“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” –Helen Keller
The litter of kittens arrived at our house last Wednesday night just before midnight. It was a desperate situation—I knew the minute I heard the emotional plea from the owner of the cat shelter where my daughters and I volunteer.
“The maintenance man at a nearby apartment building was going to kill them if no one came and got them.”
Kill them –
Not call animal control or ask some of the apartment residents if they could help.
Just kill them.
“I can detect empty threats, Rachel, and this is not one of them,” the shelter owner continued. “I know you did not sign up to foster cats, but I already have twenty in my house. I wanted to see if you'd be willing to foster the kittens until they’re old enough to be placed up for adoption.”
While I am usually a planner, thinking carefully through all decisions that impact our family, I answered immediately. “Yes, of course,” I said without hesitation, praying my not-a-fan-of-cats husband would understand.
Very late that night the five-week-old kittens arrived. My older daughter Natalie insisted on waiting by the door and helping me get them settled. It was only their second night without their mother who was very sick from outdoor elements, lack of nourishment, and an infectious tick bite.
But the kittens did not cry. They relaxed when we held them. They purred loudly and nestled in for warmth.
The next morning I sent an explanatory text message (hopeful plea) to my husband who was out of town at the time of the kittens’ arrival. I also added some adorable photos for extra reinforcement. (Couldn't hurt!)
A few minutes later, my husband texted back: “You did the right thing.”
His words made me cry.
He could have said, “Okay,” or “I understand,” but instead he chose these words: “You did the right thing.”
Funny thing was, I already knew this. My heart told me I did the right thing as soon as I held a precious kitten, a living creature whose life was almost snuffed out in a cruel and heartless way.
You did the right thing.
My husband’s words stood in stark contrast to what the maintenance man had threatened—to what seems to have become a choice for those who’ve decided violence, abuse, condemnation, and hatred are the only way to share your beliefs, settle an argument, solve a problem, or express an opinion.
Doing the right thing … the loving thing … the respectful thing … the compassionate thing … the compromising thing … the unifying thing feels like it’s getting lost in our world.
In the past week, I’ve read a young lady’s courageous and heartbreaking victim impact statement as her attacker received a laughable sentence. I’ve watched families mourn the senseless deaths of their loved ones in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. I’ve read of a young, vibrant singer who was shot to death while signing autographs. I learned of a small bunny being thrown against a wall over and over by laughing teens. I am in disbelief. How is it that some people have such little regard for life? Why do some people think they can just do what they want or take what they want, with no remorse, no acceptance of responsibility, and no regard for the pain and anguish they cause?
Just kill them
Just hurt them
Just throw them away
Why are so many choosing the wrong thing … the selfish thing … the hateful thing … the divisive thing … the horrific thing … the destructive thing?
I pondered these troubling thoughts as my children cared for kittens by night and attended Pet Companion Camp at a local animal shelter by day. It was a weeklong summer camp I’d signed them up for months ago knowing it would be a perfect fit for them. Little did I know it would correspond with a week of worldly despair.
On the last day of camp, the parents were invited to tour the shelter and see what our children learned over the course of the week. As we walked by each cage in the dog rooms, my children relayed each dog’s story. Sunni had been thrown from the back of a moving truck and now he has trouble trusting. Hank was abused by children. As a result, he’s scared of them. Steve lost one of his hind legs; although no one knows how. He was found at a high-kill shelter in that condition. Now he scampers around joyfully, knowing no strangers. Steve is love. He is pure love.
The director asked the children to share their favorite part of the camp. Many hands flew up. They mentioned the animals and the counselors, but one little girl raised her hand in reference to a kitten with a severely swollen eye and said, “I am thankful someone found Isabelle and didn’t say, “'What a freak' and let her die.”
The children all nodded solemnly in agreement knowing that loving and caring for that grotesque-looking kitten was the right thing to do.
