I will never forget the last time I saw you. Maybe because I always hated going for car rides and that day you left me at the shelter I thought at first we were headed to the dreaded vet — who I hadn’t seen in three years anyway but still remembered — but no, that day we took a far worse trip together. That day, you took me to the shelter.
You couldn’t even look me in the eye or answer my cries in the backseat of your car like you used to when you’d take me to the vet. “Shhh, sweetie,” you’d say when I howled inside my carrier back then. This day, you had nothing to say. We drove across town in silence, you didn’t even have the radio on. I wasn’t sure what I’d done or why you wouldn’t even speak to me. I’ve been a good girl. I always use my box and I try not to knock things off the table I’m not supposed to be on and I even try not to scratch your couch but it would have been really nice if you would have bought me my own scratching post so I wouldn’t have to.
You pulled my carrier out of the car and I knew before you even opened the door to the shelter that this place was bad. It was very, very bad. My heightened sense of smell tipped me off no sooner than you’d taken a few steps toward the shelter but I know you could smell it too, because I swear for a moment you stopped and almost turned around. I thought maybe you’d made a wrong turn and taken us to the wrong place because surely you wouldn’t leave me, your loyal friend, in a place like this. You’d turn around, put me back in the car, drive us back home and we’d all have a good laugh later about that time you accidentally drove us to the shelter when you meant to take me to the pet store to pick out new toys.
I know this might sound weird to you, my human, but I could feel the pain and loneliness of every single animal who had ever died in that building before we even walked in. There are baby kittens and puppies who never knew the love of a human to call their own but also — and worse — the longing of cats and dogs who once knew the joy of a family, of sharing their lives with a beloved human until they ended up in that bad, bad building for whatever reason. I’d like to think you felt that pain too, and that’s what stopped you just before you opened the door but for whatever reason, you kept going.
“This can’t be happening,” I said to myself, sitting quietly in my carrier in the lobby as you talked to another human about “paperwork” (whatever that is). I think you told them you are moving. Or you are allergic to me even though I have slept on your pillow next to you for the last 5 years and you never once even sneezed. Or you have a new boyfriend and he doesn’t like me. I really don’t remember, I was too busy trying to close my eyes and make myself wake up from what had to be a bad dream.
The cat next to me in the lobby was desperately clawing at the latch of his carrier trying to get out and I thought maybe, just maybe, if I show you what a good girl I am, you’d change your mind and take me back home. So I didn’t say anything. I tucked my front paws under myself and tried to make myself invisible, thinking if they can’t see me, they’ll think you’re crazy and laugh when you say “I need you to take my cat” because obviously there was no cat in the carrier you brought in.
I shifted on my haunches in the cold, hard carrier — you didn’t even put a towel down for me this last time I ever saw you. I remembered resting in this very carrier since I was a kitten, sometimes taking a nap there while you were at work when it felt like an eternity as I waited for you to come home.
And then they took me away. You didn’t even say goodbye. I looked at your face hoping to see something that told me this was your only option, that for whatever reason, you thought this was the right thing to do but it still hurt your heart to leave me here in this place that smells of death the moment you walk in the door. But you turned away and then you were gone.
This is the bad part.
Let me tell you about the shelter, human. There are good humans and there are bad humans. And a lot of noise. OH the noise. I used to get annoyed when you’d stay up late watching TV or bang around in the kitchen when I was trying to take a nap but there is nothing like the noise of the shelter. Again, I closed my eyes tight and tried to wake up from this nightmare and find myself on your couch with you petting my head saying “shhh, there there, you’re just having a bad dream.” But no, you never came and I never woke up from this.
All the animals know this is not a good place. The dogs never shut up, they howl and bark and scream all hours of the day and night. The people who work at the shelter and the volunteers try to take them out for walks and play with them so they quiet down a little but there are so many dogs and so few humans, the dogs end up really frustrated and making all kinds of noise most of the time.
The cats, too. They cry. They growl. They make sounds I have never heard another cat make ever and I always considered myself a pretty vocal cat. These aren’t normal sounds, we are all scared and some of us just cry and cry hoping someone will come pull us out of that cage and bring us home.
Still, I mostly sat quietly in my tiny little metal cage and thought if I can just be a good girl, maybe you will come back for me.
Sometimes, humans sneak us good stuff, and those same humans are the ones who volunteer to come spend time with us when they can. There are just so many of us that even the best volunteers can’t spend time with all of us but they sure do try. They’re really good about being gentle, even with the cats who are extra scared in the shelter. Most of us are extra scared.
There are a few good doctors, too, and some humans who work there are nice. But mostly it feels like there are a lot of humans in gloves always poking and prodding and writing stuff about us on clipboards.
I would talk to the cats in cages around me late at night when no one but the cleaning crew and maybe a spare vet were wandering around the shelter and they would tell me about their humans, about their homes, about where they came from and how they ended up here. I told them my story too, I said I just didn’t know why my human left me here, but I wish I knew what I did wrong because I never meant to make my human mad.
Some of the cats have been here before. Some lived on the streets all their lives. Some really didn’t like humans and those were always the cats to go first. They went into the “Room,” the place in the back where if you go, you never come back.
In this shelter, the humans take the dogs to the Room first. They pile a bunch of dogs in cages onto a cart and then they come into the cat room and pick us out one by one to go too. You’d think you’re going on some fantastic trip by the way the humans try to talk you into not freaking out but we all know better. You go into the “Room,” you’re not coming out.
