Happy New Year to all! Normally I save this space to talk about book things because I figure that’s why most people visit my website. I’ll have some book news very soon but today I want to blog about a topic that stirs my passions like few others: Pets.
Nothing brings a smile to my face as quickly as seeing someone fussing over their beloved cat, dog, bird, horse, llama, pig … whatever. If you’re an animal lover, you’ve probably read the research about how pet owners live longer & healthier lives, but we all know that’s just a side effect. The real benefit is joy. I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t judge others, but I can’t help myself when it comes to animals. I think we can tell a lot about people by the way they treat animals, and I often write pets into my books because I like them (and I think most of you do too), and it enables me to show the compassionate side of my characters.
In 1984 I adopted a pair of sibling cats — born on MLK’s birthday, January 15th — which I named Katie (for Hepburn) and Grace (Jones). I didn’t know much about cats back then, like the fact that kittens didn’t tolerate flea baths very well. I nearly lost both of them to raging fevers but they battled back and forgave me. Then when Grace was 4 months old, she swallowed a needle & thread, and it lodged in her intestine. She survived the surgery just fine and forgave me for stupidly leaving such a tempting hazard lying around. I didn’t have a lot of cash back then but I spared no expense when it came to taking care of my babies. In 1989 I found growth on Gracie’s back that turned out to be malignant. More surgery followed, and this time, chemotherapy. She probably thought that was my fault too, but she loved me just the same. The cancer came back three times over the years and finally claimed her, but not until 2003. Since she was 19 years old, I’ll score that one for Gracie. Katie’s life was less complicated, though her last two years were marked by twice-weekly subcutaneous fluids to do the work for her ailing kidneys. She never met a lap she didn’t like, but Jenny’s was her favorite. She was just shy of her 20th birthday when she left to join Grace. That was about the time I started writing, in case anyone should wonder where I got the pseudonym KG.
Jenny had a couple of wonderful sibling cats too, Smokey & Cody (also born somewhere around January 15th), who lived to 16 and 17, respectively. Their passing two years ago left a void in our lives but we weren’t in a hurry to replace them, not with me facing back surgery and a move to California.
But now we’re settled again, so after a couple of years of being catless, we visited the animal shelter in Palm Springs in early November in search of new joy. There were literally hundreds of cats to choose from and we took our time strolling from one row of windows to the next. Lots & lots of kittens, but we wanted a young adult, specifically one that didn’t look like Katie, Grace, Cody or Smokey. One of the cats spoke to us, not because she ran toward the window or played with a toy, but because she was quiet. Turns out she was quite sick, and needed us as much as we needed her. The moment she curled up in my lap, I knew she was the one. We named her Roz (Russell, the star of my favorite film Auntie Mame), and learned she had been dumped at the shelter last August, just in time to deliver 5 kittens. She was only a year old herself, but was a good mom, raising her kittens to 8 weeks when all were adopted. We would have taken Roz that very day but the feline side of the shelter was under quarantine because of a respiratory virus, and she was suffering terribly with it. A week later she had taken a turn for the worse and I wanted so badly to take her home so she wouldn’t meet her fate all alone in a sterile cage. The state of CA wouldn’t allow that, though, not until she had been spayed, and that couldn’t happen until she was well. I visited her twice more, and on the Saturday after Thanksgiving arrived at the shelter to find it packed with folks looking to adopt. Roz wasn’t in her usual window and I started to panic, but then found her a few rows down with her belly shaved. That meant she was over the virus, spayed & ready to go home.
Needless to add, Roz is now Queen of the House.She eats whatever we feed her, fetches her toys when we throw them, screams each time someone wakes her up and has zero interest in running outside when the door’s open. Since this is coyote country, that last bit is a major plus.
The Palm Springs Animal Shelter is dedicated to finding homes for all adoptable pets. This type of shelter — known in shorthand as “no-kill” — is more than an institution or organization. It’s a covenant that says we as a community believe there’s a better solution to animal control than euthanizing 3 to 4 million adoptable pets every year. It sends a shudder through me to know that had Roz landed elsewhere last August, she probably wouldn’t have been there for me in November, certainly not after a virus swept through the kennel. My heart wants to adopt them all, and I know many of you who are reading this feel the same way. If adoption isn’t practical, there are other ways to help. We can recommend shelter pets to people you know who are looking for a best friend. Find out which veterinarians donate their services to the local animal shelter and give them your business. Consider volunteering at the shelter or becoming a foster parent for an animal that needs special care or socialization. Drop off a bag of food, or those toys your pet didn’t like. Or just write a check. Every little bit helps us keep this covenant.
Back in 2007, I published Sumter Point, in which one of my main characters worked at the local animal shelter. A couple of years later, I wrote a short story spinoff that featured another vet tech in Sumter County, one with big dreams of turning the animal shelter into a no-kill facility. It was never published, but I posted it as part of the 2010 Valentine Special at the Royal Academy of Bards. It’s good for a smile — Luck of the Irish — but not safe for work. 😉