I looked around that room of animal-loving children and my heart felt hope. These children had experienced first-hand the result of abuse and violence. They’d learned reasons for approaching the creatures softly and gently. They’d learned to read body language, which helped them know how to respond. They knew what to do when an animal cried. They experienced the transformational power of love.
Would this knowledge translate to responding appropriately to a human being’s pain or suffering?
I believe so.
Would this knowledge translate to greater understanding and acceptance to someone with a physical deformity or a disability?
I believe so.
Would it translate to doing something entirely selfless, knowing that helping others just feels good?
I believe so.
Would it translate to choosing calm reasoning rather than violent reactions in times of stress and anger?
I believe so.
Here in this room was a group of children who witnessed the preciousness of life and knew how to respond appropriately … lovingly … respectful … dutifully in order to communicate, help, and heal.
There was hope in this room; I could feel it. I prayed more hope would follow, and it did.
Over the next few days, our home became a revolving door for children who wanted to see the kittens. I saw children who had never held a kitten be lovingly instructed by their parents. “Hold him close so he feels secure and not scared,” they said. I watched as children looked into cats’ eyes and responded to the sound of their cries and their purrs. One little boy took the money in his piggy bank ($79.99) and bought bags worth of toys for the new kittens. One of my older daughter's friends came and spent six hours with the kittens while I worked and my children were at camp. One young man hit a homerun for a kitten that had stolen his heart. He’s offered to pay for her with his own money when she goes up for adoption.
And then unexpectedly on Saturday night, two of the kittens fell gravely ill. I’d left a neighbor’s birthday party to check on them, only to find two of the kittens could not walk. Their front paws were completely limp. Not being one to stay calm when animals are suffering, I began to cry. My daughter Natalie was the voice of reason.
“Mom, they are going to be okay,” she said firmly. “Call Kristy and tell her to come right away. I will hold them securely. They are very scared.”
The shelter owner came immediately, speculating the kittens had probably contracted what the mother cat had. She put the two most fragile cats in a carrier and the others in a separate one. As she walked out the door to the emergency vet, she turned and said, “Be prepared. These two might not make it through the night, Rachel.”
My daughter and I cried, and then we got to work preparing for them all to come back to their temporary home. We cleaned and disinfected every inch of the cage and all their bedding. We anxiously awaited their return. At 2am, we were still waiting. I finally convinced Natalie to go to bed. Like a worried mother, it was difficult for her to relax, but she finally did. The next day, we received miraculous news: all kittens had survived and there was a medication to help them overcome the bacterial infection passed on to them from their mother.
“I know this is more than you signed up to do,” the shelter owner said later that day as I stood in the veterinarian’s office learning how to administer the proper doses for each kitten based on their weight. Tiny syringes, several bottles of medication, baby food to line their tender tummies, and kittens that looked so closely alike caused me to wonder if I could do this.
Seeing the worry on my face, Kristy said, “I know it’s a lot. You don’t have to foster them, Rachel,” she kindly offered. “I can figure another way to care for them.”
My daughter Avery looked up at me with confidence, as if to say: We got this, Mom. You know what to do.
“We love them,” I said about the kittens. “My daughters and I are committed to caring for them until they are old enough for adoption. There are three of us; we can do it.”
As soon as the words came out of my mouth, my heart was at peace, indicating that was the right thing to do.
That night at dinner Avery prayed specifically for the animal “over production” problem, for the kittens to heal and find homes, and for comfort for those hurting in the world.
There was something there; I could feel it. And then, finally, this thought occurred to me:
There are currently too many animals without homes in the world.
There is currently a scarcity of love, compassion, and acceptance in the world.
Maybe if we merged the two problems, we could create a solution.
Just think: if every family committed to caring for, helping, or loving an unwanted animal, what might be cultivated in that family, in that home, in that community, in the world?
There would be an entire generation of children who realized they had the ability to communicate … respond … understand … strengthen … and save with one single, but transformative, element: love.
These children would eventually go out into the world as adults. It is likely they would meet conflict and opposition … they might want things they couldn’t have … they would likely disagree and become frustrated, as we all do, but they wouldn’t resort to hostile and destructive measures like
Taking a life
Abusing a life
Disrespecting a life
Condemning a life
… Such choices would be unconscionable to them.
