In Memory of Kodak the Blind Cat--And a Way Forward

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This weekend, my husband celebrated his fiftieth birthday.  I threw him a big surprise party with friends and family traveling in from all over the country.  It was one of those weekends when I was so happily preoccupied catching up with loved ones we hadn't seen, in some cases, in years that I didn't have a chance to do even a general cursory sweep of Homer's Facebook page for three days straight.  And while I was so preoccupied, a tragedy occurred.

Many of you by now will have heard the story of Kodak, the blind "feral" (I put that in scare quotes because I don't think we can know whether Kodak was truly feral. But I'll come back to that in a minute.) who was brought into Companion Animal Alliance in Baton Rouge.  Over 2000 people shared Kodak's photo on Facebook, and several local and national rescue groups as well as individuals stepped forward offering to take Kodak in and off the "death list."  CAA acknowledged that Kodak was "safe."  I was one of many people who were emailed about Kodak's story.  I also shared the post about him on Homer's Facebook page just as soon as I got back online after Laurence's birthday weekend.  But by then, it was too late.  Several readers let me know that despite all the efforts on Kodak's behalf and all the temporary and even permanent homes being offered him, he had become aggressive with shelter staff and had been euthanized the day before.

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Kodak's death is a tragedy.  Any needless death is a tragedy, although I'll admit that stories about blind black cats who are considered "unadoptable" and end up euthanized hit me on an especially personal level.  There but for the gods of fate and timing might Homer have gone 16 years ago. 

Many people are angry at what they perceive to be CAA's negligence--or even outright malfeasance--but I'm hesitant to judge them harshly without knowing more.  I spent many years working in non-profit, and I know how very difficult the work is--the chronic underfunding and understaffing; the persistent sense that no matter how many you save, there are so many more who you can't save; the knowledge that many of the people who are the first to criticize the work you're doing are also the last people who would ever step forward and help you do it better.  I can't claim to know anything about CAA aside from the fact that they picked up and ultimately euthanized Kodak, but I do know that there are many shelters staffed by wonderful, compassionate, hard-working employees and volunteers who nevertheless have to face the daily heartbreak of euthanizing healthy animals simply because they have no other choice.  I freely acknowledge that they do work I can't do and never could have done.  Whenever I catch up with Jackson Galaxy, we talk about the glorious day when this will finally be a no-kill nation.  It's a goal we firmly believe can be attained.  But that day, alas, hasn't come yet.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be angry.  We should be angry.  We should be enraged.  Any needless death is a tragedy.  But, rather than directing anger at CAA and what they did or didn't do, I want to see us channel that anger.  I want to see something come out of that anger that will help prevent needless deaths like this from occurring in the future.

I keep thinking about Homer when I think about Kodak, and not just because of the superficial similarities between them.  Those of you who read my blog and keep up with Homer's Facebook page will remember how very, very violently Homer reacted the last time I brought him to the vet's office.  Homer had collapsed, and I rushed him down to out vet.  They immediately took him from me and wouldn't let me follow him into the emergency area.  I understand, of course--there were other animals there who wouldn't have found my presence particularly calming. 

But Homer was terrified out of his wits.  Three grown people--a vet and two vet techs--all wearing the protective gear used to handle feral cats couldn't control this little four-pound cat without risking serious injury to themselves, Homer, or both.  By the time they finally called me in, Homer was little more than a vicious, dangerous, out-of-control animal who (I have no doubt at all about this) absolutely believed that these strange people were trying to kill him. And his response, understandably enough, was to fight for his own life with every ounce of strength and courage his poor little body could muster.  As it turned out, there was enough strength there to keep three strong adults at bay.  When he heard my voice and smelled my hand, he immediately and quietly crept into my lap, curled up in a little ball, and began to purr.  The jaws of the other three people in the room dropped at seeing such a swift and dramatic transformation from crazed beast to affectionate lap-cat.  It took twenty minutes of my sitting alone with Homer in my lap for both of us to calm down enough that they could administer a mild sedative (I wish there'd been one for me!) and finally begin to examine him.

