Ruby Reid: I’m not a cat lady, I’m an animal ally!

14 Jul

This guest post was written by my neighbor Ruby Reid, MSW, a Community Organizer and lifelong animal advocate. She has worked on local, state, national and international campaigns for animal rights, human rights and the environment. Her work is informed by her training and experience as a professional social worker. She is currently writing a “Do It Yourself” guide for new activists, The Organizer’s Cookbook, which will be available soon.

I asked Ruby to write this post when I heard about the East Bay SPCA Adoptathon happening this Sunday in Jack London Square. Over 30 animal shelters and rescue groups are joining together to adopt out hundreds of cats, dogs, rabbits, reptiles and more. Not convinced you adopting is for you? Read Ruby’s story and it just might change your mind. If so, head to Jack London Square this Sunday from 10am-3pm for the Adoptathon.

Ok, so right now there are 4 kittens in our bathroom and 2 resident cats in our house. It all started with a trip to the dry cleaner.

While my partner ducked in to pick up our clothes, a black cat in the window of a neighboring pet shop caught my eye. He stretched out his paw. The tag on his cage said “Dexter.” Drawn by a powerful and inexplicable force, I went inside.

Dexter reached out through the wire cage, batting at me with a soft paw and meowing loudly. The shop attendant opened the cage. Without a word, she placed Dexter in my arms. He snuggled up and started purring.My partner Kenya walked into the pet store at this point. He stared at me, dumbfounded as I stammered, “umm… this is Dexter.” As if on cue, Dexter raised his head and softly chomped on my finger. It was tender, a “love chomp.” Dexter reached his paw to Kenya, love-chomped him and purred with a flourish. Kenya and I gave each other a knowing look (“we can’t take this cat home”) and returned Dexter to his cage. He complained pitifully, and we walked out in a daze.

We returned to our regular, crazy life. But we couldn’t get Dexter out of our minds. We kept talking about him. We wondered what it must be like for a cat to be caged in a bird shop, with temptingly tasty birds chirping tragically out of reach. We went back to visit, using dry-cleaning or ice cream as a convenient excuse to be “in the neighborhood.”

Dexter has gorgeous, silky black fur. We discovered three white “buttons” that you can’t see unless he shows you his belly. Black cats have a hard time in shelters because some people think they cause “bad luck.” Dexter narrowly escaped euthanization in an Oakland shelter that was overrun with kittens. A “second chance” animal rescue organization called Hopalong saved him. He lived in the “kitten room” at Hopalong and stayed briefly in a foster home before his stint at the bird store. He sounded pretty darn lucky to me.

We “happened” to drive by on New Year’s Eve. Standing on College Ave, we counted down to midnight while Dexter meowed through the glass. We scribbled our phone number on a scrap of paper and stuck it under the door with a note: “We are coming back to adopt Dexter when you open.”

A whole community of dedicated animal allies shaped the eight months of Dexter’s life before he came to us. I am eternally grateful to each one of them for keeping him alive and helping him finally find us. Our happy-ending story is only one among millions fueled by small miracles and great acts of kindness.

When Dex was a year old, he got sullen when we left him alone to go to work. He wouldn’t eat unless we sat with him. He protested (loudly, said the neighbors) while we were gone. He insisted on playing for hours, furiously chasing his mouse toy as we trailed it across the apartment. He needed a buddy.

That’s when I met Kimberly… and Roscoe. Kimberly fosters orphan kittens who are too young to survive without bottle-feeding, and she blogs about it. She had 9 kittens when I first met her, but Roscoe stole my heart.

Roscoe (nee “Einstein Dipstick”) is a rambunctious, orange and white kamikaze fluff-ball. I fell in love when I saw Kimberly’s videos on Youtube. Case in point:

Kimberly verified that we were trustworthy people who would provide a good home to the little kitten. We promised to love and neuter Roscoe, keep him indoors and never declaw him.

Another rescued kitten joined our family. Yet again, we were grateful to a network of animal allies who helped him find us. I was touched by Kimberly’s kindness and I was deeply inspired by the string of small miracles that brought Roscoe to our family.

Two weeks ago, I read an urgent Facebook post: 27 kittens at Hopalong needed cuddling.

Seriously. Who could resist a call to action like that?

Not me.

In case justification is needed: Kittens need to socialize with people in order to overcome their instinctive or learned fears. During this crucial time in their young lives, they establish their proclivity towards humans. If they have positive interactions (i.e. cuddling), they learn to like people, making it easier for them to find (and keep) a family. If they don’t get cuddled during this critical stage, they withdraw or act aggressively to cope with their fear. Needless to say, it’s not good for kittens to hiss and cower when potential adopters visit. It’s even worse when these un-cuddled kittens turn into grumpy, terrified, “unadoptable” cats.