Because caring for an animal teaches us how to be a better human.
Day after day, their adult lives would be made up of one right choice after another:
Choosing love … choosing kindness … choosing respect … choosing understanding … choosing compassion … choosing love once again, and then again and again.
Funny thing is, there wouldn’t be a need for anyone to say: You made the right choice.
Because their hearts would already know it to be so.
What a beautiful world it would be.
Dear friends of The Hands Free Revolution, if you would like to do something to make the world a more loving, more stable, and more accepting place, it starts with us. Here are some resources related to today’s post to help you:
- Giving Families – My friend Beth Nowak created a beautiful resource for families yearning to teach their children how to live generously and compassionately. Giving Families provides a beautifully packaged monthly newsletter that gently exposes children to the problems of the world in way that will not depress them, but make them feel grateful for what they have and inspire them to come up with solutions. Arriving via “snail mail,” Giving Families monthly Good Mail Challenges are fun and easy activities designed to help children (ages 3+) change the future of the world through acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity. My daughters and I were featured in this month’s challenge which provides a way to help animals with or without coming in contact with them (perhaps due to allergies or fear). Click here to acquire a membership which brings Good Mail challenges right to your door.
- Click here to learn about the power of pets on children’s mental and emotional health.“Whether it’s a reading, mental health or emotional wellness situation, if a person is more relaxed then the therapy can happen,” Robinson says. “It only takes a minute for that bond to be made. And that’s when the therapy can begin.” Pets can also be a crucial aspect of helping children as companions through disasters and other life events. Right now comfort dogs are being used to provide hope and encouragement to those in the Orlando community. If you cannot take a pet into your home for whatever reason, there are many opportunities for volunteering at shelters as well as “shelter buddies reading programs” like this one.
- How a Pet Can Help Your Child – Growing up with a pet “gives children a much more inclusive sense of self,” Dr. Serpell says in this article. “I think it has implications for the relationship of people to the other beings on the planet.”
- My friend and colleague, Sandy Blackard, has written an enlightening article called Un-Hating that addresses the role of hate and fear in the Orlando shooting. “We can begin to dismantle hate and vilification now, starting by how we explain to ourselves and our children the heartbreaking actions taken by one man, the shooter.” In the article she explains how.
- Finally, watch this uplifting video of a shelter dog’s reaction when he realizes he’s getting adopted.
Thank you for walking beside me on this journey. This community is my daily hope. I have one small request: if this post inspires you today or in the days to come to take action in any form or fashion, would you let me know? When you tell me that you brought my words to life by taking action, it fuels my writing in ways I cannot explain. Thank you for inspiring me. I cherish you.
I worry it is too late for my teen son. :(.
He is 16 & we now have a 7mth old puppy who we bought at 11wks old (not a rescue puppy). This dog still wees in the house, & my son recently slipped in one ‘puddle’ & shook the dog around while yelling at it, then threw him on the floor & kicked him. I was so horrified & sickened & appalled. When i read your moving article above I just despaired at how far short this scenario of us having a dog for the kids had fallen in my family, yes my 3 kids play with him but they never think of the food & water & grooming & loving care etc … What can I do to make this experience more worthwhile & valuable & teaching compassion & love for creatures & for other ppl?
It’s never too late. Have your kids think back to the reason you all wanted a dog and chose him. It’s natural to think it will be rewarding but the reality is that lets can be a hassle and very messy and exhausting. Dogs are forgiving, there is time to salvage his trust. You need to get organized and make sure the dog is fed and walked consistently. A doggy door might be a way for him to get out in time to potty. You are this dog’s whole life! Have your kids treat him the way they would want to be treated. Mercy, compassion, comfort, guidance, attention, kind words, patience
Too late for what? Love? Nope! Love – and then love some more and then choose to love even more! It looks and feels and behaves different if it’s been hidden for a bit, but find it! And be it and share it! I’m not just talking in metaphors, look in your 16 year old sons eyes with love, let him see love in yours. Calm your heart and help him calm his. It is an active choice. But it is not EVER too late for love.