No cat likes the vet's office.  But for a blind cat--or any special-needs animal deprived of one of his or her basic senses--the utter inability to make sense of what's going on in a strange and frightening new place is going to lead to a situation in which you don't see the animal's true personality.  That is, not unless there's someone there who understands that special-needs animals have to be handled and calmed differently than the ways in which "normal" (for lack of a better word) animals are.

Personally, I'm not and never have been of the opinion that ferals should be euthanized simply for being feral.  I know I'm not alone in having stories of feral cats I've worked with who've become among the most loving and good-natured domestic companion animals once given enough time, patience, and love.

But in a shelter that's forced to euthanize animals who are considered "unadoptable," I still maintain that we can't know that Kodak was feral simply based on his reactions at the shelter.  Any sane person who'd seen Homer at the vet's office wouldn't have doubted that he was feral, aggressive, and completely unfit to be adopted out.  And yet, if there's a cat out there who's more affectionate and more prone to loving humans than Homer is, I've yet to meet him.  He was just scared.  He was scared because he couldn't see and couldn't understand what was happening to him, and the people attempting to care for him--who were trained and experienced professionals--simply didn't have an understanding as to the specific ways in which you have to calm and soothe a blind cat, which are different than the ways in which you approach a cat who can see.

Maybe Kodak was like Homer--not just in the sense of being a blind black cat, but also in showing a very different personality under the stress of a new place than what his true personality was.

There's nothing we can do for Kodak now except to mourn him.  But I, for one, would like to see us channel our grief and anger at Kodak's death into something more positive.  I would like to see someone--some shelter, some rescue group--create a training program that teaches people who work with animals how to work with special-needs animals.  I would like to see this become a program that spreads to more shelters, and then more, until knowing how to approach and handle special-needs cats is common knowledge.  And I would like to lend my name, my time, and my pocket book to making such a program a reality.

I know that a lot of you who read my blog are active in the rescue community.  Who's with me?

Comments

  • Mary Friday, 22 February 2013

    I agree

    I wish we lived in a world where all cats could live an no one would be put to sleep because they were too sick to find a home or "feral" I think people need to be aware that sometimes cats are like people and they get scared and when we're scared we aren't nice, we aren't careful, we are freaked out and we want out of the strange room with people poking us. Poor boy, I hope he found peace.

  • Patty Friday, 22 February 2013

    YES

    The story of Kodak breaks my heart. I agree with you. A training program like this is needed in shelters and vet offices everywhere!

  • Azar ACE Attura Friday, 22 February 2013

    "....Homer was terrified out of his wits. Three grown people--a vet and two vet techs--all wearing the protective gear used to handle feral cats couldn't control this little four-pound cat without risking serious injury to themselves, Homer, or both."
    My Big Bad Baby Twinkle (cat) kept a 6 foot tall 250 pound vet tech at bay-- I walked in to see her hissing in her cage, she saw me and cried -- I held out the carrier and she walked into it. End of story. You would think that with ALL the animals these vet techs and shelter personnel have handled in all their years of work -- they would understand that some animals (even huuuge "lap"dogs) DO get terrified and will lash out. And... has no one's CHILD (human) ever tried to hit their doctor????

  • Maureen Farley Friday, 22 February 2013

    Thank you for this Gwen. Thank you for Homer

  • Betty Friday, 22 February 2013

    I agree completely! We can't bring Kodak back but we can learn and grow from what happened to stop it from happening again.

  • Valerie Friday, 22 February 2013

    So well put! I believe ferals are worth fighting for and given a chance! I look forward to a no-kill nation as well! One pet at a time!

  • Kristen Friday, 22 February 2013

    Gwen let me know how I can help. This is heartbreaking and happens all the time.

  • Rachel Shubin - Sandpiper Cat BLog Friday, 22 February 2013

    Great post

    I was so sad that they put Kodak down. Breaks my heart and reminded me so much of Homer. Thank you for bringing it to public light, Gwen.

