The Catt Box

'The Shelter'

 

Working for the local animal shelter was the saddest job I ever had. I started off as the receptionist and my job quickly expanded into public relations. I realized immediately how important it was to educate everyone on spaying and neutering their pets. I saw so many sad situations, and cold-hearted people. On my days off from work I would volunteer my time by going to the area schools and talking to the children about animal care. 

I had a lot of animals at the time... nursing some back to health, helping abandoned and injured wild-life to survive so I could then give them their freedom, and many of them I acquired from the shelter that we were not permitted to put up for adoption. 

People brought in just about everything, but only cats and dogs were allowed to be adopted...I took home the rest. I would take a fair amount of these pets with me to the schools. They were in cages and the children couldn't touch them. I would have the cages covered, finish my lecture, then present the animals, one by one, to the children and we discussed them. 

The 'favorite' animals, of course, were always my monkeys. I really enjoyed this educational work....poured out my heart and soul in it. After two years I began to work for a local veterinarian. But while I was at the animal shelter I was inspired to write a short story on what I saw on a daily basis. I dedicated my story to Jane Preston, my retiring supervisor, and read it to her at her retirement party. I want to share it with you.

 

'Always Someone Far Off...Crying'

 

These are the thoughts of dog X.....for a moment, you are dog X...

The warmth of sunshine is a wonderful gift. So many take it for granted. I love to feel it soothe and lull me to sleep as I lay here in a meadow, quite alone. No one yelling at me...no one making demands of me...just me, and nature! I don't have to fight the fumes of car exhaust, furniture polish, cigarettes, hair spray, cleaners...just fresh air. And off to the east side of the mead----                                                                             

"Who's that....? What are you doing? Oh, it's you. I'm glad it's only you. I guess I was just dreaming again. WAIT! Where are we going? Where are we going?"

You look around frantically....where are you going? Why is she carrying you this way? What did you do? Are you in trouble?

Your car door slams shut and all you can do is wait. The moment lasts forever as you anticipate her door opening. "God, what's going on here?...Why won't she tell me?"

You feel that hard knot tighten in your chest as you start to quiver from way down inside of yourself...shiver...stop...shiver...stop. Your mouth feels dry and swallowing is accomplished only by conscious effort. "It's okay, sweetheart...", she laughs as she calmly slides in and starts the ignition. "Oh, darn! It's starting to rain and I've got a million things to do today." Suddenly, she looks around at you, as if it were somehow all YOUR fault. She sees the fear on your face and it irritates her. "Cool out, will ya? It'll be alright." You can sense the tension in her voice. She's becoming more irritated and that only makes you feel worse. All you want to do is go home and stop shaking.

Things are going to fast. Won't this ride ever end? You're so confused. Look at her....You're falling apart and she's just driving along...babbling on and on about nothing, unscathed...unconcerned.

"Are we here? Where are we? Who lives here?", you think with panic, yet excitement...maybe it's not that bad.

As the car stops you feel your heartbeat increase rapidly. This is it! The mystery will soon be over...you hope. Such a strange looking place, almost sad. Your eyes become intently focused as you lose yourself in your thoughts. "There's no happiness here." You come to that conclusion already. "What do WE have to do with this place?"

The car sits motionless...silent. You barely notice her sigh as she reaches over to brush the hair from your frightened eyes, but you jump...having been startled by her touch. Your concentration is broken. You aren't very consolable, in spite of her efforts.  For the first time in your life you don't trust her. Something in her voice...the voice that speaks the words you can't hear...but you feel them.

"What's the matter with you?" Her kind words of attempted comfort are now angry. "It's not like I'm gonna kill you!" Trembling prevails. If only you could stop shaking and look brave, happy. "Come on, I've got a lot to do today and I don't need your whining....let's go!"

She reaches for you and you feel yourself grip the seat, "No, please! Wait! Let me think a minute more. I need to collect myself. I feel like I'm in a terrible nightmare." She can't manage to take you out of the car from her side, so she gets out of the car and slams the door in disgust. The moment of silence is deafening as you wait. Your car door jerks open and in a firm voice she says, "I said to COME ON!" Your thoughts are racing, "I can't believe this is happening to me. Where are we? What's that smell?" And what a horrible smell it is....over-whelming."

"No...I can't.....I'm not going in there.....PLEASE don't make me go in there....PLEASE!" As you struggle she grabs you forcefully and yells over her shoulder, "Can someone help me out here?...she's scared and I'm afraid she might bite me." At once a woman approaches and between the two of them you are rendered powerless.

Once inside you can feel them staring...one of them even tries to touch you. Children point and ask questions. The smell is staggering. You look up and see a large, heavy door. From the other side of the door you hear muffled voices and the sounds of others crying. Why are they crying? Who are they? Why are they here? Why are YOU here?

