Let Us Be Happy For…
In his book The Cider House Rules, John Irving describes life at an orphanage during the Great Depression and the years leading up to World War II. Every time Dr. Wilbur Larch, the director of the facility, has a successful adoption, he announces at the end of the night "Today, (insert orphan's name here) has found a new home. Let us be happy for (orphan's name)."
I was fascinated by this simple formula for closing out a chapter in the life of the orphans. It gave no one a chance to say goodbye in person, and excluded all possibility for an emotional farewell. But it worked as far as Larch was concerned, and he kept it working.
On a certain level, the same thing happens when I finally give in and adopt out a cat to a new home. There is an incredible emotional investment in these animals by the time they are ready to leave, and I feel every bit of it as I hold them for the last time. Sometimes it is a stray cat that has found us and is, after a bath and an alteration and time to put on some weight and get socialized, ready to move on. Sometimes it is a kitten that took its first breath while I helped its mother through her labor. And sometimes it is a painful goodbye to one of the special ones; one of the cats that we thought wouldn't make it and made fools of us. Whatever the circumstance, it is a painful one for me.
I always swear that this is the last time I let it get to me, and it happens every time. Sometimes I have a warning of several days, which makes it a little easier to slide into a goodbye. Sometimes, I have the few minutes that it takes a new adoptee to get their carrier from the car. Either way, I always seem to do about the same thing. I hold the cat close, look into its face and tell them that they will always have a home with us if things don't work out and that I have been privileged to know them, and that I will always remember them. The new owner comes and takes the cat, and the joy in that simple motion is almost enough to extinguish my heartache. The new owners are given a list of instructions that they don't need, and are told that if things don't work out for whatever reason they are free to bring the cat back, and then it is time to let go. For hours afterward I am moody and sullen.
I know that what I am doing is best for the cat. I can't keep all the cats that cross my path. There isn't enough love and time for all the cats that we have taken into our home over the years. We are lucky to have the seven that we do, and that they know they are loved and needed. But it still gets to me every time one leaves the house.
Tonight, a kitten named Thing One, after the Dr. Seuss character from Cat In The Hat, which was adopted out to a neighbor. The neighbor had been lobbying my wife to let him have the orange tabby, and he finally got his way. I had about ten minutes to say goodbye. I had been opposed to the adoption for several reasons, none of them valid except that I had formed an attachment to the cat in question. I am not sure why I gave in and let Gary take him. I do know that when Gary got Thing One in his hands, his face lit up like it was Christmas and he was a getting to open his presents early. I spent a good twenty minutes talking to Gary, explaining all of Thing One's foibles, bad habits and his particularly obnoxious personality. None of it had an effect on Gary. He took him anyway.
So now here I am, sitting at the computer and feeling sorry for myself. I know that Thing One will finally get a person all his own, and a name that suits him, and have a loving and good home. But I still feel miserable. I feel like I betrayed him because I gave him up.
It's irrational, and I know it. And I also know that I will feel this way about every cat that comes through the house, and leaves, because the minute I stop feeling that way I won't be working with animals anymore. So there it is. I have a forlorn and one-sided relationship with animals that are set up to break my heart. I place myself in that situation, and I will keep doing it as long as I think that I am doing any good in my community.
Today, Thing One found a new home. Let us be happy for Thing One.
Brian Baker is a writer and animal rights proponent. He has been published locally and nationally, most notably in Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul. Currently, Baker spends his time working with a local organization (www.safehavenforpets.org) that not only operates a shelter for animals but also does extensive work with feral cats. To exchange correspondence with the author, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com