When I was a kid, it occurred to me that I didn’t like it when animals got hurt. But, being from a rural area where animals are regularly raised for meat, sometimes animal death is unavoidable. But just because it was unavoidable didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try to save as many innocent baby animal lives as possible.
Like when I ran over a toad with a lawnmower. The poor guy was all cut open and I could literally see his organs. But did that stop me from believing in toady miracles? No. I put him in a container next to some water, hoping that stitches were an optional part of his healing process, since my knowledge of sewing came from my hours working on 4-H projects, and I doubted somehow that the ability to match my seams up in the middle would translate into the miracle this toad was looking for. Unfortunately, this first attempt was a failure.
Then, a few years later, I was swathing hay at one of our fields and I noticed that there were a lot of pheasant nests in the alfalfa. I was pained as I ran over nest after nest. Finally, I got out to look at one. Most of the eggs had survived! I was ecstatic. So I found a random plastic zip lock bag and took some shop towels and placed the seven eggs gently in the bag. When I got home and started to create a makeshift pheasant incubator, I went to my dad to ask if we had a flood lamp. If he thought that the madness had taken hold of me, he didn’t show it on his face. Not that day, anyway. He just told me where to find it. So I hooked everything up in the laundry room, away from the reach of our family cat, and laid in wait for my pheasant babies to hatch, wondering to myself if it was like geese and other birds that, upon hatching, believe the first thing they see to be their mother. I contemplated my life as a mother to a bouquet of pheasants. I have to say, the idea intrigued me.
So when they began to hatch, one by one, it was like witnessing the culmination of my life’s work. I was about to be a parent. A teenage mom, as it were. But sadly, my pheasant babies didn’t seem to care who I was. My parents found pheasant food, but it only came in 50 lb bags. But, I thought to myself, that was okay. Because these pheasant babies would be living with us for a long time. How wrong I was. One of the eggs never even hatched. Another died shortly after hatching. A third kicked the proverbial bucket after being smothered to death by its siblings. Then, one by one, they all died. One was pecked to death. The rest of them succumbed to their water tray, in which they took turns unceremoniously drowning themselves. And that is the story of how I came to be the possessor of forty-nine pounds of pheasant food.
Then I began the kitten-rescuing phase of my life. One day my dad found three tiny kittens scattered around our farm yard. He brought them home to me to care for, not realizing at the time that this was far from the last time his home would be invaded by tiny, motherless cats. So I fed these babies with one of those bottles you get from the vet’s office, and some cat milk formula. When the bottle proved too large for their kitten mouths, my mom procured these tiny toy bottles, and we fed them that way. But, once again, one by one, the kittens left this world for the catnip field in the sky. I was, of course, upset at what I perceived to be my own failure, even though those kittens were likely too small to survive without their mother. Perhaps my father even brought them to me to teach me this life lesson, not realizing that, instead of discouraging my animal rescue habits, he only strengthened my resolve.
Then came Bingley. He was found in our farm building around where we parked our trucks. He was a chubby little guy, with fluffy gray fur and a waddle. I knew he was alone in this world, and I couldn’t leave him to be crushed by a truck, so I brought him home. When I fed him his bottles, his ears waggled in a rhythm, like Sloth in the Goonies. And so, Bingley became my cat. Our family cat, Shiver, was far from impressed, hissing and spitting and even going on what we lovingly referred to as a hunger strike. When I was away at college, Bingley, tragically, departed this world. Shiver somehow inherited his tendencies, behaving in ways she had never behaved in the 12 or so years we had had her. And so, Bingley’s spirit lived on in his nemesis, who we affectionately dubbed “Shingley.”
Helen Pixiefidget came into my life after college, when a neighbor brought over four kittens to the farm to introduce some new blood into our incestuous pool of cats. For protection, we put them in an old apartment in our farm building. But the next day, one of the kittens was missing. The apartment was messy, so we figured it was just hiding. Then the day after that, a second one went missing. I started to wonder if maybe the apartment wasn’t as safe as we thought it was when, on the third day, the third kitten disappeared. It came to our attention that raccoons were invading the apartment at night and absconding with the kittens. Fun fact: Raccoons wash their food before eating it. When I found this out, I both laughed and cringed a little. By this time, the only remaining kitten was a tiny gray striped thing with the cutest face on the planet. I couldn’t leave her there to be picked off like her siblings. My heart just couldn’t take it. So I brought her home, where she slept in a Rubbermaid container (the lid was propped open for air), and she mewed her way into my heart. When I finally moved out of my parents’ house a few years ago, Pixie came with me, along with another rescue I nicknamed Butters (his full name is quite unwieldy).
And I feel as if I have finally succeeded. I have successfully rescued not one, but two cats, which has, in some way, dulled my need to take care of every motherless animal I come across. So dad, you’ll be happy to hear, we won’t need to house any more litters of kittens in yours and mom’s bathtub. Not for a while, anyway. But I make no promises for the future.
For more blogs by Becky Schwarz and her co-blogger, friend, and city dweller Julianne Harm, please visit http://boomcrickets.blogspot.com/