I can’t save all the cats. I can’t. I simply can’t. One person cannot save them all, nor should one person attempt to. Working in the world of animal rescue is exhausting and I give props to anyone who does it. Regular readers of my blog know I am burnt out from cat rescue and attempting to take a break. Thing is, once you become “the cat lady” everyone knows you are “the cat lady” and the calls keep coming. The cats keep coming. This is when you have to learn to say no. I have NEVER been good at saying no.
The requests for assistance come from well meaning people–neighbors, friends, co-workers–who don’t know how to go about trapping ferals or catching a stray. They want help, don’t know where to turn, think of me and give me a call. I need to learn that this does not mean I have to say yes to helping. Just because someone asks me to help does not make these cats my responsibility. This has been so hard for me. Deep down I want to help; I want to make a difference in the world. I want to help people, educate them about the cats in the community. I want to help the cats who live on the streets and have a rough life. I can’t help them all though. I cannot handle the stress and the emotional trauma of it all. I want a life beyond cats!
A few weeks back a co-worker told me about a cat she noticed when she was out walking her dogs. She fed the cat and it seemed friendly enough. I told her I would help her trap the cat and we could figure out where to go from there. Unfortunately this was right as I was in the middle of a bit of job limbo, making it difficult for me to actually schedule a time to go trap this cat. Last week she came in to work and said she found the cat dead on someone’s lawn. It was heart breaking. She said she kept beating herself up about it, maybe he wouldn’t have died if she had caught him the week before, etc. All the things we say when we didn’t get there in time. I felt awful, like I was personally responsible for the death of this cat because I hadn’t managed to trap him. I tried to remind myself that it wasn’t my responsibility, but it didn’t work so well.
Last week I also got a call from my neighbor. A friend of hers has some cats living under their deck, and they are driving the dogs crazy. The friend’s neighbor feeds them. My neighbor asked if I could trap them for her. I asked what was going on and it seems that four cats turned to 12 cats. and the friend doesn’t want the cats back in her yard (which I totally understand! Gotta take care of your own animals first!). I don’t have time for this, especially the relocation part (Winter is coming! It is going to be impossible to move those cats during the winter!) I start a new job Monday, I am trying to focus on myself and writing and getting my life together. I can’t take on a project like this. So of course I said yes. I immediately regretted it though. I sought out some help from a local rescue organization, one of the ladies I contacted told me to give her number to the friend with cats under her deck. So I did. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Yet, there is guilt. I SHOULD have been able to help them, to take on the responsibility.
I have been trying to remind myself of what I call “Joan’s Pyramid of Cat Responsibility.” The Pyramid of Cat Responsibility, which I have mentioned before, was shared with me by a co-worker when I was an adoption counselor/front desk at a shelter. She used it to remind me that I can’t care for all the cats, and that my responsibility lies more with the few cats at the very top of the pyramid, not the large number of cats at the bottom of the pyramid. Below is the modified version to fit with my current life situation.
Using this pyramid reminds me that I HAVE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CATS AT THE BOTTOM! This doesn’t mean I should turn a blind eye to them, but I shouldn’t feel guilty about all the cats I can’t save, because I can’t save them all. So, why do I still feel so bad about not helping them? The faces of the desperate cats whose last minute please to be saved from death row haunt my memory. The thought of cats cold and hungry on the street float into my mind when I curl up in my warm bed. Every time I see a story on Facebook of a friend trapping a new cat or helping out a colony I feel guilty, and lacking. But I can’t save them all. I wonder how many times I have to repeat this to myself before it sticks.