When I was younger, I had ongoing repetitive dreams about rescue. It might be a mountain of babies, all suffocating and needy; I would take one off the top of the pile, quickly clean him up, and move on to the next baby, knowing I could never save them all and grieving for the ones on the bottom I would fail to reach. I would work so quickly just to get to as many as I could before they perished. Another manifestation of the dream was a pile of sick puppies, where I would try to reach each puppy and would have to work quickly so as to save as many as possible before they succumbed to whatever disaster was befalling them. Or infant animals buried alive, digging frantically to get them out before it was too late. These are dreams of overwhelm and like most dreams, have multiples reasons for existing in my psyche. I heard stories of my grandmother drowning kittens as a form of birth control when she lived on a farm and was always sensitive to vulnerable others. Of course animals were in grave jeopardy all around me and on some level, I knew it, even at a very tender age.
Images of Overwhelming Odds
The result of having these images in my head had been a desire to adopt unwanted children and homeless animals of other species. While a young mother, we had several rescue dogs and even a kitten foundling whose mother had not even cut the umbilical cord. He was abandoned in the harbor and brought home to me by my husband, requiring round the clock feeding and cleaning. So was an abused puppy, another surprise gift from my husband, another animal he discovered that needed rescue. These animals and images also led me eventually to volunteer at my local animal shelter, and then to foster animals who had run out of time and options.
I had my first fosters a year ago. They were year old athletic male cats, and our whole family fell in love with them. They were so soft, with little sadly declawed front paws, so loving and oh so playful and fun. My son and grandsons came over regularly to visit with them and were delighted with them each time. They stayed with us four months and left together, to a seemingly perfect home. I promised to take them back if ever they needed rehoming, no time limits. I remember when they left it was such a joy that they were placed together with what seemed like the perfect situation: in a loving young family with a dad who grew up with cats sleeping on his chest! But then followed the grief, the loss, and the reality that I could no longer protect them. I had to let them go. When they left, they seemed so confused and looked at me so questioningly as if to ask, “Why?” I knew I had to live with that, knowing they might feel betrayed by me. But I knew it was the best I could do for them. My hope was that once they found they had free run over an entire household, with children and adults both to love them, they would be content. And they were together.
Connecting with Vulnerability
This morning, after two of my three foster kittens were adopted at yesterdays Adoption Event, I am feeling bereft once again. Someone sent me a beautiful photo of my remaining baby (see above), and it shredded all my defenses. I held her close and comforted both of us as I walked her around the house with tears running down my face. She is a pistol, a real fighter. When her siblings were 1.1 pounds, she was only 0.8 pounds. She is so fierce of heart – she can scale my whole body in two seconds and leap out of a 4′ tall box in a nanosecond. But so far, she is not really a cuddler and despite her unique beauty, so far she remains alone. I can no longer protect her little brother – the cuddlebug of the litter, the one who hissed at me when he came and hid for two days even from his sisters. As he was growing older, his gorgeous colors started appearing – he even had faint tabby stripes beneath his shiny black coat, and a precious little crooked white stripe down his nose that sort of fell off a bit at the end, leaving a pink little spot of moisture at the tip. And her little sister, the photogenic one, the one that always ran out to meet me, the one that was full of life but had a rough time after spaying and just lay in my arms — little Cubby is out of my arena of protection, too. I will no longer see them rolling in a ball playfully, putting their arms and legs all over one another, purring contentedly when they sleep. They are alone in the world now, in a world controlled by us humans. And they are vulnerable.
I think that is the source of my grief, that the world of humans is so callous that their needs will often be overlooked. Already at only three months of age, they have lost both their mother and their foster mother, have had numerous injections, a blood test, and surgery. They will never be allowed to have families or be with others of their own kind. They will be forever lost in an alien world that does not really fit for them and they will have to accommodate the needs of others. As a vegan and an animal advocate, I know how that feels. And I know that however painful this is for me as a foster mum, I have to endure it, because there is another litter of four that need a foster, and I am to pick them up next week.
Facing Old Nightmares
Letting go is never easy. It triggers those old nightmares and forces me to face my own vulnerability and my inability to protect all those I love. It means facing the fact that these little lives are relatively fortunate, for they have not been pulled from their mum so others could steal her milk like so many gentle calves, nor sent off the end of a conveyor belt to their death as happens to nearly all rooster chicks. They will not be sent to slaughter in a few more weeks as happens to many beautiful birds raised as chicken flesh, or forced to lay alone on cold cement after birth, as happens to those beautiful little piglets whose mothers are confined in sow stalls. There are so many little ones I cannot help at all. Because the truth is, when one gets to know and really love an individual, it doesn’t matter to which species their were born, it is just love, and concern, and a desire to keep them safe and to let them know how precious they are and how much their mum loves them.
Meanwhile, there is work to do. I still need to socialize my last little foster from this litter, and hope and pray she finds a home worthy of her spirit, one who will understand her and love her and see her and not just meet their own needs through her. Like any doting mother, my eyes are clouded with the affection I have for her and hopes I have for her future happiness. While there is a tsunami of need and desperation, it seems far better to face that harsh reality and the inevitable inability to save everyone. I no longer have those old nightmares; I am far too busy with the work at hand.