Every Day Should Be Clear the Shelters Day

Silly kitty Shadow.

I volunteer with a small (but mighty!) rescue group here in Southern Maryland called Rescue Angels of Southern Maryland. We mostly deal with cats, though we’ve recently begun to rescue dogs as well.

Most of the cats we find homes for come from owner surrenders, friendly cats and kittens from our feral colonies, and at-risk animals from our local municipal shelter, Tri-County Animal Shelter.

Saturday, Rescue Angels was one of the groups that participated in Tri-County’s annual Clear the Shelters Day celebration. Seventy-seven animals found forever homes that day. Watching the parade of happy animals and their new owners as they left the building was totally worth sweltering in the 95-degree heat.

As the only public animal shelter to serve the three Southern Maryland counties, Tri-County is a busy place. It frequently gets full, and organizations like Rescue Angels and others in the area step in when we can to remove animals from the shelter. This is not a no-kill shelter, so a full shelter means animals will die. New animals come in every day.

Gorgeous husky Damien.

Three things struck me when I was at Tri-County last weekend.

The first is that I wish Tri-County could be this busy every Saturday. Granted, adoption fees on Clear the Shelters Day were eliminated or reduced and there was a lot of publicity for this event, but there are always wonderful animals at the shelter that want to go home with a family. Many animals end up there because the owner surrendered them; the reason often given is “did not want.”

The second is that I am increasingly amazed by the dedication of the shelter staff. They have a difficult job, and it often goes without thanks. It’s not easy to be civil to an owner who is dropping off their pet because they don’t want it anymore. It’s not easy to put down perfectly healthy animals because humans have acted irresponsibly. I can only imagine that the staff constantly feels like it is in crisis mode; they may have nearly cleared the shelter on Saturday, but come midweek, those cages and pens will be filled again with animals in need.

The third thought is that we, the community, created this shelter, and we need to fix it. Tri-County has a terrible reputation here in Southern Maryland. The kill rate for cats is more than 50 percent. The facility is small and needs renovation and expansion. It is nearly always full to overflowing. Members of the community sometimes say terrible things about the staff.

Beautiful Nadine, who found a forever home on Clear the Shelters Day.

But Tri-County is constantly full because the Southern Maryland has let its companion animals down. Cats are not spayed or neutered, and they’re treated as disposable. Need to move? Drop your cat at the shelter, or worse, just leave it behind. Dog getting too big? Don’t feel like dealing with behavior or health issues? Drop the animal at the shelter.

I’ll be honest: My opinion of Tri-County and its staff has not always been positive. What makes it worse is that I had those opinions without actually visiting the shelter. I am ashamed of that fact. Since I started volunteering with Rescue Angels, I have visited the shelter many times to take cats that our rescue was putting into foster care. I have met some of the staff members, and they are always happy to talk with me about their animals. They’re ecstatic when an animal leaves the building. The shelter has a rescue coordinator whose job is to work with local rescue groups to remove animals from the shelter when they are at risk of being killed or when shelter life is impacting their well-being. These folks are animal lovers forced into a terrible situation by a community that treats its animals as disposable and Tri-County as its dumping ground.

So, now that Clear the Shelters Day has passed, I challenge my fellow residents of Southern Maryland: Visit Tri-County Animal Shelter. Talk with the staff. Visit with the cats in the free-roaming room. Take a dog for a walk. Take pictures and share them on Facebook. Volunteer. Follow Tri-County on Facebook and interact with their posts. Foster, which allows rescue groups to remove more animals from the shelter. Rescue Angels can help you become a foster family for dogs or cats.

All three Southern Maryland counties are working on plans to build their own shelter facilities. In the meantime, Tri-County Animal Shelter is our public shelter. It’s our job as the community to support the staff, help care for the animals, and reduce the number of animals killed there.

I hope to see you there, leash in hand.

By: Cori S. Meloney


Too Hot to Cat

It feels like 102 degrees here today, and the cats are just not having it.

Seamus is seeking relief on the chilly tile.

Emmett prefers a spot by the window, not caring about the sun.

Inexplicably, Poe is in the T-shirt box.

And Aine is nowhere to be found. She must have a great hiding place!

Shy guy Dickens is following me around, helping me look for the others. Or maybe he wants food.

Stay cool!

Saying Goodbye to Aoife

My lovely assistant in April 2015.

Originally posted Aug. 5, 2015, on my other blog.

Our cat Aoife died the end of June. It broke my heart.

You may not have known her name, but if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, you knew her face. She’s the pretty little calico who kept me company (and warmed my lap) as I worked at the computer at my desk or on the couch.

I’ve waited a few weeks to write this post because it was hard to say goodbye to her. (I can tell you I’m failing; I’m starting to cry again.) Aoife had a severe case of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and while we were able to help her manage it for the better part of 10 years, in the end, the inflammation was just too much for her aging little body to bounce back from. We had to make the decision to let her go.

