Adventures of a NWAS Volunteer - CATS? byTara

“Yeah, but I’m not a cat person…”

“Trust me, I’m tired of this too bud.” 

The sick, annoyed cat is jammed behind their litter box, up against the wall.  If looks could kill, I’d be dead 15 times over tonight.  A respiratory infection has spread like wildfire through the cats here at the shelter.  No matter how good your practices are, things happen sometimes when you bring in new animals regularly.   We are a week in, and I think the cats would rather be sick then get another does of oral meds via syringe.  Hmm, maybe I’ll do the kittens first.    

How did I, a hardened non-cat person get here?  I’ve done 8 evening shifts in 10 days over the holidays: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day Eve and New Years Eve included.  And I’m happy.   While I’d rather the cats were back to their happy selves and wanting to interact with me, I am content enough knowing I’m helping them get healthy. 

This is something that I thought about as a new volunteer.  I don’t like cats! How am I going to be empathetic to their needs or even enjoy my shifts if I have to deal with cats?  It’s mostly cats most weeks!

Until I started at the shelter, I assumed all cat encounters to be one of the two following scenarios.

1.   A friend has a new cat. You’re optimistic as it rolls on its belly, inviting you to give it a little scratch.  Don’t. It’s a trap.  One belly rub and it latches four well clawed paws into your hand, swiftly pulling it in for a bite.  

2.    Everyone is sitting around in a big circle in the living room at the dinner party.  The aloof house cat strolls in, does a quick once over of the crowd and sees you; The one person trying to look away.  They know. They stroll over and hop uninvited into your lap and curls up.  It twists it’s tail in and out contently and looks over it’s shoulder at you.  Things look promising, you try and relax.  It rolls over on your lap, inviting you to give it a little scratch.   Don’t. It’s a trap.  One belly rub and it latches four well clawed paws into your hand, swiftly pulling it in for a bite. 

I know, right? EVERY cat encounter EVER.  Okay, so I might not have had much cat experience.  I’d scream if one ever licked me.  Those weird little sandpaper tongues? EEk.  But you know what?  The shelter has been the best thing for me in this regard.  Now having had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of cats over the last few years, I would say now that I am, possibly a cat person.  Here’s a few reasons.  

1.       I wasn’t instantly confident around them.   If you don’t have experience with a type of animal, it turns out you don’t suddenly inflate with outrageous bravado because you’re all hopped up on your big vision to go out and save the world by volunteering.  Yes, even with cute itty-bitty kitties.   I felt a bit vulnerable with the cats, especially the ones in the eye-level crates.  One night there was a new cat in, and he came up to the front of the crate while I was about to start cleaning his litter pan.  I winced as the cat lifted their paw towards my face.  Oh no! My career as a supermodel will be over! (Kidding, I walk in a circle and count trees for a living). The cat cupped my cheek, looked me in the eye and mashed it’s face along my left cheek.  It pulled back, looked me lovingly in the eye again and mashed it’s face along my right cheek.  Awww.  And here I was thinking I’d be shredded.  Have some faith, eh Tara?

2.    If I pooped in semi-public, I would never… ever.. drag my glorious bedding over into the place I pooped and hide the mess with the blanket.  Just… what?! 

 3.    Some of the cats lately have been hilariously misnamed.  I can appreciate the challenge of coming up with hundreds of names over the years. But Charming*, SweetiePie*, Lovebug* and Quiet* were the loudest, snarkiest bunch of ladies we've had in a while.  And when you see a cute name you can't help but let your guard down a bit.  Another trap!  *Names have been changed to protect the cats now settled in to wonderful homes.  No one is at their best in the shelter and everyone finds their match!

 4.   I love watching a kitten purr in your lap, feeling completely comfortable and content.  As a novice cat person, I helped get this cat to this place.  Weeks earlier they came in with their brothers and sisters in a semi-feral state.  We were instructed to handle them on every shift, so they could eventually be family ready and find a home.  In the beginning I’d pick up a saucer eyed kitten with a big leather glove and hold them against my chest and give them a head scratch.  They were terrified, assuming murderous intentions and ran as fast as they could to rejoin their siblings when their minute of torture was up.  But you know what? It worked.  And that’s cool to be a part of.   

 5.   If you’re not a cat person, you don’t notice the variety of personalities they can have.  How can you?  You assume they have the two: bitey and scratchy.  There are the mysterious loners, fusspots, lovebugs, snarky hags, charming flirts and social butterflies.  There are the quiet ones who slowly warm up and the bold chatter boxes who are in your face upon first meeting.  All of us at the shelter have different experiences with different animals.  We all have our favourites and those we find a challenge.  I find it hilarious when reading something about my current favourite in the comm log, to the effect of “This cat would not stop hissing and screaming at me my entire shift.  Is she always this much of a (not nice cat)?”  I look down at the lovebug in my lap, purring away.  “You? Nnnnooooo…”

 6.    No matter cat or dog, it’s always amazing to watch an animal come in and blossom from scared and confused to confident and comfortable.  To become themselves.  I’ve included a picture of a recent resident named Chatter.  He was so nervous when he came in that his teeth chattered as he hid in the back of his crate.  And now look at him.  I feel like he’s about to ask if I want to grab a drink after my shift (Fingers crossed!).  

One thing I sometimes hear is “Yeah, but I’m not a cat person…” when talking about volunteering at the shelter.  Yeah cool, me neither.  At least I wasn’t.  One of the biggest benefits I’ve personally had from volunteering at the shelter is my growing appreciation and understanding of cats and all their charms and quirks.  If you think you aren’t a cat person, or dog person for that matter, don’t be deterred from volunteering, you just might surprise yourself.  And the animals you meet will surprise you too.