Often Ministry is simply responding to the needs before you with love and compassion. For me, like St. Francis (though I am no Saint), that includes the needs of all of God’s creatures, great and small.
The little lake and woods behind my house are like a private nature preserve. They keep me sane, refreshed, and close to God’s creation. About a year and a half ago three cats from the woods behind my house began to visit my cats on the lanai every evening. They made it clear that they were very hungry and two of them readily responded to both the food and the caring I offered them. One just ate and ran.
The one I called Bushy Tail was particularly in need of love and affection. He looked like a Maine Coon Cat with his big feet,swirly dark markings, and bushy tail, though his face was more like a Bengal with lovely amber tones, curly hair in his ears, and a long nose ending in a little red rubber stamp. He ran into my house when the door was open, not caring if “mean bigger cats” lived there. All three were very thin and flea bitten. The largest one eventually showed me that he could move right in and get along with my cats, and he did, after Vet care by Dr. Terry Sutton of Three Oaks Animal Hospital, who shares this ministry by discounting her fees and going the second mile for these unwanted kitties. Brooklyn Big moved in after a period of isolation to make sure he was well. The skinniest one, Dotsy, just ate and ran, He is still eating and running, but stops to say thank you now and let me pet him once in a while.
But, Bushy Tail was the most poignant and heart breaking as he wanted a home so badly, but also would run at the end of the evening. Then, before I could woo him to the Vet’s office for a check-up and neutering before finding him a home, he simply disappeared one day. I feared the worst as he was such a frightened and peaceful little cat. I promised God and myself that if he ever turned up again , I would make sure that he got a home. I found myself praying for him whenever I saw his friend Dotsy.
I watch the activity on the lake and out of the woods every day. But over a year passed and Bushy did not reappear. On the lake one can see magnificent birds stopping by from the North on their way to the warmth of Florida and the Caribbean. A family of coots have a little mandarin duck as a friend. Turtles of all sorts shoot up their long necks and fish pass by in little schools. Egrets, herons, anahingas and other sea birds stalk and dry their wings the morning sun. Sometimes river otters dive and chase each other, scrambling up on the shore to do circus tricks and play. Racoons, opossums and even tree rats often come by to see what’s for dinner.
And then there are the cats that daily make their way through the woods, around the little bend and head straight to my door. The woods is both a haven and a dumping ground for the unwanted cats and kittens that end up there one way or the other. Very few are feral and never come close, but manage to run through and get something to eat at the feeding station. Others are tame and needy as if someone loved them once upon a time. In the fifteen years that we have lived here, I have found homes for over 30 of these kittys-each one beautiful and so thankful for their homes. One tiny older girl kitty with a dainty lovely face, had a serious thyroid condition and one old gentleman had Feline Leukemia. Both loved their foreshortened lives with me and their new cat family. Some of the kitties from the woods have found a home with me but most have new forever homes. Additionally part of the ministry to homeless people has had to include ministry to their equally homeless animals. Our ministry gives out cat and dog food and takes care of Vet bills when necessary. I have placed seven of these kitties who lived with people who could not take care of them in the woods of North Fort Myers. I have had Lady Guinevere and three of her kittens who had Feline Aids for five years now. The two healthy kittens were immediately placed. The couple who lived so marginally in the woods broke up after caring for Lady Guinevere for four years. They begged me to take her and the new kittens. When I made my way into the woods, I was utterly surprised to see Lady Guinevere quickly guide her kittens right into the cat carrier! They are healthy (asymptomatic) and gorgeous but live separately from my other cats.
Two other wonderful kitties made their way in to our home after Brooklyn Big came in. Mary Jane,a sleek tuxedo, was terrified of people and cats but determined to get out of the woods. Her entire skin was flea ridden. Skye, a striking silver striped cat who looks like a white tiger with a broken necrotic tail literally ran in and would not leave. After Skye’s surgery and treatment for paralysis in his intestines, these two got along and made the last space in my house their home. And finally there was no more room in the inn.
