It was dark and very cold in the local parking lot. Mounds of snow from days of persistent snowfall were everywhere. It was just a few days before Christmas and the lot was full of cars belonging to holiday shoppers.
In the midst of this busy world was a cat as black as midnight. It was desperately meowing as it wandered from car to car. It seemed to be looking for whomever may have abandoned it to open his or her car door and pick it back up or for someone to take some pity. This was the situation my son Ryan and I experienced just last month. We had to make a decision about what to do.
Clearly not feral, this cat was very friendly. While I was inside shopping for a couple of items, it immediately came to our car when Ryan stepped out and called to it. Ryan petted it until I came out. The catseemed to welcome his attention. What were we to do? Pretend we never saw it and leave it to fend for itself hungry and in the cold and dangerous parking lot? On the way home we had our intended poster board for a school project, chicken for dinner, a package of mint chocolate candy canes bought on impulse and, of course, the cat.
Wrapped in a blanket on Ryan's lap, the black cat seemed very content. Much like a dog, it sat upright and casually looked out the windows like it belonged with us. Maybe its worries were over, but our thoughts were about what to do next. We already had a house with three cats. It could be difficult to find it a home. One hope we had was that perhaps the Westfield Stray Cat Rescue would be able to help. Maybe they would have space, although I knew they are often at full capacity because of the number of cats that are abandoned, lost, or hurt. Only the next day would tell.
In the meantime, we set up our "parking lot cat" in the downstairs bathroom, complete with a blanket, makeshift litter box, food, and water. It was hungry and ate three bowls of cat food. Our cats could only sit in the hall, very curious about what was on the other side of the door. We know it is very important to keep an abandoned cat isolated in case of fleas or unknown diseases.
Much to our relief, the next day the Westfield Stray Cat Rescue notified us that they had a space. Acting like a dog again, the friendly cat sat by me in the van, even after several attempts to get out of our snowy driveway; then rested comfortably in a cat bed on the front passenger seat until we arrived at our destination. The volunteers agreed that such an agreeable and beautiful cat should be easily adopted, although the story does not end here.
The Westfield Stray Cat Rescue is a non-profit organization founded about seven years ago to help ease the suffering of as many unfortunate cats as possible. Unfortunately, too many cats and kittens are left homeless and on the streets, living in substandard conditions and struggling for a chance to survive. Many pet owners do not have their cats spayed or neutered; causing populations to exceed what can be handled. Many kittens are left to fend for themselves, resulting in feral, or wild colonies of cats that are then capable of spreading disease. In other cases, pets are abandoned when an owner decides he or she cannot take care of them anymore. Some pets have been left in empty houses, left outside the house, dropped off in other neighborhoods or places such as parking lots where they have very little chance of rescue, and have even been thrown from moving cars.
It is wrong to think a cat can live on its own. Cats were domesticated long ago and they need love and care. They live a short and miserable life without proper care. Serving the northern part of our county, the Westfield Stray Cat Rescue's mission is to rescue and provide care for these animals, nurturing them in the shelter and in foster homes until a "forever home" is found.
So what can a person do beyond providing responsible care for his or her own pets? There are a number of ways to help. Adopt a cat in need of a home. Foster a cat until a home is found. Donate food and supplies. An example of this type of generosity is the Seminatore family related in the OBSERVER on December 22 in the short article "For it is in giving that we receive." Each year the girls in the family request birthday gifts for cats which are then donated to the Westfield Stray Cat Rescue.
A person can donate time to care for the cats at the shelter or money to help defray the costs of the veterinary bills such as spaying, neutering, and medications, as well as the operating costs of the building. Gently used items can be donated to the "Thrifty Kitty" which is the second-hand store on the first floor of the building on Main Street. People who shop there generate funds to help to cover expenses while the cats are readied for adoption.
Call 326-2404 for more information about adopting or helping. Store hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cats ready for adoption and other information about the organization can be found on Facebook and at www.WestfieldStrayCatRescue.com.
Our friendly "parking lot cat" unfortunately tested positive for feline leukemia and had to be put asleep. In hindsight, it was still a very compassionate service that the cat was rescued from living out its life for an undetermined amount of time in a harsh environment and a weakening state of health. He lived his last days in comfort at the hands of kind people at the shelter.
Anna Sewell, the author of "Black Beauty" said,"If we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and we do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt."
Saint Francis of Assisi declared when we exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, we will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.
Charles Darwin said that there is no fundamental difference between man and animals in that they feel pleasure, pain, happiness and misery and that sympathy for animals is one of the noblest virtues with which man is endowed.
Make it a good week and be kind to our animal friends.
Mary Burns Deas writes weekly on Sunday for the OBSERVER. Comments on this column may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org