Last Sunday morning, I drove to Oakland, arriving around 10am at the East Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Spay & Neuter Surgery Center. Through Hands On Bay Area, I had agreed to volunteer with Fix Our Ferals.
The goal of this program is to reducing suffering and homelessness in the cat population. This is achieved through a trap-neuter-return initiative. People volunteer to trap feral cats and bring them to the clinic. At the clinic, the cats are spayed or neutered and then returned to their caretakers who keep them until they are ready to be released.
Based on reproduction rates of feral cats, Fix Our Ferals has prevented the birth of an estimated 120,000 homeless cats since its inception. That sounds like a good thing and I still think it is but when I arrived, hearing a chorus of captured kitties crying from their covered cat carriers made me sad.
I was assigned to one of the Transportation teams. Our job was to take sleeping kitties out of their carriers after they had been anesthetized, make sure they were actually out and still breathing. The sleeping cats were sweet. I wanted to think the tenderness I showed in moving them mattered.
There were beautiful cats and kittens of every shape, size and color. Many seemed in fine health but we had some distressed and sick kitties too. I washed my hands a lot and thought of naming this blog, "pee, poop, puke and pus." I experienced each of those lovely bodily functions that day.
The vet in charge was wonderful. She had a kind demeanor and seemed to really care about the cats. If a cat wasn't breathing properly, we were supposed to yell, "Crash" and run with it to a table where they had oxygen waiting. This happened a few times throughout the day. I brought one cat there. She was ok but one of the other cats didn't make. They said she likely had an underlying problem before being given anesthesia.
If the cat we were checking over was breathing ok, we marked them with the number from their cage, noted any obvious medical problems and transported them to the area where they were prepped for surgery. The people I dealt with in that area commented admiringly on or with concern for many of the cats. They didn't seem to be doing anything too intense to them. But back there, I saw cats strapped to boards with their bellies shaved ready for surgery. I didn't dare go into the actual surgical area. There is a reason I am not in the medical field.
I'm sure I should have been prepared for all of this but it felt a bit like being in Frankenstein's lab. All of the kitties looking like zombies upset me.
My biggest bummer of the day was people who kept telling me to "scruff" the cats I was carrying. They kept insisting I grab the cat firmly by the back of its neck to move it from one room to the next and even to take it out of the cage. It is hard to carry a full grown cat by its scruff and feel like you are supporting it comfortably. I understand it doesn't hurt kittens and will scruff a grown cat if I need to make it do something it doesn't want to do but these cats were sleeping. I much preferred cradling their head in my left hand and their bottoms in my right.
They said they usually treat 200 cats per clinic. I probably touched 50+ cats. And even though, by the time I was leaving, six hours after arriving, many of the cats were waking up and seemed ok, the whole thing was a bit traumatic for me. I'm glad the work is being done but watching it was grim.
I guess I prefer dealing with emotional messes than physical ones.