Before I was in kindergarten, I started rescuing cats with my mom and my babysitter. We found a group of cats near some stores and a busy road, and we left notes to see if anyone else was feeding them. The other people stopped helping, and we ended up feeding and caring for them every day. Eventually we started feeding cats at other locations too.
I realize we had a certain amount of privilege to be helping others in need—in this case cats. We had enough extra money that we could use to feed the cats, and the time to find homes for one or two at a time. First we would trap them in metal traps, then bring them to the vet immediately to be spayed and neutered, get all their vaccinations, and get rid of parasites like fleas and ticks. After that we would let them live in a certain part of our house, like the spare bathroom, where they could have their own quiet place away from us and our other pets until we found them a home. We kept some along the way too.
It’s really a great feeling to help them. It always puts things in perspective; for example when it’s cold out, I think of them huddled in the beds we make for them of straw or styrofoam.
We would give them to people who wanted them but didn’t have the money to get them spayed and neutered—that costs more than $200 each. We did this for more than 100 cats! Two times we had pregnant mom cats who had kittens. It was really fun because the kittens were cute, but it was also important to take care of them. When kittens are born outside and don’t get pet by humans, they end up feral, which means they are wild and don’t trust humans. When cats are feral, it is much harder to find them a home. We spent a lot of time building up trust with all of those cats. Most of them would hide for a long time in boxes in the spare room.
We encountered a lot of obstacles along the way, but the biggest one was when my parents got divorced and my father stopped paying for it. It was a lot harder for me and my mom to keep doing it. We started renting out the basement to get extra money, which meant the cats couldn’t stay there in the spare room anymore. My mom saved up to buy food for the cats, but we couldn’t afford to take them all to the vet. So we started thinking of new ways to keep helping.
We called a big rescue place, and they had a lot of money and agreed to get the cats spayed, neutered, and vaccinated. The only catch was they wanted to return all the cats to the same risky place outside and not find homes for them. We had to agree to let them put all the cats back even though it would be harder to catch them a second time. This compromise was still better than nothing and still gets the cats medical help and stops them from making more and more kittens.
I’m in seventh grade now so it’s been almost eight years, and helping cats has been a big part of my life. We keep feeding the cats, and we are still rescuing them but at a slower pace now. Last summer I rescued three kittens after we trapped their mom. She had the kittens under a bush on a corner of two streets in a very unsafe place. The kittens were down in a drain pipe under the road. You have to plan ahead for these rescue missions; it’s a little like hunting. I had thick gloves on and a net; I went down into the pipe where my mom couldn’t fit, grabbed the kittens, and put them into the net. My mom waited at the top with a carrier. One of the kittens really was a hisser, and only one relaxed and let me pet him. It was a very sweet moment because I knew he was trusting me when he just as easily could have been afraid for his life. It felt really rewarding to know they were all safe, together with their mom, and not alone. We found a woman to keep them in her garage until we found homes.
When reflecting on all of this, I realized you can still help no matter how much money or privilege you have. My mom still feeds them and provides fresh water every single day; my old babysitter helps when we go away. I feed with my mom whenever I’m not in school, but even on school days I help my mom bring the food to the car each morning. We feed in the summer, and we shovel them out when there’s a blizzard. We never miss a day. Once in a while we still find them homes, but mostly they stay together in their colony. At least they got to go to the vet and no new kittens are increasing the population. We have to keep helping them because they need it.