But who is coming back for the people…

The smell would always hit you first -it’s unmistakable, it stays with you forever. Cat urine and feces. We’d found the location a single wide trailer, in a rural town, out in the country – primarily surrounded by cornfields. A few neighbors close enough to complain about the smell. The neighbors were perhaps not close enough to call social services but they were close enough to use their phone to call the humane society. The cats and the smell were a nuisance.

We unloaded the crates, the catch poles – grabbed our leather gloves and entered. We were not welcome – a few friends of the owner were there. My eyes burned from the urine and from the unhappy company who were chain smoking as they watched and waited for us to get our job done. It took several seconds for my eyes to adjust to the lack of light. The owner had left, he was furious but had eventually cooperated with our job to take the cats. His wife of over 30 years had left much earlier, encouraged by her children, for her health’s sake.

We walked around the few rooms in the small trailer – cats are experts at hiding. I once worked with a team to remove 65 cats from a single wide trailer, when we entered not a single cat was visible. This job was smaller perhaps 20-30 cats. I was sure he had simply let several of the cats, that ran in and out of an open sliding door, into the surrounding fields.

We would enter a room, make sure it was clear of cats and determining it was close the door, then move on to the next. We went in the bathroom looking around, my co-worker lifted a board that was in the bathtub she gasped. “What”? I asked. He used a bucket as his toilet. No running water.

We closed the bathroom door.

Entered the bedroom it was a littered mess of musty unlaundered clothes, the bed was made though, the room was stacked floor to half way up the walls with books. Hundreds if not thousands of books. What did he read, I was intrigued. Romance novels – love after love story…hundreds. I was struck with the irony of it all was this an extreme form of optimism or escapism. Did it matter – my heart felt heavy. We captured the cats in the bedroom.

By now our eyes were burning so we carried the captured cats outside to the truck and to get some fresh air. How does someone live with so much ammonia in the air, how can one acclimate.

The kitchen cupboards were full of cats, earwigs and roaches…as we opened cupboards they scampered out breaking dishes in the chaos of the moment. More captured.

Then we entered a small utility type room Becky looked behind the freezer and another shocked expression “I’ll go get a plastic bag”. “What is it” and I looked. A dead cat – not a dead cat, or a cat is some state of decay. A skeleton the cat had died and rotted, not a bit of flesh left on it’s bones. All right there, all in that dark, dismal utility room. Rotted away, while human beings walked about – the odor must have been overwhelming – did anyone notice? It didn’t matter enough. How sad, how disenfranchised, how far must a human life fall not to notice, to live with such a thing.

Bag retrieved we were going to collect the bones as evidence. “In case of what”, I thought – well a prosecution – but I would think how much more can this person be hurt, he is not criminal.

The freezer had to be moved out to get the cat but it was stuck – I struggled to drag it out over the petrified and puitrified cat feces that was all over the floor. “Do you want to tip back the freezer and hold it or do you want to grab the carcass”, Becky asked. “I’ll hold the freezer I said” and tipped it back. As she was retrieving the body she asked “are you alright, do you have it”? “I’m fine but hurry”. The weight was not bothering me but as I tipped the freezer back hundreds of roaches ran down my arms scampering over me, using me as a human bridge to where ever they were escaping to.

And we were leaving, we were leaving – we had saved the cats. Cats that were sick, and unsocialized, and not adoptable – we’d save the cats to put them out of their misery, end their suffering. We’d pull the cats to euthanize them. Humanely of course.

But who was coming back for the people? Who was coming back for the man without running water, who shat in a bucket and read romance novels. All he had been guilty of was opening the sliding glass door – to some cats that society didn’t want either and giving them a bit of whatever little he had to eat.

And those are the things I dream about, less and less now but things I will never forget. And I ask myself will I go forward move towards the sunshine, pretty things and fresh air, or will I go back for him?

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9 Responses to “But who is coming back for the people…”

  1. I don’t even know what to say, that was intense. I’m a total cat person, and I have asked myself some of those same questions in regards to people that have so many cats. There is something really wrong with them, not for caring about the cats, but because they life in such horrendous conditions. It makes one think.

    Thank you for sharing that.

  2. Tina-cious.com Says:

    I cry for all of them.

  3. Dharma Kelleher Says:

    Thank you for the difficult work that you do. And thank you for asking the question about the people. So few people dare to ask these important questions.

  4. I’ve never heard that question. I have seen lots and lots and stories along similar veins but not once did anyone ask that question.

    And I have no idea what the answer is.

  5. Maria – I don’t know the answer either. I did realize early on in my career in animal welfare that I didn’t know a damn thing about the real problems, only what the media feeds us. People/bad…animals/good. Spay & Neuter and all problems are solved.

    Of course it was all far more complicated than that and the welfare industry was (and still is) largely reactive and not proactive.

    It was exhilarating and incredibly frustrating to work in welfare.

    Thanks all for your comments, I am sure more things about my career will dribble out as they need to.

    -janet

  6. Wow. Hard to imagine anyone living in those conditions. I thank you too for what you do.

  7. This is a stunning piece of writing. It reads like a short story. Intense and powerful.

  8. there are no words left to say…
    j.

  9. Thank you Karina, CJ and JLB — I do so appreciate your comments and feedback.

    -janet

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