And for the daily caring for animals-they’ll get there; you are the parent and caretaker and chief role model in charge. Do it all with kindness and love in your own heart and they will see it and do it, too. Be patient with yourself, as well. Xo
Teach your children about Jesus, His love and compassion for humanity. And always pray.
Michelle Clupper says
You are doing a good job with your girls, mama. You are always telling us, your readers, that – I hope you know the same is true of you. God bless you and your ministry. Thank you for always meeting my mama heart where it is and for sharing your story. ❤️
Like all your posts, this is beautiful and inspiring. You have inspired me time and time again to be a better mother to my two babies (I tattooed “only love today” on my wrist because of that post and what it meant to me and what it taught me about loving myself and what I want to always remember to teach my babies about loving themselves and others) but this post has inspired me to be a better doggy mama to our two dogs. I am always learning how to stretch and grow my patience and heart to always be the mama I want to be and my kids deserve and honestly, it doesn’t always leave much left for our dogs. But you inspire me to believe that I can be enough for them too and what a beautiful thing it will be for my children to see and learn, too. Thank you.
Of course your heart is moved by animals! They bring us such joy!! I have always had a shelter dog- that’s what my parents taught me. I have volunteered countless hours for the animals and it’s where I donate first. When children are taught how to care for animals they are taught so much more. Thank you for the reminder today.
Funny thing is, I’ve only just seen this post now but for some reason, today of all days, I was sooo close to sending a message to my partner to say, “we need to get a dog” but something stopped me from doing so. I think it was the act of just sending a message so the first thing I did when I got home was to say it “hands free” / verbally. He didn’t respond well but I;’m going to mention it again now before I head to bed. Yep, there’s something pushing at me to get one from one of the many shelters. I said I’d get a puppy sometime after my daughter turned 3 and she’s now 4.5. I think it’s time! Thank you. You’ve prompted me.
Monica Dix says
I had to stop to catch my breath when I came to this:
“How is it that some people have such little regard for life? Why do some people think they can just do what they want or take what they want, with no remorse, no acceptance of responsibility, and no regard for the pain and anguish they cause?
Just kill them.”
I think we (all of us, me included) are still hearing the message, however quietly, even as we hear about these tragedies, that we have a natural (or God-given?) right to use our ‘might’ in such an extreme and final way, as long as we can justify it with reason or emotion. Women, especially when we are scared and vulnerable, even have the ‘right’ to take the lives of (only) our own children, as long as they haven’t been born yet.
When this acceptance flows under all the other decisions we make about peace, sacrifice, and caring for the helpless and powerless, sometimes it will bubble up and we all notice.
Mother Teresa said, “…if we can accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love… And we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts…”
Thank you for writing this healing and provocative piece, and for waking me up to so much of what I can do to really make my kids’ world better. So much of your writing has helped me clarify my thinking and I have made many small changes since first reading your work.
This was a breath of fresh air. Thank you! So many horrible things going on in this world that it is wonderful to hear positive things. I love reading your blog. Blessings to you!
Thank you for teaching your children to care – and for helping other parents do the same with this beautiful post. I’m a single adult without children. And one day I got a tiny 6-week-old puppy, because I wanted my life to be more than just about me. That little dog has been the most high-maintenance creature you can imagine. She has a bad liver, and I have to prepare a meal from scratch for her twice a day – which takes an hour and a half out of my already busy day. But I wouldn’t trade her for anything. This dog – with her unending capacity to love – has taught me to be more loving. With her enthusiasm to greet people and make friends, she’s taught me to be more friendly. And with her blindness to what people look or even smell like, she’s taught me to be more accepting. I’m a better person because of her. Animals can change us, if we let them.
