We Can’t Save Every Cat; How Do We Reconcile That Fact?


A few months ago, I wrote about a cat I met at a shelter. I fell in love with Mr. Bates, and I badly wanted to adopt him. But I am stretched already with six cats, and it would be foolish to take in another.

Mr. Bates (an older cat who’d been at the shelter a long time) was recently adopted into a very good home. I and many others were quite happy about this. (Mr. Bates seemed to have a fan club.) But I also realized that Mr. Bates’ departure opened up a “slot” for one of the many cats in need. I thought, “How many cats won’t make it to the shelter who need help? How many cats will be put down for lack of resources or room? How many feral cats won’t survive?” Cat overpopulation and cat welfare in general are immense issues. Why couldn’t I just be happy about Mr. Bates? I grappled with larger issues. What can I do? Is it enough? Why can’t I do more? A lot of us feel this, and it feels like a path to unresolvable frustration.

I believe all of us who care about cats face this dilemma. Yet we have limits — we can take in only so many cats, we have only so much money. There are people who do a lot more than I have ever done in cat rescue or welfare. Could I do more? Should I do more?

When I have these moments, I tell myself the following things. Maybe these strategies can reshape our thinking so we don’t endlessly frustrate ourselves.

Do what you can

That might sound vague but it doesn’t have to be. What can you do? Be honest about this. If you don’t have the funds to feed and do trap-neuter-return on ferals near you, for example, do you have the time to volunteer for an animal welfare organization? Can you write a fundraising letter, organize a fund drive? What are your talents, and what do you love and do best? That’s what you’ll care about most and carry out best.

If you can’t adopt another cat, can you foster? If you can’t foster, can you volunteer at a shelter? A local shelter I really like is very up-front about this — its website says, “If you can’t adopt, volunteer!”

Small acts of kindness make a difference

Again, do what you can. You might admire the colleague (I sure do!) who runs a nonprofit and helps many many cats. If you can’t do that, you can help in many ways, big and small. It might sound cliche, but I believe this: “No effort is too little.” You put good karma out into the world with your honest actions of integrity. You might never know the effect your efforts have, but that’s okay. You don’t need to know. Just do what you can, keeping the bigger picture (the welfare of cats) in mind.

Start by thinking and acting locally

We’ve seen this applied to world issues, and animal welfare is no different. When a world problem seems so immense and unresolvable, it helps me to focus at a local level. If I can take a local, defined action, I can feel that I’ve made a difference. If I donate pet food to a local food bank, I know someone in my community can better feed their animals. That feels real. I feel that I’ve made a difference, and I am more apt to keep taking action.

Take time to celebrate successes

The world constantly pushes on. News becomes old very fast. Sure, it’s not good to live in the past, and certainly we want to keep doing what we can in the present. But giving yourself a moment to celebrate some success story in the cat world is a good thing. It’s okay for me to be happy about Mr. Bates’ adoption. I’m seriously overjoyed that this older cat will live out his life in a good home. It’s okay to remember that had my family not rescued Zorro, or Kieran, or Corona, that they might be dead, or that their lives might be a lot harder. These are good things. Kieran is in my lap, purring loudly, as I write this. Maybe he knows something I don’t.

As long as we move ahead, do what we can do for cats, and act from a place of extreme goodness, honesty, and integrity — how can we go wrong?

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed with the state of cat welfare? What are your strategies for getting back on track?

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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