Can’t Save Them All

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.Pyramid of cat responsibility


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.


4 thoughts on “Can’t Save Them All

  1. carmapoodale says:

    Katie, I know what you are going through. I really do understand. Ma is at the brim of burnout right now. Even when she tries to take a few days off , the calls keep coming or the people who know her as the face of the humane society stop her in the stores. People even knock on the door and say “here , I found this stray dog , hope you can find their home. Ma will have to tell them to take it home with them and then sometimes people will mouth off to her about not caring. She threatened to put a large sign on the house saying “THIS IS NOT THE HUMANE SOCIETY” .
    Hardest thing to learn is the word NO. You want to help but you can’t. I will say those who have left animal rescue have had to change their phone numbers to help stop the calls. This might be something you have to do. When it comes to friends and co workers you really need to tell them that you care about animals but to please don’t tell you about them because you have a evil twin that comes out and that twin likes to Ninja slap people to the floor. Then you start doing the wax on /wax off moves from the Karate Kid. 🙂
    Hang in there , girl. You have a big heart and just know when it comes to rescue you can’t say “POOP” and just walk away to shut it off. It takes time.
    Congratulations on your new job. We wish you the best.
    Poodle hugs and kisses
    Carma Poodale

    • Katie says:

      LOL! Ninja slap people! Poop!!! Oh Carma, thanks for bringing a smile to my face this morning. I hope your Ma manages to hang in there too. It is exhausting and tiring and painful sometimes. Yet, the reward, seeing the faces of those cats and dogs as they realize they are safe and happy, is wonderful and drags ya back in. Hugs to you and your ma!

  2. Kitties Blue says:

    You’ll probably have to say it at least once a day for the rest of your life. It is so hard when you see a desperate, little face crying out for help not to jump in both feet first without engaging your brain. Every stray that ever wandered by our house either came to live with us or a friend. Luckily, we don’t get too many in the neighborhood anymore and my neighbor has taken over this job. But every time I see a plea on another blog about a kitty or kitties that need a home, I want to save and adopt. If I did not have my husband to remind me that we have a full house, I would do just that. If I had been asked to help the kitty that ended up dying a week later, I would take that guilt to my grave. Once you become the savior and caregiver for these precious animals, I don’t think you can turn it off. You must now find someone else to take up this mission for you, so that you can take care of the kitties for which you have already taken responsibility as well as take care of yourself. I will pray that a special person or organization finds its way to you to give you the help that you need. Hugs, Janet

  3. Nancy Plemmons says:

    God bless you for all you do and have done…but like you said you can’t save them’s heartbreaking I know to think of those who are cold and hungry…
    What’s also so heartbreaking is the people who don’t care or those who abuse them….it’s more than I can bear to see or hear about…you are a wonderful caring person and you should not feel guilty😢❤

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s