Nine Lives

My interspecies family and I are coexisting peacefully in a 1350 square foot residence. There are eight feline housemates in various “shades of gray” roaming in the main living space; nine semi­-feral felines hanging out in a separate 10′ x 20′ enclosed porch with an added den area; one red Pekingese pooch snooping sneakily into potty boxes for cat cookies; and I, a 73 year old woman, am omnipresent, doting on them.

Only four of the felines were at my side during my treatment for end stage cancer in 2005. They are now senior s­­ages 13, 16, 16, and 17.

Over the next few years I adopted the next four. They are strays populating the neighborhood with more strays, until I have them “fixed” and bring them into my home to live in civilized fashion: using litter boxes instead of flower boxes and watching birds instead of killing them.

During a roundup of hordes of strays in 2007, I rescued the nine semi­-ferals before the neighbors could take them to Pima Animal Care Center (PACC).

If they are declared feral at PACC, according to Alley Cat Allies, a trap, neuter, and return support group, they are immediately killed. The Trap Neuter and Return heading on the No Kill Pima County website states, “ferals are routinely euthanized.”

In my screened enclosure and den this interrelated family of rescued cats has lived for almost a decade ­­frolicking, watching bird t.v, or nesting in their cat trees with the sun on their fur.

I refer to this set of nine as semi-­feral because, although they are skittish and cannot be picked up, they play with toys and fastidiously use their litter boxes. Several will kiss my hand as I place food into their dishes.

January 2, 2016 our serene lives explode when I am notified by email that the home I have loved and cared for ten years will be sold. The ultimatum reads “remove all possessions, personal belongings, and animals by April 15.”

I am stunned by the announcement, because on my pension it will be difficult to find a rental or purchase a home to accommodate all of my animals. At this homestead I have been a caretaker but pay no rent, a situation that will be impossible to duplicate.

However, I set out to leave no stone unturned in averting our disbanding, because our connection is tightly knit.

Each animal’s rescue from neglect was a poignant and painstaking event for me. Several bonded with me from our initial meeting, but with most the process of gaining their trust was gradual. Now the calmness of both groups of felines and my pooch reflects our comfortable relationship.

My first step in relocation is applying to the WISH program for home-buyer assistance, however, I do not qualify because of my meager income.

Next I Google animal rescues in Tucson. I discover that Jack’s Cat Shack founder, Sandy Parker, has a cat whispering philosophy similar to mine. I send her an email describing my dilemma: that I seek a rental to accommodate me and 9 animals and homes for bonded groups of the semi-­ferals.

Although Sandy only accepts senior cat s­­and I will not part with my four seniors ­­she immediately posts my letter on her site’s Facebook page. There are sympathetic responses, but no one assists with my housing or the semi­-ferals’.

A month passes in which I am turned down day after day by landlords, because none will rent to a family with more than two or three animals. At any rate, I am unable to afford required deposits of $150 per pet.

Time is slipping away, so I advertise among friends for long term fosters of bonded pairs and trios of my housemates. Several weeks pass. No one comes forward.

I post again to Jack’s Shack. This time Lori Tepper, founder of Angels’ Cat Sanctuary, sees my message. Her rescue shelters ferals, but she has no room for mine. However, we begin a correspondence. Lori tells me her friend with four cats has found a trailer in a well­-maintained park.

As I walk through the park grounds looking for For Sale signs, most of the homes are much above my price range. Then I come upon a charming one with artistic garden touches and a sun-room for my cats. I can’t believe my eyes. It is for sale for $6,000. I am overjoyed.

However, first I must apply for acceptance by park management, provide landlord references and pay for a credit check. I don’t hold out much hope that they will allow nine pets, and then am overwhelmed with gratitude when that number is approved.

Perhaps it was the first line of my application: “I know it sounds like a large number, but these animal companions have been my therapists during recovery from end­-stage cancer.” Or perhaps someone on my reference list gave an impressive recommendation.

