Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sponsoring Toby

Toby at the AFOC Shelter
I had just lost my cat Rajah in June of 2005 and wanted to do something help support homeless animals in his memory. I wasn’t ready to adopt another cat but did want to help rescue organizations and shelters.

I went about searching for the right organization to support. The most important thing for me was that the organization was “no-kill” and operated locally. I’m not sure exactly how I found Animal Friends Of Connecticut; my next door neighbors had just adopted an AFOC cat, the local newspaper showed AFOC cats up for adoption, I easily found the AFOC website (www.afocinc.org).

I do remember visiting the AFOC website and navigating around it. That’s how I learned about the AFOC sponsorship program. The sponsorship program page states:

“We have many cats that are not adoptable or are waiting for adoption. We are looking for Sponsors who are willing to sponsor a rescued cat by help covering the cost of food, litter and basic medical care.”

I was very impressed that AFOC cares for cats that are not adoptable when many “euthanize” these animals. I had to help my Rajah, who was suffering as he was dying, cross over to The Rainbow Bridge and don’t consider putting healthy animals to “sleep” to be “euthanasia”. To me, that is just a euphemism.

The AFOC sponsorship program is very flexible. It let me donate an amount (monthly) I was comfortable with, so I went ahead and signed up, leaving which cat to sponsor up to AFOC. I soon received an email from AFOC asking if I’d like “Toby 2” as my sponsored cat. It didn’t really matter to me which cat I sponsored and told them Toby would be fine. Toby was about a year old at the time. Eileen, that was sending me the emails, told me that as a kitten, Toby bonded to another kitten named Fletcher. 

Toby and Fletcher at the AFOC Shelter
Fletcher had a terminal condition so they didn’t separate them as he received comfort being with Toby. AFOC didn’t think Fletcher would survive and planned to adopt out Toby when Fletcher was gone. Fletcher had other ideas and survived, which was great but it also meant that Toby lost his opportunity to be easily adopted.

It’s a sad reality that (weaned) kittens are in higher demand for adoption everywhere. Kittens quickly become cats and, once they do, the chances for their adoption drop significantly.

Soon after I agreed to sponsor Toby, I received a package with his photo, a letter, and a refrigerator magnet with his picture. As time went by, I’d periodically receive Christmas cards, refrigerator magnets, letters, and photos of Toby. I consented to let AFOC put my first name on Toby’s sponsorship image on the website. From time-to-time, I’d look at Toby’s picture there and smile when I saw “Sponsored by Carmelo, Cromwell CT”. I’d also look at Toby’s refrigerator magnets when I sipped my morning coffee, wondering how he was doing.

One of Toby's Refrigerator Magnet Photos
Years went by and I’d replace Toby’s refrigerator magnets when they faded always thinking “I’ll have to adopt him someday.” This wasn’t realistic as my elderly mother was living with me along with my three cats, Doppler, Keiko and Tasha. Normally, I’d have one or two cats but Tasha was rescued off the street by my niece and needed a temporary foster home, that I provided, not realizing I was destined to be a foster failure. 

"Angel" Tasha

I had Doppler since the day he was born prematurely in August of 1996. My girlfriend and I bottle fed him around-the-clock as his mother was only six months old and didn’t lactate. In May of 2013, Doppler lost his long battle with lymphoma. In November of 2013 my elderly mother passed away. My house suddenly felt empty and I decided to adopt an AFOC shelter cat. I contacted Judy (AFOC director) and she had me speak directly with Barbara at the shelter. I asked about adopting Toby but Barbara told me he wasn’t available since he was so bonded to Fletcher.

