(The author visits with the kitties.)
It all started one autumn afternoon many years ago when my 12-year-old niece showed up at our house with an orphaned orange tabby whose mom had been killed by a raccoon. Having grown up in the Bronx where our animal population was strictly limited to goldfish, turtles and parakeets, I was delighted to be the orphaned kitty’s mom.
(Daughter, Emily, socializes with the cats.)
Welcome Hector, the cat
My husband and I named the orange fur ball, Hector. Quickly, Hector taught us all there is to know about cats: honing his knife sharp kitty claws on the furniture and our toes when he burrowed under the blankets; looking helpless and adorable when he got into the house plants; purring softly by our ears while we slept. As the old saying goes, “Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods. Cats have never forgotten this.”
In short order, our cat population soared as friends brought us offerings of stray and abandoned kittens. “Here…take this one…another starving artist,” said the artist neighbor. We named the starving artist Popeye. Another found a kitten in his car trunk. We named her Lucy. Ulysses and Percival arrived from our dentist’s wife. A sorrowful lost black long-haired strayed from the woods, adopted us. We named him Blackie. Somehow Polly and Manfred found us too. Hector’s feline family had grown to eight.
(Homer and Amy, two cool cats.)
Our family of eight notwithstanding, we were also befriended by other neighborhood cats stopping by on their rounds. Had we space to accommodate dogs in our small home, we surely would have had them. Who can look into a dog’s eyes and not fall in love?
Community service at the shelter becomes family affair
Inevitably my daughter, who had grown up in the company of so many affectionate animals and had lovingly cared for her own cherished cats, chose to join her teenage friends in volunteering at a local animal shelter in fulfillment of community service obligations required by the National Honor Society. Soon enough, volunteering at the no-kill Hudson Valley SPCA in New Windsor became a family affair as well. On weekends and other free days when my daughter was not helping out with her friends, we headed for the shelter where my husband walked dogs and my daughter and I helped in the shelter’s “Isolation Room” for kittens and cats.
(Joan's husband, Joel, walks Widget.)
There we replenished food and water, cleaned cages, emptied and disinfected soiled litter boxes, swept the floor and played with the animals. Perhaps our biggest challenge was not stepping on cats racing underfoot. A photographer, my daughter often paused from her labors to snap candid shots of the kittens and cats in zany poses. She fell in love with each… one at a time.
Create a lasting friendship between baby and pet.
It’s a cruel world sometimes
Working in the shelter has taught all of us about the harsh reality of animal cruelty. Almost daily, someone drops off a box of kittens discarded on the roadside or left to die in a trash bin. Dogs too make their appearance regularly…some who’d been chained to a post in town, others starved, roaming the winter streets for food, many wounded in dog fights.
Homer, the cat we later adopted, had been hit by a car and left to die on a rain soaked street for two days before someone phoned the shelter. The cat was brought to a veterinary hospital to repair his cracked skull among other injuries and then returned to the shelter to await adoption.
Each morning HVSPCA has its own dramas. One day an abandoned litter of flea-infested kittens arrives. My daughter helps wash the tiny newborns and dry their shivering bodies.
There can be happy days
Nevertheless, despite the sadness of those occasions, there are also happy days when we hear that the black and white tabby was adopted or one of the older fellows who’d been living at the shelter for years was finally placed with a loving family. Whenever we arrive, my daughter looks around for her favorites, scoops them in her arms, speaks to them and scratches behind their ears, wanting to take them all home.
What her family learns
Perhaps one of the most satisfying rewards for us as a family has been the deep pleasure of working side by side with our teenage daughter in a common cause. Although teenagers generally prefer to park their parents somewhere far from view…out of sight, out of mind…this has been a time for bonding of a special sort. For any family, participation in the care of homeless animals awakens compassion for their plight and a desire to ease their suffering by countering the mindless neglect and cruelty endemic to our society. It is never too late to introduce our kids to this special service.
If you’d like to donate, log on to their website: hvspca.org or call 845-564-6810.
Joan Siegel lives in Blooming Grove with her husband and daughter and 5 cats. She is an award-winning poet.