The Hope and Excitement
I remember each first meeting with my cats, even the ones who have since crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We never chose the first kitten we met; we let the kitten choose us. Each experience was a journey of hope and excitement. Then came the moment that we knew this kitten (or these kittens) were meant for us. I can’t articulate how we knew, it was different for each one but we knew and the felines knew as well.
Getting to know our new feline family members was always fun and introducing them to the other cats in the house, although a bit nerve wracking, always worked eventually. Then came the moment when the new kitten was allowed to venture out of their bathroom abode to integrate with the other cats. After a few symbolic hisses from the established felines (just to keep up appearances), the newbies settled in and our family was enriched by the new fur kid.
Each day brought something new to learn about our new furiend, and, as they grew and their personalities became known to us, we fell more and more in love. But sadly, sometimes circumstances change, life throws us a curve ball and the happy home we once knew becomes a place of conflict, stress or disappointment. These situations are not of our making or choosing, they aren’t anything we desired or planned for. We plan to live with our cats forever but sometimes forever is in fact, not forever.
I’ve had cats in my life for years and integrated new cats into the household. After the initial fuzzy tails and hisses, the new felines blend into the family and all is well.
One day that all changed. After a year of living with the two shelter kittens we’d adopted from our local shelter, our beloved blue-eyed, Tabby Siamese mix, Miss P. crossed the Rainbow Bridge. She was eighteen and had lived a long, happy life lording it over the other cats and taking her position as the Alpha. Things shifted immediately when she was gone. Our sassy little Tabby Amelia thought she should be the new Alpha but our eleven year old male Tucker had his eye on the job. The ensuing weeks and months were horrible. As Tucker took his position as Alpha, Amelia took her frustration out on the most timid member of our family, Tucker’s sister Jasmine. She attacked Jasmine viciously, finally chasing her into our bedroom and refusing her access to the rest of the house. She also took her frustration out on us and our home. I loved Amelia and did all I could to bring peace into the house and make everyone happy again.
One year and hundreds of dollars later, seeking veterinary help and trying numerous calming and training products, our home remained in a state of high stress for the cats and the humans. The day came when we had to make one of the hardest decisions of our lives. Amelia needed a new home, a place where she would be the only kitty. And our other cats needed some peace in their lives. I have written about this terrible anguish in our lives on my blog, Feline Opines. The story is much too complicated to relate here. I refer to it now so that you understand that I have lived through the pain of a rehoming situation.
The Shame and Judgment
Having to rehome your cat creates an avalanche of shame, judgment and self-recrimination. The world doesn’t know about the nights you couldn’t sleep, the prayers you said, the tears you shed, the money you invested in an attempt to keep your beloved cat in your home. No, the world finds out that you rehomed your cat and you are judged as callous and cruel and definitely unworthy of ever adopting another cat. Most of us in this situation accept the judgment and shame as appropriate, beating ourselves up continually for being horrible failures.
The world doesn’t care about your specific circumstances. The world says, “You adopted this cat FOREVER and anything less than forever is cruel and unacceptable. Shame on you! You are a horrible person!” That is, most of the world but thankfully not the entire world.
I am extremely fortunate to have a first class, top caliber no-kill animal shelter in my town, Panhandle Animal Shelter. The director of this shelter, Mandy Evans has a heart for the animals of our community but also for the people as well. Mandy has no patience for judgment and shaming. She shares many stories of how people find themselves in hard circumstances and the only place they have to look to is the shelter. One story in particular that she tells illustrates that judgment is not always appropriate.
Early one winter morning (we live in a mountain area so winter mornings are cold) Mandy arrived at work to find a dog tied to a tree in front of the shelter. There was a note tied to the dog’s collar. She explains that this scenario, on its face seems horrible. But the note revealed that the dog’s owner, a woman fleeing abuse felt that the shelter was the only safe option she had for her beloved pet. She knew the shelter would care for him when she could not.
Mandy and her team understood what we were going through with Amelia, and they got us through our traumatic experience. And now Mandy has now taken her vision of helping others when rehoming is necessary to a national level with the Home to Home program.
