I was fairly new to fostering with A HOPE when an email came through from our President and founder, Brandi Winkleman. Normally these emails held questions like "Who is able to foster the kittens I just pulled from the shelter?" This type of question and others like it will come through our emails frequently as there are always cats and kittens needing to be saved. But this email was different.....She asked which of us fosters wanted to go on a field trip to a remote shelter in a neighboring county.
A field trip?!? I immediately got excited at the prospect of going. I mean who doesn't like a field trip??
The date was set, and the fosters met that morning at our "Paw Pad." We chatted excitedly as we were getting to know each other better and anxious to see what beautiful little fluff balls awaited us. Brandi had been to this particular shelter a week prior. She told us bits and pieces about it...."It's overcrowded"..."Many are sick"...."The staff is overwhelmed"...."They need our help.”
In my mind, I thought "how bad could it be?" But Brandi knew....and we did not. Not yet anyway.....
When we got to the shelter and got out of the van, Brandi stopped us. She looked at us and said, "I am not telling you which kittens we are pulling today. YOU each will choose your kittens and they will become YOUR fosters. Choose wisely." And then we stepped inside the building......
In an instant, excitement turned to disbelief. What was I seeing!? My senses were on overload. The smells were overwhelming, and there were sounds of constant meowing and barking coming from the dog side of the building. Everywhere I looked, I saw cage after cage, stacked three high, of cats and kittens, so many of them sick. The looks of sadness, dread, loneliness, hopelessness....little paws reaching out for a human touch as if they were saying "pick me, save me.” I tried my best to be strong and not get emotional, but it didn't take long before I was looking at these poor creatures through tears. It was one of the saddest things I had ever seen, and I knew their fate lay in my hands. How do I choose to take one but leave another? I knew full well that for many, this was life or death.
Picotte, Botkin, and Jacobi from the shelter that day.
I walked those cages at least a dozen times. Reading their names, their ages, how long they had been there. Many had been born at that shelter and never knew anything other than those disgusting cages and minimal contact with people. I was feeling very overwhelmed, but I knew I had to make a decision because we couldn't save them all.....as much as I hoped, it just wasn't possible. But for a lucky few, salvation and a chance at life awaited them.
I found myself gravitating toward three kittens....all were extremely sick. The two black and white girls had severe URIs. Their eyes were completely clouded over with infection, and their nostrils plugged with thick yellow-green discharge. One was timid, but the other just purred and purred...her eyes locked on mine and she just kept grabbing for me. I knew these two would come home with me. Next to them was a pitiful orange boy...all alone....he was extremely thin. His face was gaunt and his ears looked too big for his wee little body. He looked defeated. I found out his brother had just passed away, and I feared he would soon be next. I had chosen my three and getting them healthy, happy, and adopted was my penance for leaving the others behind.
That day, our foster team pulled twenty-three cats and kittens...twenty-three very lucky and deserving animals. Over the course of several months and many trips back to that shelter, we pulled enough for it to eventually close its doors, and it remains closed to this day.
Picotte, Jacobi, and Botkin were my three...the three I chose...the three I saved that day. I worked tirelessly to make them healthy, not only in body but in spirit as well. They eventually became happy and healthy kittens and each got adopted into loving, forever homes.
I have fostered many, many cats and kittens since that day, but none will ever replace these three in my heart. The memory of that field trip will always be etched in my mind. It gives me the resolve to keep fostering and to keep supporting the mission of A HOPE.
My dream is that one day, because of the work A HOPE is doing, the hard choices we made that day won't have to be made again.
Until then, I will continue to foster and make a real difference in the lives of those cats and kittens who had no choice in the hand they were dealt. I will do this for Picotte, Jacobi, and Botkin, along with all the others left behind.