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.
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.
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.