Growing up in Turkey, Tula Cakir was used to seeing stray cats and dogs roaming the streets of her neighborhood. With no trap-neuter-return programs in place, strays were (and continue to be) a significant problem in Turkey. Tula’s family lived in an apartment, but cats, she says, were always a part of their lives. Tula’s mother was fond of the animals, and she regularly fed them in the backyard. As a result, the cats grew fond of Tula’s mother as well.
"It is because of my mother that I learned to respect life," Tula says. “We used to feed the cats in front of our door, and the cats learned where to go. Before I left for the U.S. we had 18 cats in the backyard."
It was only natural that Tula became involved in animal rescue after moving to the U.S. She began volunteering at a local shelter and networking online to find homes for animals on death row. She also adopted two rescue cats of her own, but she had never fostered a cat.
One day her boyfriend called her with some news: He’d found a sick, injured kitten in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The kitten, who Tula named Geraldine, had an upper respiratory infection, a swollen left eye, and a broken leg.
"She was extremely weak," Tula says. "The first night we thought we were going to lose her."
Geraldine would become Tula’s first foster kitten. Tula and her boyfriend nursed her back to health and care for her until she was old enough to be spayed and healthy enough to thrive in her forever home. An appointment with the vet revealed that Geraldine required antibiotics for her upper respiratory infection, as well as antibiotic eye drops.
Geraldine also needed surgery for her broken leg. She had pins and an external fixator for a month, but now the bone is completely healed, Tula says. Geraldine has feline herpes in her left eye, which could be prone to flare-ups, but otherwise the now-eight-week-old kitten is healthy and getting stronger every day.
"She is a fighter," Tula says. "Honestly, as soon as she started having kitten formula and her medication, it was easy to see the progression even on the first day."
Tula was able to get Geraldine the care she needed thanks largely to online networking (follow Geraldine on Facebook here). Justin the Fire Survivor, another high-profile rescue cat who survived being doused with accelerant and set on fire, shared Geraldine’s story, which brought the kitten a tremendous amount of support.
As a result, Tula believes strongly in using the power of networking to save animals in need. She says it is simple enough that even people who cannot afford to donate or who are too busy to volunteer can help by simply clicking a share button, because "often, the only exposure these cats and dogs get in public is on social media sites."
"Most people think that there’s nothing they can do to help," Tula says. "That’s what I get when I post a death-row animal. They may say, ‘I wish I could do something, but I am in Finland.’ There’s ALWAYS something one can do: If you cannot adopt, you can foster; if you cannot foster, you can pledge; if you cannot pledge, you can always network for the animals in need."
Networking might help animals find homes, but for many rescuers, the job is ongoing. When Tula rescued Geraldine, for example, her work was just beginning.
"Rescue starts at the shelter, or in our case, it was in a parking garage," Tula says. "Then it comes to finding a rescue organization/foster, then medical care. Rescue doesn’t end until a loving forever home is found for the pet. Reputable rescues usually keep checking on their pets even after their pets are adopted. Rescue starts by getting the animal but really doesn’t end."
Tula is prepared to stick with Geraldine all the way through adoption and beyond. She says the cat’s strength and attitude have been incredible. Geraldine is sweet, feisty, and curious without being too brave, which Tula considers a sign of intelligence. Tula has also found a lot of daily inspiration in witnessing Geraldine’s recovery, as well as in the animal rescue stories she reads and shares online.
"If you watch, read, or see an animal survival story, you will find the light you have been seeking for so long or push that you need," Tula says. "They never give up; they don’t think about the past — what happened to them or the kind of pain they had to endure. They live for today, they live for the moment, and they fight to survive the moment."
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