There is a thick cloud of cigarette smoke lingering in the air. A small fan blows and circulates stale air. On a crooked bulletin board old memos and yellowed, torn papers flap aimlessly. An old woman with no shoes stirs restlessly in her chair while coughing. Before you can release another thought, that big door swings open abruptly and in comes another person. He's a large man...black...and his worn shoes are too big for his feet. You hear them scuffle towards you. His once-white tee shirt is dirty and stained with what looks like blood and who knows what else? Beads of sweat have begun to trickle down his strained face. He was interrupted...again...probably one of many times this morning...."Can't get no work done 'round this place", he mumbles.

Without another word, he knows what to do. There's much conversation...confusion, and it's all to do with you. "What are they saying? Why am I here? Please don't make me go with that man...I'm afraid....I don't want to go in there."

As a last ditch effort you strain and fight to look back at her...one last time. The man seems to sympathize as he pauses in the doorway and turns so you can see her. You're desperate to make eye-contact, but all she does is give you a condescending "I-can't-help-you" look. She lifts her shoulders and your heart sinks as she sighs and in a child-like voice she says to you, "It's alright, Baby, you know I love you. Now, be good....sorry." In her own guilt she looks around nervously, searching for an understanding smile for what she's just done, but none of the workers could look at her. They've heard it all a million times before, and this situation was no different.

The lump in your throat makes it harder to swallow, and you fight back the tears welling up in your eyes. You are forced to realize that you will never see her again. It's probably just as well that you didn't. But you loved her, worshipped her, trusted her, needed her. You've known her all of your life. How can she let you go through this?

As you are taken beyond the door, new thoughts and worries are born. In one moment everything you ever knew and loved is now the past. That one door separated you from security and certainty. How can your entire life be changed in a few moments? You are on your own, now...she won't help you. There's no time to concern yourself with thoughts of her.

"Why are they staring at me like that? What are they saying? They are so loud. That smell...it's coming from everywhere...much stronger in here."

The journey seems endless as you go past room after room. They're shouting and barking at you...heckling, glaring, bristling....and a few are crying.

You stop at a small room. "Well..", the man says in a tired, wore-down voice, "This one's all yours. Be back in a minute with some grub." Under his breath you hear him mumble in disgust,"Hard to tell when ya ate last."

The door slams shut and you listen as the sound of his footsteps fade away. The place has grown quieter, except for the barely audible whimper of a few.

The floor is cold and the smell lingers on from others who were there before you. There's water and a make-shift bed, made of discarded shirts and slacks. You slowly look around, only to find yourself in a corner. So, you shrink back, stay there, and wait. Wait for what? You just wait.

The commotion stirs up again as your door is swiftly opened and a ration of food is slid in....metal scraping against painted concrete...spinning down to a slow, grinding turn, and stopping at your feet. "Food? I'm not hungry! I don't want to eat."

With your stomach in knots you ease down to a careful, semi-laying position. The smell of that food is so over-whelming that you think you'll be sick. A soft, but steady, tremor hides down inside of you. You're so exhausted....so scared....You just need to rest for awhile...just a few minutes, just...

The next few days are a nightmare. People shouting, doors slamming and always, always someone far off crying. There are strange people always staring at you...watching you. Each day you are led outside for a brief time. They call it exercise. All you do is stay away from the others and hope they don't approach you. You're losing weight, confidence, and even the will to live. All of the joys of the life you knew have been torn away.

Careful observation has revealed a way out...someone must purposely TAKE you out. It has to be deliberate....you've seen others leave. Strangers come and take you away. But you can't help but wonder how you can achieve this. What can you do? "Maybe I can look happier...no, then I'll look content to be where I am and I won't be able to leave. Perhaps if I look real sad....nah!...that might be too depressing. People like "happy"...they'll look for that, I'm sure."

These are your thoughts, day after day....always waiting and hoping. Will you ever get out of here? Will you ever be able to go back through that big, heavy door? The stress and shock of the shelter weakens you and you lose even more weight. This morning you began to run a fever. And if you get sick in a shelter...

 Once, when you were sleeping, a restless shift in your position, and the slit of your sleepy eyes revealed a man...he was standing at your door...watching you sleep...remembering the first time he saw you. And you remember the first time you saw him....his shoes were too big for his feet, as you heard him shuffle his way towards you. His once-white tee shirt stained with what looked like blood, and who knows what else? Beads of sweat trickled down his strained face. He was interrupted...again...probably one of many times that morning...no, he can't get any work done around this place...he became my unlikely friend that day.

And your sleepy eyes close again, and the sounds of someone far off...crying, lulls you back to sleep.

 August 15, 1989 Copyright (c) Cathy Palmer-Scruggs

 

 

'Award of Achievement'

 

womens_award.jpg (48396 bytes)In March of 1992, I won an "Award of Achievement". This came as a complete surprise to me. I had been nominated by a volunteer who had worked at the shelter when I worked there. I was always telling her of my adventures with the school children and ways to educate the public in spaying and neutering animals. There were six women, out of many who had been nominated, who won an award for their contributions to the community. I won mine for all of my volunteer work in the field of human services. They had a very nice ceremony and I felt very honored.