I went to cuddle the kittens.

It was “bath day,” so I helped to bathe and towel-dry the 27 tiny, protesting kittens.

The staff kept thanking me profusely and apologizing. But I didn’t need apology or appreciation. I loved every minute of it.

The tiny kittens were soaking wet and mad, so I cuddled them in a warm towel fresh out of the dryer. They got all fluffy and happy again. Purring, they curled in my arms, kneading my chest with their little paws.

I thought about all the volunteers who must have cuddled Dex before we came along. I thought about what would have happened to Roscoe if he hadn’t found his way to Kimberly.

Hopalong was beyond maximum capacity for kittens. At the height of kitten season, their regular foster homes were already full. Until some of these kittens were fostered or adopted out, they couldn’t rescue any more from being euthanized in the over-filled shelters.

I wanted to help, the same way that Kimberly and so many other people helped our cats when they were in need.

I called my partner and explained the situation, “They only need a place to stay for a couple of weeks until they are big and healthy enough to get spayed/neutered and adopted. Somebody did this for Dex, Kimberly did it for Roscoe, and now it’s our turn.” I must have sounded crazy, but he said yes (because he is amazing).

I asked which kittens were most in need of fostering. It was a litter with three tabbies and an orange marmalade. Two boys and two girls. Three of the kittens cowered in the corner when I tried to pick them up. The fourth (who was the scrawniest) bounded over, squinting skeptically at my hand. He arched his back, his scruffy fur stood on end. The orange one hid behind the tabbies and hissed in my general direction. I could see why the Hopalong staff selected them. Straight out of the shelter, they were skinny, scared, and sneezing.

I packed up the four kittens in a carrying crate, along with food, toys, litterbox, litter and even a new scratching post. Hopalong gave me everything I needed to take care of them. They also gave me a thorough orientation and I signed the necessary paperwork. They sent me home with a thick packet of resources and a number in case of emergency.

We set up the bathroom as their “area” and got them settled into their temporary home. They were quarantined from our resident cats because they were, um… contagious.

They were sneezing all over the place. They had fleas and ear mites. At least one had worms. (They were treated before they left Hopalong but it takes a little while to clear these things up). The tiniest kitten had a weepy eye. You could see all of their ribs.

They were completely freaked out: they ran whenever they saw us. The orange one hid behind the toilet and hissed at me for the first two days. It was pathetic and adorable at the same time. My goal was to teach them that people are safe.

Their goal in life was to get healthy and to bulk up to two pounds.

After two weeks at our house, the kittens really aren’t sneezing anymore. The weepy eye cleared up. Mites, fleas and worms are gone! Plump little bellies filled out the scrawny ribs.

We went to Hopalong for their check-up and weigh-in today. Guess what?!


They all weigh over three pounds. The biggest is over four pounds! This means that are ready to be spayed/neutered as soon as a surgery appointment opens up. After that, they will be ready for forever homes.

As for my goal… well, see for yourself. Do these look like scaredy-kittens to you?

We love these little guys, but they need a forever family. Maybe you can adopt one of these babies? (If interested, contact Trisha@Hopalong.org about “the nut litter”).

Or maybe you can adopt one of their friends at the East Bay SPCA Adoptathon?

Everyone can be an animal ally. There are so many different ways that you can help the animals by supporting rescue and advocacy organizations.

Maybe you can spare your bathroom for a couple of weeks to foster kittens like we did?

Maybe you can volunteer at your local shelter?
Maybe you could just stop by sometimes to cuddle some kittens?

If you can’t take animals into your home and you can’t be a shelter volunteer or kitten cuddler (maybe you’re allergic), you can still help.

Shelters and rescue organizations need donations of money, pet food and supplies. Most of these groups operate close to the edge. Every single donation helps them rescue and care for the animals.

Everyone can help spread the word. Share pictures, stories and videos of adoptable animals with your network. Advocate for animals who need homes and the organizations that help them find their forever families.

I hope that you enjoyed our family’s story and that you are inspired to do what you can to help homeless animals.

We’ll see you at the Adopt-a-Thon!!

What: East Bay SPCA Adoptathon: 100s of adoptable animals (cats, dogs, rabbits, reptiles and more!), a fun Kids’ Zone (relay race, face painting, hair feathering, crafts and more), a Police K-9 demonstration, $20 micro-chipping, local animal boutiques and great raffle prizes!
When: This Sunday, July 17th from 10am-3pm
Where: Jack London Square
Why: Um, weren’t you reading?

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