On a cold night in September 2010, a dreadful person drove along the country road that leads past our house, stopped the car, and threw two kittens into the bushes. Our neighbor found them — she noticed their tiny faces looking through the bushes and she took them home but couldn’t keep them so she called me and I took them. They were about 3 weeks old, thin, starved, and infested with fleas.
But they were lucky. Bobcats, lynxes, bears, coyotes, foxes, and fishers live in our area, as do hawks and owls, and they all eat kittens when they can. The kittens were frightened but understood they’d been helped. Our neighbor of course had fed them when she found them, but they ate again greedily when I brought them home because they knew what starvation feels like. We feed our cats on the kitchen table so the dogs don’t eat their food, and when the kittens could eat no more they explored the table briefly, then got in a small box that happened to be there, curled up together and slept for hours in peace. They’re grown-ups now and we bless the day our neighbor found them because they so greatly enhance our lives.
We live in a small town, population about 6,000, and most of us know each other, so we soon learned that our kittens had a sister. A friend who lives about 3 miles away found the sister on the same day our kittens were found, and she can only have been discarded by the same dreadful person. The kitten was the same age and in the same condition as ours, and we know they’re related because all three are purebred Russian blues, suggesting that whoever threw them away is not only cruel but ignorant. Such kittens sell from $400 to $500 and anyone who pays that kind of money for a kitten won’t be throwing it out of a car. Obviously the dreadful person hadn’t purchased them, but he or she probably could have sold them and bought drugs or whatever else made him or her so mentally defective. Our community is not only small but cohesive. We don’t think of ourselves as being cruel or stupid. When I tell others our story, they say the criminal must have come from out of state.
Perhaps, but not necessarily. One day I found a dead domestic rabbit, a Dutch rabbit, in our garage. Our dogs had killed him. I had no idea how a domestic rabbit came to be there until weeks later when a woman told me that she used to have a Dutch rabbit she didn’t want so she “let him go,” as she put it, in our field. This explained it. Never having spent even one day in the wild, at a loss to find himself abandoned in an open field, he had come to our house because he had been born among people, he knew that people lived in houses, and people had always cared for him. The garage door was open so he went in, hoping he’d be safe there. People like that woman give me the shudders. Today if I notice her at some town event, I pretend I don’t see her.
Why do we have animal shelters and humane societies? Because they save such animals as that rabbit and those kittens. They don’t condemn you for bringing an animal you don’t want, or because you moved to an apartment that doesn’t allow animals, or because your new boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t like animals and you chose the person over the pet.
I have a refrigerator magnet that shows two women talking. One says, “He said I had to chose between him and the dog. We miss him sometimes.” But often people make the opposite decision and the shelter is there to help the dog or cat or whatever animal someone doesn’t want. Most of the animals I’ve had and loved over the past 50 years were rescues, some because they came to our house, some as strays I noticed lost and wandering and couldn’t locate the owners, and some from shelters. I am paid for these columns, and the proceeds from this one are going to our local shelter.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is a naturalist and the author of many books. Submit your questions
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