An old cat in the cage next to me told me what happens there.
Once, when he was young like me, he was in the shelter and the humans came to take him away into the Room. It felt like forever from the time they loaded him into a cage on the cart and pushed him down a long hallway.
Then you smell it. Death. This room is death. Even the humans pushing you into it don’t like it. There are thousands of animal souls floating around out there crying out, all day, every day, just crying. But no one can ever come to get them because they are gone. They can’t rest, they just wander that long hallway looking for their humans.
The old cat said the humans brought him into the room, scribbled a few things on his “paperwork” (I still don’t understand what that is) and then just as they were holding him down while another human waved a giant needle at him, some other human walked in and took him out.
He said a rescuer heard he was going into the Room and wanted to save him. The shelter humans put him into a box and sent him off to a great place where he spent a few years enjoying the love of a human home until he ended up right back here. Like me, he wasn’t sure how that happened but he knew if he went into the “Room” again, no one was going to come bust him out this time.
“Whatever you do, don’t go into the Room,” he told me.
So I tried real hard to find another human. The other cats told me that’s what you have to do, lest you end up in the dreaded Room.
Every time a stranger came by my cage, I would purr and smile and rub my chin on their hand hoping they would take me home.
I especially loved the volunteers. They would tell other humans the nicest things about me; how sweet I was, how cute I was, how gentle I was. I wished one of them could take me home but I knew they already had a lot of cats at home.
Day after day, I continued this but no one ever took me home. Day after day, my friends in the cages all around me either went home or — worse — went to the Room, never to be seen again.
New cats came, and those of us who had been here awhile would tell them the stories we were told in the hopes that no matter how scared we all were, maybe if we had each other and knew what to expect, we might all be OK.
And then it happened. I got sick. I felt terrible; my eyes burned, my nose was stuffed, I kept spraying toxic green snot on my cage walls.
My friend the old cat had long gone to the Room and never came back when he started sneezing. I knew I was next.
Would you know, my human, that I still held out hope that you’d come back to get me? Maybe you’d hear I was sick and you’d feel bad and change your mind and come get me.
You never did.
I knew that morning by the way the shelter vet looked at me that it was my turn to go to the Room. He narrowed his eyes, scribbled a bunch of stuff on a piece of paper and would barely touch me.
I felt so awful at that point I hardly cared. Fine, bring this Room then, it’s surely better than a lifetime of this.
The other cats — even the ones I called my friend — would barely speak to me that night. It was almost like if they talked to me, then they might have to go to the Room too.
It was so quiet in the shelter that night. I barely heard the loud dogs and the sad cats.
I could barely even open my eyes then, so I just slept and waited for the shelter humans to come and take me away to the Room.
And then, the strangest thing happened. To this day I don’t even know how it happened but just when I thought this is it and at least I won’t have to keep carrying on in a tiny cage trying to find a home, a human came to get me.
It wasn’t you, my human. It was a human I’d never met before, but next thing I knew the shelter humans were boxing me up and bringing me out to this human.
She opened my box, looked down on me — MAN I had to look horrible with my eyes practically glued shut and snot pouring from my nose — and said in the softest voice “It’s OK, sweetheart, you’re safe now.”
She touched my head like I was the prettiest thing she’d ever seen in her life even though I had green snot dripping from my nose and couldn’t have felt less pretty if I tried. I couldn’t even lift my head to look at her, that’s how bad I felt. I didn’t need to, I could feel her, her gentle hand reaching down and pulling me out of this hell I still couldn’t wake up from.
Even though I had no idea who she was, even though my own human had betrayed me, even though I spent the last few weeks watching cat after cat get dragged off to the Room to get killed, something told me when this human said I was safe, I could trust her.
It took a few weeks for me to shake my shelter cold but my new human was great about giving me medicine (ugh) and I even got to eat fried chicken because I was so stuffed up I wouldn’t eat cat food.
I live in a rescue house now, with a bunch of other cats, and a lot of them have shelter stories to tell too. When I first met them I was a little reluctant to make friends but they were really good about welcoming me and telling me how to manipulate our human into giving us treats (she is SUCH a sucker sometimes, ha!).
This human won’t keep me forever — she’s called a “foster” which is someone who gives animals like me a great place to stay so they have all the time they need to find their forever families — and that’s OK. I like this human a lot but truth be told our house is a little crazy sometimes with all these cats running around, it will be nice to find a family of my own. Hopefully with fewer cats. Don’t get me wrong, I like cats but this is a little nuts, it’s like there’s always a cat coming or going.
I’m sorry things didn’t work out with us, my human. I still don’t know what I did that made you decide to take me to that bad place but I’m not even mad.
Things are great here. We have lots of great toys and cat trees and scratching posts and we eat really good food that doesn’t upset my tummy like some of the stuff you used to feed me when you said you didn’t have time to get to the pet store.
I have foster brothers and sisters to play with when I want to but mostly I hang out in the hammock the human put in the window and watch the birds.
I admit I look out that window sometimes and wonder what you’re doing, my human.
Whatever it is, I hope you’re happy. I hope you don’t worry about me. I hope you don’t take another cat until you know for sure this time that it’s for life because I don’t want you bringing another cat to the shelter in a couple years like you did me when you decide the cat no longer fits into your life.
I write this in honor of all my shelter friends who went into the Room and never came back.
My rescue human helped me write this on behalf of me and the many other cats here in our home who experienced exactly what I did through no fault of our own.