My parents didn’t spay or neuter. They believed that every animal should have at least one litter. Only we never seemed to stop at just one.
As a little girl, having a constant stream of young kittens and puppies to play with alternated between the thrill and delight that any child experiences when presented with a new kitten or puppy, and the underlying sorrow that I would have to say, “Goodbye” to them in the not-so-distant future. My mother always assured me that we would find homes for them. We seldom did. And, of course, we couldn’t keep any of them; we couldn’t afford to feed that many. And how do you choose just one? Besides, if we kept only one, it wouldn’t be fair to the others, they assured me. And, as I was constantly told, as the kitten or puppy matured, the mother would start to fight with them and I wouldn’t want that.
Every six to eight weeks my stepfather would place the kittens and/or puppies into a box and we would take another trip to the local shelter or pound. I always accompanied him, unwilling to relinquish those last few moments I would have with my new friends. I hid my tears the best I could. And whispered to each of them how much I loved them and how sorry I was; as a child, I was powerless to change their lot in life. And I knew it. I also lied to each of them, telling them they would find homes. Because that’s what I was told. And I wanted to believe.
Of course, once we arrived, those beliefs were shattered–both for me and for my young friends. Walking through rooms full of cages that were full of unwanted and unloved animals was overwhelming. The frantic yipping and meowing as each animal begged to be released, to find that forever home, was a heart-wrenching chorus…especially since we weren’t there to adopt, but to add to their numbers. How on earth do you find homes for so many animals when we couldn’t even find homes for 5 or 6? In every shelter there was also a row of cages labeled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. I guess you could call it “death row” because, even as a child, I understood enough that the animals in these cages (or pens) had only until that next Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday to find a home. Afterwards, they were gassed. This was the 1970’s; no-kill shelters, if any existed then, were unheard of. And so we left them there and drove home again.
Our pets free-ranged the neighborhood. We lost quite a number to the streets and highways as motorists, unable to brake quickly enough, struck them down. Daisy, Ginger, Misty would be in heat again; it didn’t take long for other dogs or cats to find them and impregnate them. And the whole cycle would start all over again. I lied to Ginger and Misty, too. I told them we would find homes for these puppies or kitties…
And, as I type this, I realize that at some point we did start choosing at least one from a litter. Ginger was Daisy’s daughter. While Daisy had only 6 puppies (yes, only!), Ginger had 12, 13, sometimes more. Some of them might have been still-born but the numbers were astronomical for a relatively small dog. We also kept Ginger’s son, Barney. Barney came down with heartworms. He died slowly, painfully, gasping his last on my parents’ bed. We didn’t do vets either. And while Misty wouldn’t venture outside but did have Muzi in the beginning; he gave her a litter of four kittens before he was run over by a motorist. We kept three of the kittens; a friend took the other in a rare instance of finding someone a forever home. However, one of those kittens was a male–Toby. All of Misty’s litters afterwards were by her son, a too-close breeding.
Bubbles, whose only litter-mate had been stillborn, spent her first year with us. She couldn’t “me-ow”; she made a little tsk-ing sound each morning as she jumped onto my dresser and waited for me to awaken. Though they were all grown, mother and child did get along just fine; another myth debunked. Bubbles also never went into a heat or, if she did, Toby had no interest in his sister/daughter. Only a year with me but she carved a place so deep into my heart that I was devastated when, after a year of cuddling this beloved pet, my stepfather gave her to the dog warden along with Misty and Toby’s latest offspring. I cried an ocean of tears but there was no getting her back. My stepfather screamed and hollered at me to stop; I’m still getting choked up now.
When we moved across country a year later, the dog warden came again to pick up Misty and Toby to take them to the shelter. He was a neighbor of ours. When I asked him, with all of my teenage heart hanging on my sleeve, if they would find new homes, he didn’t lie to me. He said they would try. By then, Misty was an older cat. While I hope she did find some caring person to give her a new home, I also can’t help wondering how much time she spent in a cage, feeling alone and abandoned, before she, too, found her way into a cage labeled “Monday”; ditto for Toby. Daisy and Ginger both found their way onto Interstate 70. Daisy in a blind panic from Fourth of July fireworks; Ginger, just because. It was a year before this move. In that year, we had acquired Baby, a little beagle. At least in her, I know she went to a good home. A neighbor of ours, knowing we were moving, offered to take her in. She and her husband were unable to have children. Their home was filled with cages of birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. They also had cats but no dogs yet. It was not a hoarding situation; these animals were the beloved children they never had. While my heart broke to say “goodbye” to Baby, as we pulled away from the curb that one last time, my heart knows she was at least loved throughout the end of her days. I vowed then and there that, when I was finally out of the house and on my own, no matter what, if I ever had to move, I would make that extra effort to find lodgings that would allow me to keep my pets. The heartache was just too great. And the looks of confusion and fear on each pet’s face haunt me still. Over the years, the myriad rescues I have taken in have all been either super anxious to win my affection, fearing being abandoned again, or else, incredibly shy and quite a work to win over; I suspect, if Bubbles, Misty, Toby & Co. did find homes, they were tough to win over, too.