Then a miracle happened. Bushy Tail reappeared. He came with his old friend Dotsy. He was skinnier than ever and full of scabs from scratching fleas. I so wished that he could tell the story of the past fifteen months. His ear was cut which indicated that he had at some point been caught, neutered and released. I couldn’t understand why he was ever released since he clearly wanted a home and was affectionate and relational. It took a few days of being welcomed back and he slowly warmed up to the caring as the food settled in his tummy. Soon he was himself again and began his pattern of running into the house and leaving again. He could not stand any aggressive cats that came near his food and he ran away when he saw them. But he was so tired that he literally fell asleep in front of the house while a large mother opossum stole his food. He only came at night after dark and I had no where now to keep him until the morning so he could see Dr. Terry. I knew that I could not keep him and spoke to my friend Ginger Delerme about adopting a second cat. Just this year she adopted her first cat since her marriage to Felix almost 40 years ago. Felix, a Child Psychiatrist, liked children but hated cats. Mercifully, he has now forgotten this along with his more serious forgetting. Her big beautiful cat, Ray, a manx, adopted her after seeing her twice at a mall. It was love at first sight. Felix and Ginger and Ray were very happy together. Could she possibly consider extending their wonderful home to Bushy Tail? She was doubtful about rocking the boat but agreed to think about it. After about two months of his night visits, he finally showed up on the morning of Saturday July 27th. He was examined, tested, given all of his shots, and, so far, was ready for a home after a period of isolation. Ginger was his only hope. I called her and she agreed to open her heart and home to Bushy-but he would have to have another name! And Ray would have to accept him.
Armed with pheromones to help make the cats mellow and ease the transition, Bushy went to meet Ginger, Felix and Ray. What ensued was one of the easiest transitions of a cat into a new home that I had ever seen. He took to Ginger right away nuzzling and settling on her lap. Ginger wisely involved Ray, first at a distance then closer, keeping them separate most of the time initially. Ray, who had tried to attack other cats visiting the house, kept a good distance but touched noses and let Bushy know that he might be accepted if he was submissive. Bushy said “no problem”. Each was to have his own space and only some joint time when they were ready. Bushy loved his new room, and adored his new parents. Felix enjoyed Bushy sitting on his lap,something Ray did not do. He was loved. It was a miracle.
Ginger studied him and decided to name him “Nosy”, because of his cute and unusual nose, and because he followed her and Ray around, nosing into everything and enjoying every corner of the house, and he loved playing with his toy mice. Ray was sometimes annoyed at his following and told him to keep his distance with a hiss, and he did. Ray would lay down near him but not close and generally tolerated him with a bit of distance. He did not want to play. But Ginger liked his curiosity and nosing into everything. She loved his affectionate loving nature. He fit right in. Nosy loved being loved.
And then the hitch. The FELV Test came back positive. He was a carrier for what is loosely called Feline Leukemia-though it is not really a Leukemia, but an immune deficiency disease. He had no symptoms and was young and active and so it may even clear up-or he could still live a long life with it, or he could eventually develop symptoms and a tumor. Perhaps more upsetting was that he and Ray would have to be separate when Ginger was not supervising as a bite could infect Ray,FELV shots notwithstanding perhaps. While infection through dishes is not likely it would also be on the safe side to have separate and private feeding stations. What an awful predicament. My heart was broken in thinking Nosy could lose his beloved home.
But this is what happened. Ginger already loved him and decided to structure their world so he could stay. We have been friends for over thirty years and the integrity and goodness of this woman has always moved me. Her loving devotion to Felix during his slow decline was already more than enough to expect from one human being-she should have no more difficulty in her life. But here she was accepting little Nosy with the same loyalty and caring that she extends to those she loves.
I am thoroughly moved at her decision and at seeing him with his new family. He is the happiest cat in the world, and I am one relieved “rescuer”. Thank you God, and thank you Ginger Delerme!
Judy Lee, shepherding God’s little creatures-8/2/13