In a world filled with suffering, we must resist the urge of becoming defeatist. It’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed when so many animals endure harsh lives on the streets or are the victims of crime. Whether driven by a sense of futility or a need for self-preservation, some resign themselves and turn a blind eye. At times like this, it’s helpful to focus on an individual story to remind us of the power within each of us and that we must never give up.
This past week, we’ve been awed and inspired by the story of one feral cat and her remarkable and compassionate caretaker, Dawn Marie Scheuerman-Cannella, who lives in Essex in Baltimore County. Although Dawn works and has a teenaged son, she feeds 70 community cats in 4 colonies every day, and does so without fanfare or self-promotion. Her devotion to one of these cats – MaMá – restores our faith in humanity.
She had been born next to a grocery store parking lot nearly 10 years ago. They named her MaMá, for she was an alpha and the queen of the colony. She was fortunate in that Good Samaritans fed and spayed her, but as with stray cats everywhere, she suffered injuries and abscesses and dodged cruelty. One day, the parking lot was strewn with the dead bodies of several of her colony mates, who had been poisoned. Others were shot with BB guns. Over the years, people tried to run her over with their cars.
Dawn first spotted MaMá 6 years ago and began feeding her as well. She seemed friendly, and Dawn relocated her to her own home, where she would be safer. Within a day, MaMá broke free and returned to the parking lot, a half mile away. She was feral and wanted to remain in the only home she had ever known.
Dawn built shelters for her, which were stolen every year, and helped her when she was hurt. A year ago, Dawn noticed a lesion on MaMá’s nose and showed photographs to her vet, who initially thought it was frostbite. The condition worsened and as temperatures dropped in the days before Christmas, Dawn was concerned that MaMá could not survive another winter outdoors. Although she previously rejected a home, she allowed Dawn to trap her once again.
Dawn set up a large enclosure in her heated garage and filled it with comfortable bedding and a place to hide. She draped it with spruce branches, to remind her of the outdoors. For the first time in her life, MaMá relaxed and slept without being on high alert. Dawn took her to two veterinary hospitals that confirmed she had squamous cell cancer, a skin cancer that had invaded her nasal cavity. Surgery was unrealistic, so Dawn treated her with pain meds, steroids and antibiotics.
For several weeks, MaMá improved and allowed Dawn to pet her, even though she had never felt a human hand. She began to purr. After a few weeks, she declined, but then rebounded. Dawn wanted to act in MaMá’s best interest and stayed in close contact with her vets, Drs. Morgan and Scherr of Valley Dog and Cat Hospital, who patiently took her calls.
Despite her best efforts, MaMá grew weaker and Dawn faced the day she had been dreading. She called a veterinarian who euthanized MaMá at home while Dawn cradled her body in her arms. She arranged to have her cremated and honored her memory with a plaque.
Some will question why we should care when there are tens of thousands of feral cats in Baltimore alone. But we cannot imagine how MaMa would have suffered, had she endured her final weeks in the cold. She had but one life, which she lived with dignity, and her burdens were eased by a selfless woman who grieves her death. MaMá was loved and she loved in return. Her story will be etched in our memories and seared in our hearts forever.
Baltimore’s kitties could use a few more angels like Dawn. If you’d like to help, please contact us and we’ll gladly put you in touch with the groups that are out there volunteering and caring for the community’s forgotten animals.