Doppler and His Mother Glory on the Day He Was Born

When I first went to the AFOC shelter to meet and adopt a cat, I asked to see Toby. Barbara took me to his room and I got to see him and Fletcher. I was a stranger so Toby hid from me as much as he could but I did get to pet him. Barbara then took me around the shelter to meet the cats waiting for a forever home. I couldn’t resist looking at the kittens but they had a lot of potential adopters scheduled to visit them so I decided to adopt a “long term inmate”. I asked Barbara which cat I should adopt and she told me that black cats have the hardest time getting adopted so I adopted a beautiful “parlor panther” named Josie that was passed over many times. When I picked up Josie and put her in my carrier she looked up at me surprised and made a tiny meow as if she was saying: “Me? You picked me?” I also took home a little tabby cat named Gwendolyn that clung to me as soon as she saw me.
Josie In Her Forever Home
More years passed and I lost Tasha and Gwendolyn. I also adopted a special needs kitten I named Pepino. Still, I would look at the refrigerator magnets and wonder how Toby was doing. My daydreams about Toby changed at the AFOC tag sale when George, one of the AFOC directors and secretary, told me “every cat at the shelter is adoptable” (under the right circumstances). 

"Angel" Gwendolyn In Her Forever Home

On November 10th 2016, I received phone calls and emails from AFOC volunteers Pat and Eileen telling me Fletcher passed away. I was worried about Toby and how he would adjust. I would call Jean the shelter coordinator, and Pat to check up on him. Now a 13 year old senior cat, Toby’s chances for adoption were slim at best. As Christmas approached, I received Toby’s newest refrigerator magnet, a photo, and a card. I looked at the new magnet on my refrigerator and soul searched as I sipped my morning coffee.

I had some time off for the holidays, and as Christmas was nearly upon us, I called Pat, Barbara, and Eileen one more time. On December 23rd I called Jean at the shelter with my “prank”. I told Jean I no longer wanted to sponsor Toby. I told her I had sponsored him for about 12 years now and that was long enough. She paused and waited for me to speak. I then asked if she’d be at the shelter the morning of Christmas Eve as I wanted to adopt Toby and take him home. Jean was wondering if that was what I was up to and overjoyed that it was. I had already told Eileen to switch my sponsorship to another AFOC cat and she said she’d pick one for me.
Felipe, My New Sponsor Cat

On Christmas Eve morning, 2016, I arrived at the shelter, met with Jean and the shelter volunteers, and thanked them for all they are doing. I then put Toby in my carrier and put him in my car. I stopped by Barbara’s house to drop off pictures of “The Pride Cubs” (my cats) before bringing Toby to my home where I had a spare bedroom prepared for him.

Toby In His Forever Home

Pepino has a Facebook page with many followers. Earlier that week I told them to expect a surprise on Christmas Eve. I delivered that surprise as a video on Pepino’s Facebook page. I introduced Toby, told him he was adopted and finally has a forever home, and wished him a merry little Christmas. Toby was one of AFOC’s longest term inmates and I just didn’t think he should die at the shelter. 

Since then, many of Pepino’s followers ask for Toby updates. Toby has met all of the cubs and has been slowly exploring the house. He’s made his first visit at my veterinarian and received a microchip. Even though all my cats are indoor only, I microchip them in case something unforeseen happens and they run outside because they are afraid.

Recently I received a big envelope from Animal Friends Of Connecticut. Inside was a large color picture of Felipe and a letter. I am now sponsoring Felipe with another sponsor. Sponsorship helps Animal Friends Of Connecticut give shelter, food, and veterinary care, to many homeless cats, for as long as it takes for them to find a home. Without this help, many of these cats would not have a chance. Sponsorship is ideal for those that want to help these homeless animals but are allergic, cannot have a cat in their home, or are not in a position to adopt one.

I waited 12 years for the time when Toby and I were both ready. Sponsoring him helped keep him and others alive at the AFOC shelter. I still have his last magnet on my refrigerator, only now, I just smile as I look at it sipping my morning coffee.
Toby Is Finally Home

Adopting a “Special Needs” Friend

Hi everyone, this is the original draft for the Animal Friends Of Connecticut winter 2017 newsletter.

Adopting a “Special Needs” Friend

In October of 2015, my veterinarian’s office posted pictures of a tiny orphaned newborn kitten on their Facebook page. The kitten clung to life by the thinnest of threads as the veterinarians and technicians fought around the clock to save him.  I posted encouragements in the comments with each update, imploring the kitten to pull through. For many weeks they were not sure if the kitten would survive so they didn’t name him, instead just calling him “Mousey” since he resembled a little grey mouse.

