I give her credit for fostering, it is not an easy task, and there are few thanks and a lot of headaches. Fosters, as they say, save lives and I know that very well.

But I also know this is how adoptions can go badly, if the foster isn’t paying attention. If you are going to foster, you have to be willing to do due diligence, and you have to listen to people who have had the animal. You have to be responsible, and not take the easy way out. That’s hard, and I give love and credit to every foster, and every person who works in rescue, because there is a lot of heartbreak in it.

I’m just grateful that the kitten is coming back here, where he is safe, until the day I take him to meet his new mum and dad, knowing he’s going to have a very happy life, loved, spoiled and protected.

Animals really do depend on us to be their voice. If we are not willing or able to be that, correctly and fully, then we should recognize the field is not for us. It’s OK if you cannot help, truly, but at least do not hurt.

Meanwhile Bugsy Chesterton, aka Bugs, Chet, Chester, sheet warrior and little champ, will be here until the end of May when he will officially become a Jersey boy, with all good wishes from his foster mom and dad.

Elisabeth Strillacci is former editor of the Salisbury Post. Contact her at lizstrillacci@gmail.com.