What happens when rehoming goes very, very wrong, (c) 2014-2016 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
When it comes to finding a new home for any pet, rehoming is a tough road to travel. Mostly for the pets shuffled around in the process along with the rescuers and the fosterers involved with them. The biggest fear for those working with animals, those who do the caring and feeding and socializing and taming and training and treating, is that the standard of care the pets will receive in the future will not equal the care they have been receiving from the rescuer, fosterer, clinic or shelter. In fact, it won’t be, it can’t be. The care received can never be the same when the individual care giver is changed (and this is no small factor in stressing an animal—a humane and consistent caregiver is vital to an animal’s welfare). If even this change is a stressful one, how then can this ever work? Finding new places for companion animals to live without the companions they have developed relationships with?
What makes rehoming work, the theory or hope behind it, is based on the animal being first, placed into a new environment where a universal standard of care is adhered to which will benefit the animal’s welfare and second, that after an inevitable adjustment period (which the new guardian must successfully facilitate) the animal will thrive. And when a supportive environment and guardian come together for the animal so does a “forever” home. But what happens when this is not the case? What about when the reasons industry people fear most come to fruition; the guardian who says they want the pet and then realizes they would rather not consistently open smelly cans of pet food, change a cat box or walk a dog several times a day or come home early from a night out to do any of these? And what about any of the horror stories we would rather not hear about but that happen every day whether we hear about them or not? What happens when the universe drops the very same animals you thought were in that forever home right back in your world? What then?
Not long ago I received a phone call from a woman I had never met who was traveling southbound on the New Jersey turnpike. She was calling from a rest stop somewhere in southern New Jersey, not being from the area, she couldn’t tell me which one she was at. She was calling to say she had “found” my cats. Right there at the rest stop. I live in Manhattan and when I heard this I was; confused, concerned, taken aback-all three. My pet greeting behavior on arriving home includes personal interaction and all pets were present and accounted for.
“My cats are all home”, I said. Why, did she think the cats were mine? The traveler explained that she had been taking her dog for a relief walk and found the cats in question behind a bush, huddled closely together in the back of a carrier with the door ajar. It did not look as if the cats had left the carrier and they appeared clearly terrified, all huddled into themselves and each other. She had called me because the carrier had a sticker pasted on the end, one with my name on it, the sort of sticker a veterinary clinic places on a carrier with the identifying details of the pet along with the owner information. My information was on that carrier for a spay surgery I had facilitated. I started thinking about cats I had worked with and carriers I had given away and I realized which cats these must be and who had “adopted” them. I asked what the cats looked like: were they long haired? Was one grey and one orange and white? Yes to both. I knew who these cats were.
Two years prior I had worked with two four month old feral street kittens at the request of a Soho animal shelter. Four months is fairly old to socialize kittens to humans but time and consideration are the magic ingredients in working with any cat and for ferals it’s really just much, much more of each. Another four months of time working with these siblings, spay surgeries and recovery time and these girls had graduated or so I thought, to being successfully rehomed. Rehoming is a tough road.
In the work that I do people without pets will often apologize to me for not sharing their home with pets, as if they are at fault for knowing their limitations. I praise those who know that pet care is beyond them and who avoid taking on an animal they cannot care for. Sometimes the best choices for all involved are the ones we do not make. And what of the limitations realized too late for those who have taken on the responsibility of the life of another who find themselves not able to provide care? What is the thinking for the person doing the abandoning?
Rescues and shelter routinely ask that animals be returned if a placement is not successful. And while human beings are “diagnostically oriented” a/k/a judgmental, animal care workers need to reframe situations on an ongoing basis as a survival strategy in the field. Reframe and go on, not knowing this, might the thought of an animal worker’s possible judgment of a return be enough to dissuade contacting them? Can what one person think, if they do think it at all, be reason enough to deprive a cat or dog from a dedicated process for humane care? Can a person really reasonably believe that somehow by leaving these cats in an open area they will be able to fend for themselves? Maybe in a Disney movie, but in real life dropping off domesticated animals in new and foreign territory is not a chance to strike out and make a life for themselves. Even should one persist in the belief of a benevolent universe and laws of nature, one needs to know these laws do not include former street kittens being able to figure out life at a New Jersey rest stop on 1-95.
The truth is cats need to be taught survival skills and be in familiar territory to employ them. Without learning to hunt and more importantly, how to kill prey from their mother, these cats would have little to no chance of catching a meal. If they were not so very, very terrified of this strange place they found themselves, they might be able to scavenge food from the trash but being obligate carnivores (requiring meat for their nutritional needs) they would be hard pressed to find adequate fare. More pressing would be the need for these cats to be comfortable enough to venture out to try and eat at all. And without eating they would enter into dangerous waters, cats in starvation modes process too much fat for the liver to handle effectively and liver disease once started is hard to reverse and treat. And of course they needed water.
“Were they OK?”, I asked the caller She wasn’t sure. The day was close to 90 degrees and the days before it had been insufferably hot as well. Two grown cats in one carrier crouched together, not moving. I asked her if she could just close the door, hoping to reassure any fear in approaching the carrier or the cats. I said that since they had not left the carrier they themselves were no doubt terrified and would surely stay in the back of the carrier and were sure to avoid coming close to anyone closing the door. She was not afraid of the cats she assured me; rather she was upset that they had been abandoned here. So if there is some sort of fortune in this story with the universe bringing these cats back to me for whatever saving we had fallen short of doing in the first place, their fortune also included being found by a former veterinary technician who cared deeply for animals and for our responsibilities to them. She assured me that she would not leave the cats at the rest stop and without any other options she was thinking to find a shelter to take them to.
Shelters are terribly overloaded with cats and many of the cats entering shelters will never leave them. The ASPCA estimates that of the 3.4 million cats that enter shelters every year, 1.4 million will be put to death and that the percentage of cats entering the shelters who will be adopted are about 37% with 41% being euthanized. The number of stray cats being returned to owners is less than 5%. Rescue organizations and individuals work to make a difference in these daunting statistics that translate into too many cats and not enough people to care for them.
And in this one story of so many others, the shelter did not admit two more cats to add to the numbers. This one story of rehomed cats dumped on the side ofthe road at a rest stop far from the place they had known as home has a happy ending for the meantime. Haunted by what “we” had done with these cats I tried everyone I could think of to help, any favors to call in, any begging I could do, anyone left that cared for animals that had not already helped and rehomed already. Who had room? Who would answer? Somehow with more fortune and people working on the side of the angels these cats came to yet another foster home. Foster. With hundreds of miles of driving and coordinating of all the major and minor components of figuring out how to get the cats from a rest stop in New Jersey to someone who cared enough to be persuaded to help and would wait for someone else who cared enough and would drive those many, many miles and pick them up and set them up with all the requisite cat furniture. Another foster, another relationship to make, more trust to ask for from two animals that have been so far twice betrayed.
When I wrote about these then kittens two years ago I wrote about the relationship of trust I attempted to develop in these cats that had no trust for humans. I also wrote of how this work entailed a promise of sorts in which to make it work. So far the cats are doing their part in keeping their part of the bargain.
(c) 2014-2016 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
The book your pet wants you to read!
And when a supportive environment and guardian come together for the animal so does a “forever” home. But what happens when this is not the case? What about when the reasons industry people fear most come to fruition; the guardian who says they want the pet and then realizes they would rather not consistently open smelly cans of pet food, change a cat box or walk a dog several times a day or come home early from a night out to do any of these? And what about any of the horror stories we would rather not hear about but that happen every day whether we hear about them or not?
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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