I expected more when I started my cat rescue. I’m the president and founder of a foster-home based rescue in Newtown, CT, called Kitten Associates. When I opened for business I was under the (foolish) impression that I’d be saving cats’ lives. I also believed that along with the hard work and long hours, I’d be rewarded with the joy of seeing my wards go to their forever homes. Sounds good, right?
What I never anticipated was in addition to life-saving work, there’s a flipside. I call it the freak factor. Yes, I’m referring to dealing with people.
To be fair, if someone wants to adopt from us, I don’t blindly give up the cat. Each person has to fill out a pre-adoption application. I call the person’s vet for a reference. I do a home visit. Some people cruelly joke that it’s easier to purchase a handgun than it is to adopt a kitten.
I recently got an application for our foster cat Bongo. I rescued Bongo from a kill shelter. He had no hope of ever getting out alive because the shelter in question euthanizes 98 percent of the more than 300 cats that arrive every month.
Bongo has severe nerve damage to his right front leg, so he can’t walk on it. I’ve had four vets review his X-rays and confirm that Bongo can keep his leg, but this means whoever adopts him must be willing to have his leg examined occasionally.
The application in question left me cold. The person is unemployed, she lives out of state (too far to do a home visit), and she didn’t provide much more than a single-word answer to the questions on the form. I had a bad feeling about it, but because I wanted to be fair, I called her vet.
A person at the vet’s office reported she’d brought her cat to them a few days ago and had it euthanized. The cat was 14 years old and had a mass in her abdomen. I asked whether the cat had come in for any care prior to being put down, and the person said no.
I wanted to spare this woman’s feelings, so instead of denying her outright, I wrote saying we could not do an out-of-state adoption, hoping it would be enough to send her on her way.
She volleyed back with an accusatory (uncorrected) email saying: “How can you turn down me. I thought SPCA’S and any kind of animal shelter looks for homes for these sweet pets. Your breaking my heart even more. I had my heart set on hoping to get him..Please let me adopted Bongo.”
Along with her messages were two photos — one of her holding her dead cat, the other one of a tin containing her cat’s cremains. When I saw the photos, my jaw hit the floor.
It was a cruel thing to do, but in the photos I saw why she went off the deep end about my foster. Bongo looked exactly like her deceased cat!
I’m sorry, but a cat is not a lamp you broke. You can’t go to the store and get a new one just like it to replace it.
It happened to be my birthday, and all I wanted to do was go out for a seafood lunch along the shoreline. I rarely go out, and it was a special treat, but now that this person was ramping up her tactics, I began to wonder whether it was safe to leave.
No sooner than my partner Sam and I began our trip to the coast, the voicemail chime went off on my mobile phone. I began to read the choppy voice-to-text transcription: “Hi, this is ____ that I’m at the new town. Please stationÔÇª”
The Newtown police station? She’s at the police station trying to get my address?
She had driven more than an hour to do what? Did she figure that in person she could “charm” me, changing my mind about adopting Bongo to a crazy person? What was she going to do if I didn’t give her the cat?
In a fit of rage I called her back. How dare she pull these dramatics when all I had done was be respectful to her? I told her I found her actions “alarming” (though I wanted to use much harsher language). She told me that I had mental problems and then hung up on me. What do I do now? Do I race home and protect my house? Do I have my lunch and not let her hysterics ruin my day?
I had a lousy lunch. We canceled our other plans and returned home.
As soon as we arrived, I frantically scanned the house checking on each of my eight cats. They were fine. I entered the foster room and saw Bongo, sitting there on his cat tree, looking at me with a puzzled expression.
Relieved that all was well, I returned to my office and sat down at my computer.
The woman hadn’t given up. Waiting in my inbox was another accusatory email. This time her goal was to belittle me. I fought the urge to reply because I didn’t trust myself to not to fire back at her.
I had Sam draft a reply. He’s the vice president of our rescue and was far enough removed from the situation to lend some clarity. His response was plainly written, fact-based, and not aggressive in tone. His letter included a few words in my defense that I was grateful to read: “Your assessment of Robin is unfair and just plain rude. We deal with the public every day – from government officials and the media to small children — and she’s a skilled and empathetic communicator. People who know her — as opposed to people who merely shout at her on the phone — know this.”
To date I haven’t heard from her again, and I’ve moved on to reviewing another application. This one says “there is no way I’m going to let you do a home visit — get real. I have three kids. We need to get a cat this week, so when can we come see them?”
Here we go again.
Meanwhile, Bongo is still patiently waiting for a less “enthusiastic” adopter.
Robin A.F. Olson writes the cat-centric blog Covered in Cat Hair and is president and founder of Kitten Associates Inc. Olson lives in Newtown, CT, with an ever-changing number of cats. When she’s not scooping litter pans, she does stand-up comedy and is a spotter for the National Weather Service.