Pringles is doing great. In my bathroom. Going to foster AFTER I continue to treat his ears for mites. He also had tape worm. Gross. Unneutered male - between 1-2 years old. Can you imagine? This little tyke, so pretty too, walking around with these diseases and bugs... do you know how many of them out there are suffering this same thing? So sad. That's why its imperative to continue to get them off the street, to save them. To spay and neuter so that they are not producing any more street babies.
Recently, a nice man name Joel rode with me to see what I do. I always appreciate company, and he was good company. He is a good writer and wanted to write about his experience with me, and here it is. He was pretty spot on about me and my habits, as Saturday Sheryl can tell you!
Guardian Angel - The Ride Along
"Before you judge a man - walk a mile in his shoes"
The poet Mary T Lathrop wrote that verse as part of one of her poems back in the eighteen hundreds. I am a big believer in that philosophy, and I try to keep that in mind as I go through life.
And so it was that I found myself awake and dressing groggily at 3 AM on a Thursday morning, in preparation for walking a mile in Janine Wagners shoes.
Well - technically not IN her shoes, but along behind her as she made her rounds.
I arrived at her house promptly at 4:00 AM (yes - 4 AM. Luckily, being an amateur astronomer helped prevent me from nodding off as we wind our way through the back streets of Rochester) After going over a few "rules of the ride-along" (always walk behind her- the cats don’t know you, you carry the water jug for me, don’t slam the car door getting in or out, minimal talking outside the car…) I piled into the backseat of her Jeep and we were off on her daily journey.
She does this every day. This is my first time. I'm a feral caregiver virgin - so to speak.
My head is full of images and impressions – I don’t know how to put this on paper. Maybe the best way to convey what it was like is to just mind-dump the raw stream of consciousness from my experience. So here we go !
Its chilly this morning at 4:00 AM, but thank god there is now wind. Its only 28 degrees when I left home, but I have my best winter jacket from LL Bean zipped up so no problem. I get in the back of the jeep and see on the seat to my right is a big pile of clean fluffy towels, presumably to be used in the shelters so the cats don’t have to sit on wet, dirty ground. The whole car smells lightly of household pets - that humid wet dog smell - but I don’t mind. I kinda like that smell. She hands me a heavy plastic jug full of warm water which I set on the floor between my feet. The warm jug feels great on my cool pant legs. I think how smart that is that she puts warm water in there so it wont freeze right away in winter after she pours it out for the cats.
As we roll through the dead quiet city streets to her first stop I stare out at the harsh shadows cast by the orange yellow streetlights of the nighttime city world. It reminds me of one of those gritty noir crime movies shot in a steamy back alley of NYC. Shortly we arrive at the first stop and she grabs a HUGE bag of dry food (I think its maybe little friskies...) and we carefully open the doors and get out into the calm night air. Of course I forget to close the back door quietly and she reminds me to not slam the door. Got it. Sorry Beanie. (I call her Jeanie Beanie in my head - I always give people funny nicknames so I don’t forget their real name)
I walk carefully behind her, carrying the water jug. I have my own headlamp, I use them all the time when I'm out with my telescope, but I don’t need it. My night vision is very good, having been sharpened over several years working in the dark observing the night sky. I squat behind her at the first feeding spot - an old garage in front of an abandoned house and spin the cap off the big water jug. I see shadowy forms approaching - one, two. One of them is a cute little silvery grey cat. It does not seem very skittish. It brushes past my knee as she pours out the dry food on a paper plate and allows me to briefly pet its cool soft head. She tells me its name but I quickly forget - lost in the sensations of touching an almost wild animal.
I hand the water jug to her and she splashes a little into the plastic bowl, rinsing out the grit and dirt, then fills it up with warm water. She hands the jug back and I put the cap back on. She squeezes out a big blob of wet cat food from a plastic container on top of the mound of dry food - plop. Then its back to the car rumbling softly at the curb side. I remember to close the door very softly after getting in - just pull it gently until I hear the *snick* of the latch. Its not closed tight, but as she says - no one’s fallen out yet. I don’t forget after that. I close it softly and quietly every time at all the stops. I'm a good little ride-along.
At the next stop I get caught daydreaming a bit as I’m watching the cats hurry towards us, their short little legs a blur as they scurry across the street. She has to call my name so I hand over the water jug. Sorry again Beanie. But once again after that first time, I pay strict attention, and the water is passed back and forth without incident like clockwork. On to the next stop.
Along the way I listen as she describes the local home owners, and the interactions she has both good and bad with the human denizens of this shadow world. I hear firsthand accounts of some of the characters I have read about in her blog, and I cant help thinking how special it is to hear about it in her own voice. Its like sitting with a popular author and listening to them describe one of your favorite characters.
By the 4th or 5th stop I have the rhythm down. Pull up to the curb. Grab the jug and ease out of the left rear seat. Keep hold of the door frame and ease it shut, listen for the latch to *snick*. Follow her to the feeding spot, take the cap off water jug. I see them coming now. Eyes reflecting her headlamp in brilliant orbs of yellow and green. Rinse out the water dish with a quick splash from the jug and a swirl. I smell old cat pee, fresh air, and even a skunk at one of the stops. What’s a skunk doing in the middle of this urban sprawl ? She shows me a water bowl with a thick layer of dirt and grit. “Raccoons” she says. “They leave behind such a mess.”
At one of the last few stops I get to see the two little hutch shelters I built, all in one piece and undamaged. No warping from the wet weather. Good job. The deck stain I used is keeping them in good shape. At the stop on the corner of Central where the big Quonset hut shelter stretches next to the weird collection of art sculptures I spy potential interference as she is placing the last dish of food under the battered old army green mailbox. A women is walking slowly toward us, hollering toward us questions about what we doin and don’t ‘choo run now. I warn her that we have trouble coming, but she says she knows the women and don’t worry about it.
As we are finishing up and headed back to the car she intercepts us and I watch a little chagrined as she makes a minor error in street etiquette. She informs the visitor that she has no money or cigarettes today. BEFORE the interloper has a chance to ask the standard questions. The stranger is not too far gone to notice this presumption. She launches into a profanity laced tirade about why we are coming at her like that when she aint asked us nothing yet ‘cept what we doin. After several apologies we manage to get back in the jeep, only to have the stranger ask the one question we had tried to head off. Have you got a cigarette ? She explains patiently that we don’t. Luckily a car pulls around the corner, and the interloper is distracted by the new car. We make our escape.
Over to the garage now. Big pile of tires around the back, her shelters are next to the pile. The cats that come running here look like part of the same family. They group together, head-butting in greeting and sliding alongside each other in obvious affection. A couple of them look very young – maybe less than a year. As she pours food and I spin the cap of the water jug she notices a dead rat – its light grey body now just a flattened, cardboard thin circle of matted fur. I grab a stick and fling the dead thing over the stack of tires. Glad I could help.
On to the last stop. I get to meet Big Red # 2 and two more black and white cats. One of them is the cat that had the hurt foot. He walks better now, but has a upper respiratory infection. She tells me stay in the car while she slips him a separate gob of wet food with medicine hidden inside. He wolfs it down without hesitation. Our last good deed for the day complete, we head back to her house. Total time spent about one and a half hours. My head is now overflowing with images, smells, sounds, stories. I hope I can write it all out later to make the readers feel what its like to ride along with her. I know I will think of her often as I wake up in my nice warm house to get ready for another working day.
God bless you Beanie ….
Have a great day all!
"Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something."