For a time I am jubilant that my 8 housemates and pooch will have sanctuary; but the spirit of celebration is soon marred by anxiety, because opportunities for re-homing my semi ferals do not materialize.

Two common options for them are not feasible: releasing them into the neighborhood or sending them to be barn cats. Except for the two oldest males, they have never lived on the street, nor are they “mousers,” hardened to live outdoors in a stable. I also do not want to sentence them to being coyote fodder.

Ironically, if they are not adopted, once again the deadly alternative of the Pima Animal Care Center awaits them.

Things are not coming together, so I appeal to my current homeowner for an extension beyond April 15. He reiterates that I must move out by that date. I will not desert my innocents by turning them over to PACC. My offer to pay minimal rent is also declined by the homeowner.

I face a daunting dilemma.

Should I take the ferals to the mobile home to save their lives, thereby consigning the “adoptable” felines to


My decision is further complicated because I must also keep my four seniors…Their health is stable, but the shock of separation from me would jeopardize their lives. I rescued Harry, 16, from the street when he was a

kitten, literally being thrown around by teenagers. From that moment our spirits linked. Harry is subject to Grand Mal seizures but has not had one in 8 years. The stress of our separation could trigger one.

Nico, 16, is extremely sensitive to environmental changes. When he was hospitalized for several days six years ago, my vet told me, “Get him out of there. He will recover better in the comfort of familiar surroundings.” He did!

Mama Cat, 17, has contended with lymphoma for two years, but has the verve of a younger cat. I pay a tech to administer fluids via injection weekly for her hydration and electrolyte balance.

Kitt, 13, is a feisty puss. I took her in from my old neighborhood after her human mother died of cancer. The truth is, she picked me, by taking up residence on my back porch. When the neighbor’s brother came to retrieve her, she ran away from him.

He said “I guess that settles that; she wants to stay here.”

I apply to the park for 8 felines. The numbers determine I could take the 4 seniors and 4 ferals. Five ferals will need to die. Do I toss their names in a hat to choose?

That total leaves the younger socialized cats­­ Nell, Dulce, Little Tortie, and Tiger Lily ­­as candidates for re-homing. The first three were taken in from the same neighborhood group of strays. They knew each other from the street and immediately bonded in my home. Against all odds I will try to re-home that bonded group together.

However Tiger Lily, as mellow as she is, cannot be picked up. Who would want to adopt her? She may very well be killed.

Lil Tortie was a stray I had spayed July 1, 2015. Because she had birthed litters before she was a year old, the vet who operated said her uterus was in shreds. On the evening of the surgery by 10 p. m. she still couldn’t lift her head. Obviously she was dying. My administration of injected fluids and syringe feeding of water brought her to life.

The following day another vet found she was critically anemic, hemorrhaging from the condition of her uterus and the side-spay surgery technique they used. This doctor prescribed continuation the fluids and close monitoring for lethargy during the next ten days. I kept her in the bathroom in quietude until her platelet count rebounded, then gradually introduced her to the feline family. Sweet and playful, she soon fit in.

Lil Tortie experienced an ordeal, and I don’t want her to go through another trauma by being re-homed.

If I give up my socialized cats, they would endure the shock of separation from the security of a loving home and languish in cages. If they are lucky they will be rescued and fostered. This results in them being dragged to various pet stores, where they will be confined again to cages, their privacy randomly invaded when subjected to strangers’ handling.

The semi­-ferals, although healthy and loving, will be killed because they are “unadoptable.”

While evaluating these potential decisions, a feeling of heart sick urgency drives my daily routine. After an invariably restless night’s sleep, hour after hour I communicate with every rescue organization in Tucson, the lives of 17 soul friends weighing in the balance.

My emails implore: I will pay for food, litter, and necessary veterinary care. The caveat is that I will accompany them to their foster homes, set up their cat trees, and visit weekly.

But no organization or reputable individual is able to foster even a few of my ferals OR a trio of my socialized cats. Time after time the rescues tell me there is no room; or if they have any space, that they do not accept temporary fosters. I must relinquish them for adoption, which would mean shattering long term bonds among the animals.