My son is 7, and while Aoife (pronounced EE-fa) was never allowed in his room to sleep with him (IBD can be messy), he became more attached to her in the two years since our other kitty, Rory, died. He would talk to her and pet her, and feeding her at night and giving her fresh water was part of his daily routine. Because he was older and closer to Aoife, her death hit him harder than Rory’s did.

So the night after she died, and the day before we brought her body to the vet for cremation, we held a memorial service. Aoife loved to sleep on fleece on the bed, so we sat on the bed with her one last time. The vet had put her body in a cardboard coffin, which I placed in the middle of the bed (on a fleece blanket, of course) with a candle and a bowl of 10 stones. I brought an empty cat food dish to the room as well.

First, we took turns reading “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst. When I was a kid, this was the book we read when a family pet died. Checking it out from the library to read together was part of our ritual when dogs, birds, fish, and hamsters died. When our dog died in 1994, my parents bought me my own copy. Inside, I keep track of the pets we have lost since I got the book.

Hunkered down during a snow storm. Look at how tough her life was. :)
Hunkered down during a snow storm. Rough life. 🙂

Then, we used the stones to list 10 good things about Aoife. She was soft. She liked to snuggle. She loved ear rubs. She would walk on a leash – and then beg at the door to go out every time we were outside. For each good thing, we put a pebble into the empty cat dish.

After that, we wrote messages on her box. It makes me smile now to think of the sweet things my son wrote: “I’ll miss you.” “Goodbye, kitty.”

To close, I read a chapter from “Why Cats Do That” by Karen Anderson. The passage is called “Why do cats completely endear themselves to us?”, and it’s all about how cats’ reputation for aloofness is untrue. They truly do love us – and to be loved by a cat is an honor.

Two years ago when Rory died, my son was five. He didn’t want to see Rory’s body; he didn’t even want to see the box. This time, he was OK being in the room with the box, and at the end of our memorial service, I asked him whether he wanted to see Aoife. I was surprised when he said yes. We talked about how soft she still was and that this was just her body – that the things that made Aoife Aoife were alive in our hearts and memories. I’m glad he chose to see her. I hope it made death just a little less scary and mysterious for him.

A couple of weeks later, my son and I made an Aoife memory book. I used this template from Fantastic First Grade Froggies. I love that it is open ended and was able to grow with him. When he was five, he drew pictures and I did the writing. This time around, he did more writing.

I hope this helps you guys. I’d love to hear how you help your kids (and yourself) cope with the death of a pet.

In memory of Aoife O’Brien. March 17, 2004-June 27, 2015. Thanks, Aoife, for letting us be your family.

Meet the Cast: Dickens — Updated!

070616-dickens-02Status: Adopted 12/10/16!

Birthday: Summer 2015

Coloring: Buff orange and white

Dickens might be the sweetest cat I’ve ever met. He’s incredibly gentle and curious, but he’s also very shy and still skittish. He’s come a long way, but if you move when he’s not expecting it, he will run away. The good news is, he comes back quicker than he used to, and if the house is quiet, he’ll hop up on the couch or bed to be pet. He loves to nap in the clean laundry. Dickens relies on his braver brother Poe for comfort, so they need to be adopted together. Dickens loves to play with the laser pointer and to wrestle with Poe.

Meet the Cast: Poe — Updated!

070516-poe-02Status: Adopted 12/10/16!

Birthday: Summer 2015

Coloring: Solid black

Our foster cat Poe is sweet, affectionate, talkative … and a bit mischievous. He’s the cat who will look at you ask he knocks your pen off the table. He’s also the cat who will rub his head against your face to let you know he loves you. He’s a lap cat, and the protector of his brother, Dickens. Poe started out as very shy and scared; since he’s been with us, he’s settled into routine and gotten more comfortable. Sudden moves and loud noises still freak him out, but he doesn’t run away when you walk by him. He and Dickens are bonded; they need to be adopted together.

Meet the Cast: Seamus

070416-seamus-02Status: Permanent resident

Birthday: July 4, 2013

Coloring: Orange and more orange

The oldest resident of the herd is just a big kitten himself. Don’t let Seamus’ angry resting face fool you; the instant another cat is having fun, Seamus (shay-mus) is there to join in. He’s the instigator of most wrestling matches, but also the first to sit on your lap. Seamus truly lives by the motto “If I fits, I sits.” There’s no small space he hasn’t tried to work himself into for a nap. Of all three cats, Seamus is the one who loves boxes the most – no matter how big or how small. His name is the Irish form of James. We tried to nickname him Jim; it didn’t stick.

Meet the Cast: Aine

070316-aine-02jpgStatus: Permanent resident

Birthday: March 17, 2015

Coloring: Solid, silky black

Aine (pronounced an-ya) is a cuddler. At 3 a.m. (and occasionally on the sofa). She’s shy and reserved, so many guests haven’t seen her, except at meal times. She’ll play if there’s playing to be done, but she’d much rather relax in the window or nap someplace quiet. Aine is our hunter – no fly or insect in the house goes unnoticed by her. She’s picked up some of Emmett’s habits: She, too, will arch her back when she wants to be pet. Aine’s name is the Irish form of Anne.