As the tiny kitten started to grow, I shared his pictures and updates with my “kitten cam chat friends”. They asked if I would try to adopt him if he survived and in fact, I already expressed my interest in adopting him to my veterinarian. My veterinarian knows me very well as I’ve brought my pets there for many years and, at a minimum, they have annual checkups. Currently, this includes four Animal Friends Of Connecticut cats that were “long term inmates” at the AFOC shelter before I adopted them. I am fortunate that I have a large enough house for them and can financially care for them.

When the kitten was two months old, my veterinarian’s office announced they were taking applications should the kitten survive. Then they announced that the kitten has a severe case of a birth defect called Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH) and that all applicants needed to attend a “meet and greet” with one of the veterinarians to better understand what the kitten’s special needs actually entailed. CH is also known as “wobbly cat syndrome”.

This was the first time I’d ever heard about this defect as many of these kittens are euthanized. Fortunately, the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for research and to reach out to others that know about this disorder. My kitten cam chat friends quickly put me in contact with friends of theirs that cared for, and are guardians of, CH cats. One of them added me to a Facebook group for people that have CH cats and dogs so I could post questions and receive advice. I learned as much as I could about Cerebellar Hypoplasia as I could.
I am a volunteer for Animal Friends Of Connecticut and mentioned the CH kitten to the former AFOC shelter director, Barbara. She quickly urged me to contact another volunteer, Pat, that I knew from the AFOC shelter and events but never knew she had CH cats. I had a long conversation with Pat after which I had some soul searching to do. I wondered if I would be the best guardian for the kitten considering what a commitment this would be. Not only did the kitten have CH, he has a severe case and would most likely never be able to walk. He would need help eating and using his litter box. After great introspection, I made the decision to submit my application for the kitten and was selected to be his guardian. I took all the precautions necessary for a CH cat which are very similar to “baby proofing” a house for an infant human.

I brought “Mousey” home on January 8th, 2016 and named him “Pepino” after a silly song I would listen to over-and-over as a child: Pepino the Italian Mouse by Lou Monte. So many of my friends and people from the veterinarian’s office were interested in updates so I opened a Facebook page for the kitten (Pepino the CH Kitten). 

Finally in a forever home, little Pepino thrived and quickly gained weight. My veterinarian gave me a “walker” she made for him and I’ve made others to fit him as he grew. He learned to use a real litter box though he falls over in it from time-to-time requiring I give him baths. I hold him as he eats so he doesn’t fall over. His food dishes are soft silicone so he doesn’t chip his teeth. At first, my other cats were afraid of him because he didn’t move normally but have become accustom to him and actually play with him. 

Pat, and other CH guardians, told me about the special bond that forms between a guardian and a severe CH cat and they are right. I have strong bonds to all my “cubs” but Pepino is different. It’s a lot of work but I hardly notice anymore. Pepino has no idea he’s disabled or even different. He plays, wants to snuggle in the lap, he purrs when I pick him up, and reaches out with his little paws when he sees me.

In a way, it was time for me to adopt a special needs pet. Barbara often thanks me for adopting what she calls “hard to place” cats from AFOC. It took some time but each one “blossomed” once in their forever home. Fiona, once terrified of people, now runs and plays around the house and sleeps next to me. Dottie has socialized and become a member of “The Pride Cubs”. Betsy and Josie are very happy they were adopted and show their gratitude each day.

There are many wonderful companions in shelters that just need a chance, a little understanding, and some time to adjust. The best thing is there are lots of free resources online and amongst our friends to help us all understand how to introduce a new pet to the family or the requirements of a special needs pet. For example, blind cats do just fine so long as you don’t move the furniture and other things around often. Cats with missing legs can adapt and live happy lives too. Just look up “Lil’ Bunny Sue Roux”, a cat born without front legs that gets around just fine “kangaroo style” and has become an internet sensation. Even mild to moderate CH cats do great with simple accommodations such as a high-sided litter box. 

Many “special” pets can live as long a life as a “normal” pet. In many cases, adopting one can be a 20 year commitment. It’s easy to want to adopt a kitten as cute as Pepino was, overlooking his special needs and what that entails. The most important thing was learning as much as I could about his needs and the commitment I was making. For me, the rewards far outweigh his special needs. It is a commitment I was ready to make and I haven’t regretted it for even a second since.