I’ve yet to take action, but I have dreams. My partner is allergic to pet dander so my love of cats and dogs will have to be shown through other services. My daughter is a mere 5 weeks old but I hope that one day we can be active volunteers at our local animal shelter. Thank you for your words! This new journey I’m on is made a calmer one by so many of your articles that resonate with me.
Julie Greene says
Look into a poodle or poodle mix. They are perfect for families with allergies and also great with kids!
Kerri Paquette says
Thank-you! I will be sharing this! We live in the country & have rescued a few animals of our own. As small as a young black squirrel (we found a nearby wildlife rescue for him, after tending to his immediate needs), most of our pets were rescues as well. Even a pony & a horse! My daughter was working at a horse farm & called distraught as a wild mother cat had not returned to her kittens. Chances are mother cat had met up with a Fisher. I asked how many there were. “Only a couple”, she said. She came home from work & set the container down on the kitchen floor. I looked inside to count 7 wee little kittens. Two were in really rough shape. I had done my research & found a kitten milk supplement recipe with added vitamins & minerals. Luckily these little ones had at least had a couple of weeks of mother cat’s milk for some immunity. So every day I made a huge batch of fresh kitten formula & every 2 hours, 24 hours a day my other daughter & I fed 7 kittens. We had to also stimulate them to defecate & urinate. The two who were the weakest were fed first & then after all had fed, were fed a second time. After several weeks, all the kittens survived & they were ready for new homes. Oh, the one smallest was a grey tabby & ended up being the biggest of the kittens upon adoption. The wee little male tabby we called “Bug” as he was so small & his eyes looked so big is with his brother living the posh life with a friend. He is HUGE now! Another became a Christmas gift for a grand-father’s grand-daughter. They both cried as they held the kitten in their arms! He asked what he could give us in return. I said that the greatest gift of all was that the kitten would be loved!! As people were coming to give new loving homes to the kittens, I was miscarring my own baby & stage managing “A Christmas Carol” Theatre production. Thank-you for this….”Choosing love … choosing kindness … choosing respect … choosing understanding … choosing compassion … choosing love once again, and then again and again.
Funny thing is, there wouldn’t be a need for anyone to say: You made the right choice.
Because their hearts would already know it to be so.
What a beautiful world it would be. “
As always, your posts seem to have the right timing. Thank you for the wonderful perspective you bring to parenting. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me as a fairly newer parent. You do SO much and I hope you know that.
After a week of nothing but bad and horrible news, this brought sunshine to my soul. Thank you for your caring heart.
Helios Higgins says
Rachael, you might not be aware that colloidal silver is effective in treating animal’s infections, and much cheaper and easier to access. Youtube has multiple videos showing how to make it, and you just add it to the animals drinking water. Understandably, the animals will then prefer that treated water, but a one ounce .999 silver piece will outlast your entire family’s needs and then some, so no problem on that count. Follow the directions of those youtubers and use your own good sense and those animals will be protected from parasitic infections, at a significantly lower cost.
Oh, Benny…I love how he seemed to be telling his shelter-mates on his way out that he’d always remember them. ❤️❤️❤️
I will be getting a membership to Giving Families! What a great concept!
Sue Rushing says
I can’t tell you how many of your posts have moved me so much and that I have sent on to people I love knowing they would see the tremendous value you share just for the kind of human that you are! Your eloquence and phrasing and ability to express yourself so gently and gracefully yet with such conviction make everything you write a pure pleasure to read. And what’s become important to you and how it happened and how you continue to grow and teach us all, well I know I’m gushing about someone I’ve never even met but I am so happy that you and your family are in this world. You helped me to recognize noticers, to sloooow down, to share every small kindness. You and your family are a blessing upon this earth!
