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To The Rescue

September 23, 2009


The day was already kind of crappy. I was baking for a friend’s wedding and watching my girlfriends get engaged, shack up with sweet men, have families, land exciting jobs, complete ambitious degrees or return to school to tackle another.

I’d taken stock of my life and discovered it a shambles: I had insomnia, a major writing project had fallen through, I was about to turn 36, I was tired of everything, interested in nothing, attempting to start fresh for the fa-fillionth time, and ready to simply throw up my hands and say “uncle”. All these superficial-sounding complaints made me feel like some stupid character from a Sex and the City-ish script: an urban lady with a hundred awesome options at her feet but no perspective on life, wrapped up in herself,  convinced that lacking a man, a definite career path, a bank balance and pretty shoes is sufficient provocation to give up altogether and get sad. And yet, there I was, dressed for Wednesday in cute jeans, nice white sneakers, a scarf and jaunty satchel, lunching with a girlfriend then taking a walk. I wanted to tell myself to shut the fuck up and get a grip, get on with things in general and the day in particular. I mean, there were two hundred wedding cupcakes to bake!

I’d shaken off my self-absorption and was feeling a little ok, and then, I saw the cat. Breakfast over, walk in progress, my girlfriend and I were a few blocks from home. This scraggly clearly quite sick cat jogged up the sidewalk ahead of us then cut across a lawn. From behind and at a distance, it looked too young to be out on its own, and too tall to be young at all. Up close, we realised it was starving. Its tail drooping, its eyelids drooping, its hide drooping, its head bobbing like it was gulping from thirst and trying to wet its mouth with its own spit.

I phone the Toronto Humane Society and once I navigated a five-minute service menu and reached an operator, was informed they don’t take care of that sort of thing. They adopt animals out, but don’t deal with taking them in. For that, I would need to call Toronto Animal Services. I called. Right away, an operator was on the line, asked what I was calling about. I explained that I was on a street downtown, in a quiet neighbourhood, and had come across a cat who was sick but not rabid, and who clearly needed a hand. I was willing to wait while someone came to retrieve the poor thing, to be sure the cat didn’t get away, and that the animal services person wasn’t sent on some wild chase, combing the streets for a feline that might be crouched any old place.

“Is it confined in a box with the lid sealed and measures taken to ensure the animal cannot escape?” the operator asked. I explained that no, it was not in a box, but I could wait and point it out. “In that case, we can’t help you,” the man said. “Unless the animal is in a box, we can’t do anything about it.” I asked if he seriously meant the cat would just be left on the street. Yes. So then there’s nothing they were willing to do to help it out? No. Unless I wanted to go find a box, put the cat inside and call back. Then, they could help. And if I couldn’t get a box because I was walking down the street and had no access to boxes and besides which, had no gloves but those seem like equipment the animal services people might have on hand, and maybe they would also be skilled in things like the proper technique for approaching and containing a potentially dangerous and seriously ill animal and so maybe that’s how come people call them, because they provide services for animals in need? Maybe they could do something? No. Not unless I put the animal into a box, sealed it tightly, and telephoned back with directions to its location.

I hung up the phone and began to cry. My friend put her arms around me while two men stared from across the street. Meanwhile, the cat lay down on the pavement and carried on drooping and gulping. It made me so mad, and it made me so sad, and it utterly broke my heart. The next evening, over wine at a friend’s house, I tried to tell him about what had happened and he looked at me like I was too delicate and ridiculous for words, then said, “So, should we put the movie on?” and inserted a DVD.

This morning, I walked past the house where the cat encounter went down, and there was a big poster stapled to a hydro pole. “Q: Has anyone seen that little grey and white cat lately? I don’t think it was feeling so good. Maybe we should help it out? Does anyone know anything?” Below this, a series of wobbly, hand-drawn lines, like “A:__________________________________________________” had been filled in using the pen on a string tacked to the poster. “Yes. Animal shelter took it away. We left it some food but it couldn’t eat. I think it has been adopted now.”

At first, I felt relieved, then sad and mad all over again. Mad at myself for not taking the time to navigate the animal services rules–I could have found a box, dealt with the cat, probably even found some safety gloves or whatever. I could have brought the cat some water and food from home, or…I don’t know…done something. At least someone had helped the cat out, and it wasn’t dead in the streets. But, depending how sick the little guy was, the shelter may have taken it in and put it down. Which, really, may have been for the best. Or, maybe the cat lives somewhere awesome now, after being fed and watered and washed and dried and given a nice spot to sleep for the night. Who knows.

I guess the nice part is the poster, the idea that someone else was “delicate” and wanted to know what had become of the cat, had perhaps felt similarly helpless, had maybe even cried at the roadside while those same men stared. Who knows.

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