Mandy sees the purpose for shelters shifting. To that end she has created a help line for pet owners at the Panhandle Animal Shelter and a program called Home to Home. Home to Home was launched in August 2017 and is specifically designed to assist those who are in need of help to rehome their pets. The idea is to keep pets out of the shelter and to create a bridge between the former owners and the new owners. Cats (and other animals) move from one home to another without ever having to suffer the trauma of being in the shelter. This program is taking the stress out of rehoming situations for humans and animals.
Pets are listed on the Home to Home program page that is linked to the Panhandle Animal Shelter site. There are photos, descriptions and other information about the animal and an email form for any questions that the prospective adopter may want to ask. The person rehoming the cat remains anonymous on the site. From there, visits, phone calls, etc. are arranged between the parties and rehoming is accomplished.
Since this program’s launch in conjunction with the shelter’s help line, Panhandle Animal shelter has seen a 20% reduction in pet surrenders. That is an impressive percentage for a period of five months.
I was thrilled when I heard of this program that is now implemented in other shelters. I was sad as well. What a blessing it would have been to have Home to Home for Amelia. Instead of sending a 3-page novella about Amelia’s story and all her veterinary records, I could have met her new family, told them how she bonds so closely with humans and how she sits on a stool by the kitchen counter and snoopervises while you cook dinner. I could have told them that she loves humans, but other cats, not so much. I could have told them she would be a perfect “only cat”. And because I never had that closure I still think of her, praying she found a good home and that her new family received my letter and her veterinary records.
The Home to Home program provides that peace of mind to those who are rehoming their cat. It gives the adopter all the information they need to have a happy start with their new fur kid. It gives the family rehoming their cat closure and peace in knowing their feline is in a home that is suited for them. Home to Home is a win, win, win.
I wanted to write about Home to Home and was given access to a cat adoption story. A family (who wished to remain anonymous) adopted a sweet kitten from the shelter. The children were thrilled to adopt a kitty; one child in particular was over the moon as they had always wanted a kitten. Fast forward and this happy family found out some not so happy news, one of the adults and one of the children were extremely allergic to the kitten. Despite all the air purifying, rug removal and medications, the allergy problems persisted. The painful decision had to be made to rehome the cat.
The kitty was placed on the Home to Home page and this is where the rest of the story is told by Ann, the kitty’s new human.
Ann and I met for coffee and she told me about her Home to Home experience. She came across a listing on the Home to Home site with the photo of a charming little Tabby. She wasn’t looking for a cat but for some reason this kitty tugged at her heart. Ann was no neophyte to adoption; she adopted a dog from the shelter a few years ago. The next part of the story is a bit serendipitous as someone in her office heard her talking about the cat on the Home to Home page and they said, “That’s our cat!”
Ann sent an email and arranged a time to meet the feline and the humans and before she knew it, she had added a cat to her family.
I asked Ann if she would adopt again through the Home to Home program and she gave me an enthusiastic yes. She also noted that there were extra benefits to being a Home to Home adopter. There is no adoption fee (and the Home to Home program is very clear that fees are not allowed), she received all the things the family had purchased for the kitty, bed, food , toys, etc. and she had health and behavior history for the cat. Today, the kitty and her dog are enjoying life together in her home as the photos below show.
Oh how I wish more shelters had such a program. If the goal is to ensure a safe, happy environment for every shelter pet then this is a big step forward. Mandy emphasizes that there will always be a need for shelters but her vision is to see shelters become more proactive and involved in the lives of the animals and the humans who bring them into their homes. Home to Home and the Panhandle Animal Shelter helpline is making great strides in making this happen. I will never forget Amelia; she left forever paw prints on my heart and that is why I tell her story and promote Home to Home and other programs like it.
The truth we animal lovers don’t want to face is that sometimes forever isn’t forever. My hope is that this story and the Home to Home program will cause you to pause and think before you judge someone who is in the terrible predicament of rehoming.
“Judge tenderly, if you must. There is usually a side you have not heard, a story you know nothing about, and a battle waged that you are not having to fight. – Traci Lea Larussa
Additional information: “Return is Not A Dirty Word” – Inga Fricke , Director, Pet Retention Programs, at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)