My life just seemed to decide itself to be devoted to animal rescue. I had seen stories of "crazy cat ladies" being forcibly separated from their kitties because they had gotten so out of control and I really couldn't think of what separated me from them except good health and, therefore, an ability to hold down a job and, therefore, the means to spay and neuter everyone I took in. Not being sure at that time that that was going to continue for the rest of my life, and being quite aware that I couldn't stop taking in kitties who asked me for help, I figured that my only chance was making this a legit thing with donations and volunteers and a standing of sorts in a community.
The only reason I started Thundering Paws was to look less crazy on paper. I think--miraculously--that it worked! On paper, that is, until someone meets me, I look less crazy than I could. And I guess I don't look totally out there in person, either, because seemingly sane people keep coming back here and volunteering!
My first rescue family was many years ago. In 1993, a friend of mine called me and asked me if I would come over to her house and look at her neighbor's cat, who was losing her hair. The reason was that she was being fed cereal with cow's milk on it and, on that lousy diet, she was trying to nurse five four-week olds! I looked at the cat, at the flea-ridden kittens, and at the neighbor's pathetic house and I said to my friend, "Heather, I don't think I can deal with this." Just then, the kitty, who came to be named Camilope (I opted for Camile, my partner wanted Penelope), looked up at me, looked me right in the eye, and said, "Meow." I said, "Oh, hell, well, if 'meow,' then I guess you'd better come along. Get into the carriers, all of you," and they all came home with me. One of the kittens is Turtle and one was Leo. I found homes for everyone else, including Camilope. Everyone was spayed or neutered first.
A few weeks before that, a neighbor had come to me to report that their family had taken in a tiny kitten but they didn't know what to do with it because it wasn't eating. Turns out she was too young. I went to look at the kitten and saw her trying to dodge the 18 month old child. She was petrified and emaciated. I said, probably louder and more emphatically than necessary, "UH, CAN I TAKE THIS KITTEN HOME AND RAISE HER FOR A FEW WEEKS, PLEASE?" They were happy to let me. I took her home, started nursing her on KMR, and determined that she was about three weeks old. I fell immediately in love and started thinking of how I was going to convince them that I had to keep her.
My theory is that a cat will sometimes tell you her name, so I asked her what her name was. She said, "Harmony." I said, "I don't even like that name." She said, "Get used to it." That's the kind of girl Harmony was. I was still letting my cats outside at that time and when Harmony was about three months old, I let her out to go visit her non-feral mother, Goldie, and her three more or less feral sisters, Tiny, Alberta, and Half-Tail.
Whenever I got home, I would go outside and call, "Harmony!" and she would appear in the kitchen within 5 minutes. She always came when I called her. Also, their dad would show up occasionally, I guess when he was in town. Seems like he was a traveling salesman. There was a vacant lot across the street from my house and you would almost always see the Hifer family (that's the last name I gave them--I can't remember why, maybe she told me that was her last name) sitting companionably together across the street. I got Goldie spayed pretty quickly but I had to trap Tiny, Alberta and Half-Tail. I succeeded before anyone got pregnant, thank goodness.
When Harmony, Tiny, Half-Tail and Alberta were 14 months old, on July 16, 1994, I stayed out late at a performance held by the singing group of which I was a member. When I got home, I called Harmony, as usual, but she didn't appear. I KNEW something was awfully wrong immediately. I never saw her again.
I went to Town Lake Animal Center looking for her every third day. I walked the neighborhood and called her every day. I made posters and took them around to all my neighbors. But in my heart, I knew I would never see her again.
About that time, Half-Tail disappeared, too. I noticed that other neighborhood kitties whom I had seen and gotten spayed or neutered, were no longer around. I will never know what happened to those kitties but that's when Nell and I built the big cage on wheels and I trapped Tiny, Christopher, Alex, Rosa, Jeremy, and Vangie, and drug them inside. Alex, Rosa, Jeremy and Vangie were all siblings and Christopher was their uncle. Tiny was their cousin. I tamed them all in that cage. Alex was always the vanguard--the first to make eye contact, the first to let me touch him, the first to do everything. Once he had proven that the awful two-legged things weren't out to eat them, the other kitties followed suit quickly.
While I was visiting Town Lake Animal Center every third day, I became acquainted with Melinda Carter of Animal Trustees of Austin. One day I saw a beautiful calico family at TLAC and I told Melinda I would foster them. Unfortunately, before we could get them out, I took in Harmony's whole family, and couldn't take those calicos. Melinda did find another foster for them.
However, meeting and getting to know Melinda, then Beverly Williams and Sherry and Fernando DeLeon, all of Animal Trustees, gave me my first taste of rescue people. I did foster cats for them for a few years and went to their adoption events at Petsmart. They're a great group of folks and I am very glad that they shared their experience with me. I could not have founded Thundering Paws without their help and knowledge.
Tiny decided to be a tame kitty and she moved here with me. She died about three years ago of stomatitis, which Godiva, Madelyn, Fox, and China have, before I learned what it was or how to treat it. Jeremy was the second kitty to die of the well water here. He was Percy's best friend. Rosa died of cancer of the sinuses. Christopher died probably from FIP. Vangie and Alex are still quite alive and well.
Alberta lived in my ex-neighbor, Shelley Ward's, yard and Shelley fed her for many years after I moved here. Feral cats would come to Shelley's yard from time to time and we would trap them. Alberta was not a rocket scientist and she was trapped three times in her life. Each time I found Alberta in the trap I had set, I would take her to be anesthetized and get her shot updates. The last time I did this, when I released her back into Shelley's yard, she stomped around that yard for 15 minutes and cussed me royally! It was so funny. I said to her, "Well, ding-dong, you keep getting into the trap."
Although I didn't like Harmony's name, I have come to realize that it really fit, not necessarily her but what she did for me. By finding her, raising her, getting her family trapped and fixed, bringing many of them inside and taming them, I found my personal harmony, if you will; that is, I discovered rescue work, which I have come to feel is my life's work. I certainly feel more in harmony with myself than I ever did before. And she was the first. I would never have learned to nurse a kitten, trap, tame, foster, adopt, not to mention that all that caused me to meet a wonderful bunch of people doing the same thing, the thing I grew to know was what I wanted to do with my life. Without her disappearance, I would not have found Animal Trustees, and all the subsequent rescue organizations with which Thundering Paws now has such important professional relationships. I have always thought there was something quite mystical about Harmony, and her name.