The Cattery

By on November 2, 2012

Volunteering in the cattery at the Arizona Animal Welfare League is inspirational, sometimes tiring, always entertaining and makes my day.

I arrive early, around 7:00 a.m. when shelter operations are in full swing. Volunteers already walk dogs, especially in the sizzling summers when heat limits outdoor activity. Workers are busy hosing down kennels and dogs or cats lay on the operating table for the spay/neuter surgery in the clinic. Maintenance workers mend broken doors or cages so our budget stretches just a little longer. There’s always something to do at the Welfare League. As a volunteer I devote my time to cats and the wash. I love cats. For some odd reason tackling the mammoth load of laundry soothes me.

Each dog receives fresh bedding daily. Comfy blankets, beds or towels are scattered around the cattery. The clinic uses linens so dogs and cats can recover from surgery on something warm and fluffy. Laundry piles up and seems to have a life of its own. Workers and volunteers keep it from growing out of control. We pitch in to fill or empty the machines then fold and stack it on shelves. It’s a thankless task but the animals, many of which scraped by on the streets, appreciate the comfort.

Before entering the cattery, I stop by the laundry room. Cats love their comfort. I load my scooter with a stash of cuddly beds so that cats can be cozy as they await homes with scratching posts, indoor living, crunchy kibble and plenty of love. Sometimes I take dog beds but cats don’t mind. Once I unload the pile of clean linens I greet staff and other volunteers. I pick a room to clean then pile my walker with disinfectant, litter scooper, and rags. If the room doesn’t already have an ample supply of linens I take them too. Next, I greet the cats. That’s important. They expect a warm welcome from me. Otherwise they’re insulted. I can’t work around cats if they feel snubbed.

I always check the adoption board to celebrate cat adoptions. Honestly I don’t remember lots of cat names. My short-term memory took a whacking from a pedestrian car accident in 1994 but I rejoice when our feline friends leave for forever homes, even if I can’t remember whom they are

Then I look at the alumni board. Letters and photos about cats in new homes tickle my heart. I’m happy that our cats are happy. That’s what volunteering is all about.

I then turn into the high priestess among cats for about two hours when a gaggle of homeless and sometimes tattered cats own me. I usually clean the same room but I’m flexible. If staff needs me to clean another, I’ll do what’s needed. Some cats linger in the cattery longer than others and we develop a relationship. I get to learn their likes and dislikes. I also learn which cats may be depressed and need a little more TLC than others. Some cats do not adjust well to congregate living. Others do just fine as long as they have access to food, water and a cozy place to sleep. For the lonely cat, I tell her she’s special. I might hold her on my lap and brush her. She needs reassurance that we’ll protect her and do our best to send her into a safe comfortable and loving home. That’s our promise to all our dogs and cats.

Doing my thing, I remove dirty linens; shake out litter and debris from linens the cats can tolerate for another day. I spray disinfectant on the chairs, wiping them down thoroughly. I spray the walls, careful to clean bits of hairballs and vomit off. I sing or talk to the cats as I clean. Now and then I break up hissy fights. Maybe they don’t like our litter brand or they’re frustrated because they’re not used to sharing space with so many cats. I plead for calm and understanding. Our shelter I say isn’t your permanent home but it’s one heck of a second choice. Please try and understand. Sometimes I think they do.

Here’s an example. I had just entered a porch area and stumbled over a dog cage. I cursed the person who left a dog cage in the cattery and then sat to massage my throbbing big toe. It hurt so much tears crawled down my cheek. I cried even more when about ten cats scooted through the cat door and swarmed around me for comfort. Cats I didn’t even really know shared my pain and showed me they cared. That special moment will last forever.

Sometimes there are cats in cages for medical or behavioral reason. I thoroughly clean each cage although sometimes the disinfectant makes me sneeze. Cats are fussy and like a clean environment so I deal with the sneezing. It’s my duty to live up to proper feline standards. I give them clean bedding, scoop their litter and give clean water. If need be, I fill up their food bowls with fresh kibble. I scoop poop and freshen communal litter boxes. Yes, sometimes it’s stinky but poop is part of animal shelter life. Bits of litter of course get on the floor. So do hairballs, cat fur and cat food. By the time I sweep and mop I’m almost done. A clean shelter is not only mandatory for the animals but it inspires people to adopt. I love when cats, especially older or disabled cats, leave for good homes. Before leaving I hand out snacks and fresh toys. I say goodbye cats. I hope you all find good homes.

The car accident of 1/6/94 took away my working career because of disabling brain and spinal injuries. Volunteering at the AAWL and other non-profit agencies allows me to be whole, to be part of the community that often rejects people with disabilities. Cats don’t care I’m not perfect. They love me anyway just as I love them. Volunteering with homeless animals fills me with purpose and rewards me in ways I never thought possible. Thank you cats.

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