We got Tiger when we finally rented our new house in Rhode Island. Tiger disappeared only a few months after we got him. Then we got Garfield and, later, Samantha. Samantha’s first litter all died before they were weaned. By this time, I was in my early-20’s but still living at home. I had graduated high school before we left St. Louis and was now working a part-time job, while also taking a correspondence class in Journalism and Short Story Writing, taking guitar and voice lessons, and fronting metal bands. Samantha had a bit of a nasty attitude; few could pet her, let alone handle her. I was an exception but that trust didn’t come along until after she’d had her second litter. There were complications. Three of the kittens were still attached to the umbilical chord, which had somehow gotten wrapped around her front paw. My stepfather noticed the problem but assumed she would get them off on her own and left her alone. By the time I came home from work at noontime, Samantha’s paw was three times its normal size due to her circulation being cut off. When I came in the door, she jumped out of the box she’d been laying in and chirped at me. Amazingly, she let me look at her paw but the chord was so deeply embedded into her skin, there was no way for me to cut it. I picked her up, placed her back in the box and closed the flaps (we didn’t have a pet carrier because our pets rarely, if ever, visited the vet), then headed for the door.
My stepfather tried to stop me. He yelled and threatened. He wasn’t paying for any vet. I was working; I had money saved in the bank. I would pay for it. As if it was an even worse threat, he told me if I was going to pay all that money foolishly, then when I finally moved out, I was taking Samantha with me. I told him I planned to anyway and stormed out the door.
We drove to East Greenwich Animal Hospital where the prognosis was not good. She had one kitten in the box who was not attached to the chord and seemed fine, but the other three were so tightly wrapped with her, that the vet could give me only two options: either I take the paw (i.e. amputate) or he euthanizes the kittens because he could not cut them away otherwise. While it broke my heart to lose such young lives, I opted to spare Samantha’s paw; he wasn’t even sure she would regain full use of it but, thankfully, she did. And he managed to save one of the kittens still attached. Like the previous litter, the two that survived this initial catastrophe, died before they were weaned. Not wanting to ever go through such a thing again, I had Samantha spayed. Again, my stepfather threatened that I was to take her with me when I moved out; he thought the money spent to spay/neuter was a waste.
When I moved out in 1990, Samantha came with me. She had belonged to my Aunt Sandy’s father-in-law before we took her in; she was at least a year old then. I had her another 15 years. She died of renal failure just before I bought the property that is now The Herbal Hare Homestead. Prior to her passing, my then-father-in-law was amazed at the lengths I was willing to go to to spare her life. He walked in one night while I was hooking up the IV to administer her daily sub-cutaneous fluids. Though he thought it was silly, he also thought I’d make a good vet.
I beg to differ. I think the constant exposure to neglectful and abusive pet owners, the continued exposure to unwanted and abandoned pets, would turn me into a fanatic. And fanaticism doesn’t help anyone. I also don’t think my poor heart could take the pain of it. Though I know, and have had to make such decisions, to terminate a life that is beyond any human capacity to help, I think I’d be an empty shell from it over time. Instead, I’d rather mitigate as much suffering as I can by caring for the orphans that come my way and making The Herbal Hare Homestead a haven and a rescue for those in need. And, where possible, to lend my time and financial resources to help others who can provide that veterinary care better than I can. Over the years, I have added herbal remedies to my care; rabbits, especially, do not always respond well to more orthodox medicines. Thankfully, my vet’s sister is also an herbalist and he’s well-versed in the myriad herbs and their uses and, rather than condemn, as many would, applauds my use of them. Over the years, we’ve worked together…rather than against each other. (Would that more doctors, nurses and vets open their minds and hearts to such practices; herbs and modern medicine, when understood, often compliment each other…and alleviate more suffering by doing so)
May God bless you & keep you!