It’s ironic to think that after all the years I spent chasing awards and money in the advertising business, I finally found happiness working for free. Not long after we launched the Show Your Soft Side campaign in 2011, I soon realized that my paying clients had become an annoyance, not to mention a stumbling block to getting Soft Side business done. At that point, I made the decision (and was fortunate enough to be able to) walk away from the advertising business and focus on our anti-animal abuse efforts instead. Although I’ve consistently said how much happier I am doing this, true nirvana came by accident five months ago.
The catalyst was when it became clear that our Street Kitty Fund was no longer a one-woman job.
We first launched the Street Kitty Fund in May of 2019 to provide a much-needed lifeline for colony caretakers who, otherwise, had nowhere to turn when one of their charges became sick or injured. That year, we covered emergency medical and dental for 63 cats. In 2020, Covid hit, TNR programs throughout the state shut down and we became the only game in town for cats, through no fault of their own, who were sick and living rough on the streets. The number increased to 163. In 2021, as word spread throughout the Baltimore Metropolitan Area and conditions became harsher for people and animals alike, that number jumped to 366.
Staying on top of the approvals, the coordination of payment to vets, the paperwork and tracking the escalating costs was all consuming and, up until August of last year, it was handled entirely by our co-founder, Caroline Griffin. It wasn’t unusual for her to be fielding injured cat calls while testifying in Annapolis, in the midst of a Zoom meeting or trying to spend a holiday with family and friends.
Something had to change.
That was when we made the decision that a one-woman job would become a four-woman job with each of us taking one week per month to cover the avalanche of requests that were coming in. Lucky for me, I got to be one of the four and it’s a week each month that I both look forward to and dread.
I dread because the stories break my heart. A cat spotted at one of the colonies with a collar embedded so far into his neck that he’s become a walking, gaping wound. A cat whose leg was visibly bent and dragging for weeks due to some sort of trauma that resulted in it having to be amputated. Or a litter of kittens so sickly that it was later determined they were eating rocks and debris to try and survive.
Caretakers submit a form on our website and their gratitude when approved is humbling. Many of them are at wit’s end trying to make ends meet providing the food and makeshift shelters required to keep cats who someone else dumped or abandoned… alive. Even if they were able to fundraise for emergency medical care for one of their charges, that takes time and, in most cases, time is not something these cats have.
Take Freddie for example. She’s one of a group of cats that are being cared for by an 82-year old man who’s on a fixed income and doesn’t drive. Freddie hadn’t eaten in three days and the elderly gentleman was sick with worry. He was staying up all night heating pads in his microwave to try to keep her outdoor habitat warm. One of the local kitty angels heard about it and submitted a request for us to help. Although the location was right on the boundary of the areas we cover, we said yes and that same day Freddie was taken to the ER. Suffering from a severe respiratory infection, it was debatable how many more days she’d have survived in 20 degree temperatures. The final bill was $705.55, but the result was worth every penny.
“ I have to thank you all one more time for helping us save Freddie. We are happy to report that Freddie is feeling better already and adapting well to being an indoor kitty. The elderly gentleman who was caring for her outside called me sobbing with gratitude. Made me cry! He truly loves this cat and was devastated to watch her decline and feel powerless to help her. This was definitely a twofer.”
Stories like Freddie’s are why I love my monthly stint on duty. It’s one week a month where I get to play a very small part in saving and changing lives. And that’s something I wouldn’t trade for all the money and awards in the world.
Note: In 2022, we’ve estimated the cost of the Street Kitty Fund will hit $100,000. It’s a big number for an all-volunteer organization to commit to, but it’s a critical number to the kitties and caretakers who depend on us for their salvation and their lives.