It is harrowing, but I try not to convey my angst to the cats or my Pekingese, who will also face another adjustment since his previous owner abandoned him at PACC.

The nine semi­-ferals deserve to continue living in a loving home. This morning I watched them interact during a squabble; and human families should take notes on their approach.

Two were having a disagreement. Several clan members encircled them, not interfering, but showing support. I intervened and urged, “You don’t want to fight. You’re family. You should love each other.”

The two quarreling reacted to my soothing tone. They immediately touched noses, then went their separate ways. The crowd dispersed.

I have similar communication with my “socialized” clan of eight. They may soon be separated from the security and love I provide them? they must sense the pain of my anticipatory grief.

I look into Nell’s eyes, pale yellow like her tabby coat. She is so attached to me that she goes into a trance when I stroke her face. She trusts me and counts on me. I ask, sotto voce, “What will you think of me if I let you go?”

When I stroke each one of the household crew, my hand is insistent. I am impressing the feeling of their individual bodies into my memory. They feel the difference in the usual pressure and look up, searching my face for clues to the reason.

As gently as possible I will arrange the physical transition to their new home, with me or a stranger. The emotional adjustment to relocation will be softened only IF we are together as we are at this moment.

We are resting in the late morning sun, listening to the finches trill atop the grand mesquite outside our picture window. Several lounge in favorite niches.

Lil Tortie, a black­-velvet gloved, caramel­-swirled “tortoise shell,” is partially hidden on a dining room chair.

Three gather round me as I recline, nibble a cheese sandwich, and type into my iPhone, my internet source.

On the left arm of my chair, Harry, a large chocolate striped tabby with tufted ears indicating he is part Maine

Coon, stations himself beside Nell. They gently touch noses.

Having observed cats’ body language, and particularly their communication via nose touches, for 20 years, I translate: In this instance, their gesture acknowledges they have similar interest in the cheese, but will not be greedy. Next, they politely assume sitting postures. Before each I place a corner tidbit, which is vacuumed up.

Meanwhile Dulce “Bob” perches on the recliner right arm. He is a smaller version of Harry, without the latter’s distinguishing ears. I set a bit of cheese down beside him. It magically disappears.

This peaceful interlude keeps a looming disaster at bay. Only a few precious days remain before midnight of the pending April 15 eviction, and I am determined not to leave any of my comrades behind.

ONE LAST ATTEMPT. I re­contact a reputable feline advocate. I had discussed placement of the ferals, but haven’t heard from her again.

She emails that she has been trying to reach me. She has a friend who will give the a safe home together. The benefactor, a woman who chooses to remain anonymous, rescues abused dogs and feral cats.

The potential rescuer and I talk at length by phone. She hopes to build a shelter that gives my timid nine a refuge separate from her feral colony. I tell her of the April 15 deadline, and she says to give her a week to work out details.

I am ecstatic and plan to take their cat trees, toys, carpet and beds to comfort them with the scent of home. But a week later the ground falls away beneath me. She notifies me that her County will not permit additional structures­­ even dog runs with tops­­ on her property.


Because of a string of miracles, I have found sanctuary for me, my 8 felines, and pooch. But now I am in the

11th hour of finding a homestead for the nine innocent felines who otherwise face euthanasia.

I speak with park management and discover there is no limit on the number of pets, but they must be kept inside. I decide to share my new living space with three of the youngest semi-­ferals. That leaves six needing homes.

I appeal to friends to reach out in turn to their friends, asking them to devote a porch area to my innocent little brood. Then I receive good news: The No Kill Pima County organization will set up a 6 x 12 shelter, once I find and approve a caregiver.

Now I need a caring individual to accept this small number of powerless victims facing unjust execution.

A cat is a terrible thing to waste.

Diane L. Rau is at work on her memoir “Touching Noses … Conquering Cancer and Celebrating My Feline and Canine Therapists.”

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