As you read this, my cats and I are on the first leg of a cross-country move. I’ve said my farewells to friends and family, shipped and donated everything I can’t fit in my car, and I’m thrilled to be starting a whole new life. But there’s one thing I never expected to touch me as much as it did, and that’s the people and cats I met in the eight months I’d been volunteering at HART of Maine.
August 18 was my final volunteer shift. The shelter manager asked me which room I’d like to clean that day. "Before I go, I’d like to say goodbye to my sugar kitties," I said.
I did some preliminary work cleaning the intake room — only experienced volunteers are allowed to do so because some of the cats are in "shelter shock" and could be aggressive or extremely fearful as a result. As I finished mopping and took out the trash, I knew the moment was approaching.
I walked into the diabetic room and it hit me: This was the last time I’d get to see these wonderful cats in person. A lump formed in my throat. I cleaned the litter boxes, swept, sanitized, and helped a med tech as she administered medications to an extremely reluctant cat.
When all was done, I looked around. These were the cats who inspired my mission to help diabetic kitties find homes. They were the cats I featured in Sugar Kitty Wednesday posts on my blog. They were the cats whose triumphs and tribulations I’d followed.
I cheered when Linus and Angus no longer needed insulin. I commiserated with our "diabetic den mother" about Melody’s insulin resistance and our inability to get her fully stabilized.
I rejoiced when three of our diabetic cats went to their forever homes during a two-week period in July and August — particularly since not a living soul had expressed any interest in them since I had adopted my Bella in January.
But most of all, I fell in love with each and every one of these cats. They became like an extended family to me.
Volunteering at HART was the highlight of my time in Portland. I’ve never met a more dedicated and passionate group of people. Every single one of them is a volunteer, and many of them give hundreds, if not thousands, of hours for the sake of the cats in their care. They clean litter boxes, they keep the books, they serve on the board, they coordinate special events, they foster kittens, they update adoption records, they work with potential adopters to find the best possible feline friend, they undertake special programs to rehabilitate fearful cats, they transport kitties all over the place, and much, much more. I consider all of them my friends, even the ones I’ve never met.
It hurts to say goodbye to my human and feline friends.
I’m incredibly excited for my big adventure, but that excitement comes with a tinge of wistfulness and grief, too.
And I know for sure that as soon as I settle down in my new home, I’m going to apply to volunteer with a cat shelter. I’ve gotten the shelter-kitty bug, and I don’t think it’s ever going to leave my system.
Watch me say goodbye to my sugar kitties:
Have you ever had to say goodbye to a cat you loved because you were moving away? Have you ever volunteered at a shelter and had to leave? How did you feel when you did? Please share your experiences in the comments!
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.