Laura - The No Pressure Life says
I’m reading this as our new rescue dog happily plays in the living room and occasionally runs into the kitchen for some love and pets. My husband, 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter adopted her from Lucky Lab Rescue, which pulls lab mixes from high-kill shelters in the south and mid-west. Our Sadie was pulled from the shelter while either very pregnant, or with tiny pups (we’re not sure). Now she and her puppies are all safe in loving homes. My little girl used to be terrified of dogs, but now she tells Sadie to sit and give paw for a treat, and lets Sadie take the treat right from her hand. My son (who has always loved dogs). While Sadie does have her “issues” she’s so loving and so good in the house, that I can’t imagine why anyone would have let her go. She’s so grateful for food that she always nuzzles me when I put her bowl down before she starts eating. I’m glad we were able to rescue her, but she’s just a drop in the bucket – there are so many animals that need homes. Good for you for taking in those adorable kittens! It really was the right thing to do. I still vividly remember adopting our family cat from a shelter when I was in 3rd grade!
I love absolutely everything about this. We have been fostering for our local SPCA for over 2 years now. My kids are young – 7, 5, and 4 – but our fostering experience is a family affair. We mostly foster kittens who are too young to go up for adoption and dogs who have special needs (medical, socialization, etc.). It has been an utterly fantastic experience, and I definitely think that we are all better people for it. We currently have 3 kittens running around our house and helped to place a senior German shepherd earlier this week. There is no better feeling than knowing that these animals are alive because of you, and have a chance at the happy ending they deserve.
Sandy Blackard says
Beautiful post Rachel, and thank you for sharing my post in your resources.
You really brought home the point that volunteering with animals opens children’s hearts and our own. We need to get in touch with our feelings of love and compassion and experience them fully before we can share them with other people, so finding a place where it feels natural is absolutely the best way to start. I believe this is how volunteer work makes the biggest difference and how selfless acts like yours actually do change the world.
Holly Ratcheson says
This is so beautiful, Rachel. Like all of your posts, there’s always one statement that sticks for me and this one is, “Because caring for an animal teaches us how to be a better human being.” You are so right, it certainly does. Thank you for sharing your experience with the kitties and weaving your messages of love and compassion into the heartbreaking events of last week. So thankful to you for your writing!
Caroline McGraw says
All I can say is YES to this. You did the right thing, both by caring for those sweet kittens and by writing and sharing this post. I look up to you, Rachel – keep being so kind and so brave.
This meant so much to me. Thank you.
Love this. Brought tears to my eyes. And a nudge to go clean out our rabbits cage….. 🙂
Nicole H says
Thank you for your words. The little girl’s comment about ‘what a freak’ brought tears to my eyes. There is so much ugliness in the world, but you help me to remember there is a better way, all we have to do is live it, by God’s grace.
Ambrey Nichols says
Thank you again for a wonderful heart opening story. I want to be exactly like those wonderful children and help my son grow up with that loving compassion for all living things.
So much sadness in this world. And yet there are people, like you, who are doing something to make things better. You inspire others to do the same. We’ll never wipe out indifference, but maybe we can help cultivate more caring. Its a start.
Im 16 and i have neurology problems in my neck and back. I rescued mom cat and 4 baby from an old abandon barn the kittens had fleas bad and 1 had fire ants allover it. There is 1 that is my favorite and i want to keep him my parenta said that is a choice i would have to decide on dealing with responsibility and my healthwould allow me to keep 1. Im trying to find home for them1im beatingmyself up wondering what my best option is. Please help i dont no what to do.
Rachel Stafford says
Hi Stephanie, I would like to help you, dear one. You have such a good heart. Can you send me an email? email@example.com. Thank you so much for what you did for that mama cat and her kittens.
Marko @ parentsupporthub.com says
First of all, thank you for saving those kittens!
Some might think I’m a tad on the extreme side, but I always discourage my kids from killing bugs or worms needlessly. No need to kill something just for the sake of killing it, are my thoughts. It is a small gesture but one my daycare children have come to appreciate.
It’s not that man’s fault he wanted to kill them, he just wasn’t taught differently.
Let’s not assume that children will be respectful and kind to animals or to others, it is definitely something to be taught. Start early by educating your children about the value of all life. Educating your kids about caring of our planet goes hand in hand with teaching respect for other life on this planet we share.