  • Nancy Foote Friday, 22 February 2013

    I am so very sad to hear about Kodak's death. So very unwarranted. We have a cat (a black one also) who has always been terrified of the vet (or car or...). Sammy poops and pees whenever he is out in his cage. He has a hear problem (on meds) and kidney problems (also on meds) so trips to the vet were becoming frequent. When we moved 7 hours from where we used to live the trip was hell! 5 cats, 4 doped so they would stay calm but they couldn't give anything to poor Sammy...listening to a cat mournfully cry for 7 hours is not fun!! We made it and he has adjusted fairly well.
    The BEST thing though - is our new vet, although their office is only 3 miles from us, any trip in the car is traumatizing to Sammy so - our vet comes to our home! What a huge difference that has made for all of us!
    The vets we have worked with have always allowed us to come back with them whenever they have to look at any of our five cats. Still, that was not enough for SAmmy and this vet saw that and adjusted to his desires! We love her for that and so does Sammy!!
    RIP Kodak!

  • Evdon Jo Stogner Friday, 22 February 2013

    I am with you to what extent I can be. I am not physically able to work with a shelter. I had to give that up a few years ago. I am also not financially able to do a lot nut I am very capable of communication to people via Internet, social media and snail mail and would help see this goal become a reality whatever way I am able to help. I have just encounter a situation with a feral cat who is blind in one eye with my local vet just as you described with Homer but not as bad. They had to sedate him and would not let me go back with them do that he could at least gear my voice as I had been working with this cat for several months. Training would certainly make a difference for the special needs animal who's number is increasing.
    So bount me in if there is something like I described that I can do.
    Thank you for doing this.
    Jo

  • Lisa Friday, 22 February 2013

    RIP Kodak

    So sorry to hear about Kodak. I worked with a non profit group that spayed and neutered ferals and stray cats and at times it was very very hard and very stressful. I would see cats so loving and sweet and once "trapped" they would go crazy. I als o would see " trapped" cats that were docile until they reached the Dr.office. My volunteer duties were very tough for me personally because I felt obligated to take in these cats and give them all homes..and not being able to separate myself from the cat caused me alot of grief. I eventually had to leave. I too dream of the day when all pets are spayed and neutered and there are no more unnecessary euthanizations of
    cats and dogs. I also dream of the day when black cats are seen as a "cat" and not bad luck.

  • Beverly Friday, 22 February 2013

    "Euthanasia" means "a gentle and easy death". "Shelter" means "something which affords a refuge from danger, attack, pursuit, or observation; a place of safety." Neither of these words applies to the animal impounds in this country who kill animals on a daily basis. Kodak was killed, outright. Makes me effing sick. I had even offered to take him, as I have 7 kitties at my house right now who were "feral". My latest edition is an 8 year old girl, whose only interaction with humans was when she was TNRed some years ago. I grabbed her (with my hands) and put her in a carrier last summer and brought her home- she was the last one left in the colony. She hid under my bed for two months, and now purrs and headbutts me. Some of my "ferals" even sleep with me at night. I would have taken Kodak in a skinny minute.

  • Lisa Sommers Friday, 22 February 2013

    My former feral

    Your post made me cry Gwen.My former (black) feral cat Carrie only was nice to me at the shelter she used to live. I've seen lots of dogs and cats who are stressed out or scared lash out or cower away from people out of fear. What you are saying is so true. We need people who are trained to handle them with love. Sign me up to help, and I'd definitely go through training and help pass the word along as well.

  • Lenai Waite Friday, 22 February 2013

    I'm always with you!

    I must have missed Kodak's story, but was saddened by the outcome just the same. I love your idea, and I'm sure it will come to fruition in the future (hopefully sooner rather than later). Love yo you and my sweet Homer xoxox

  • Mary Harper Friday, 22 February 2013

    Another Well-written and Thoughtful Blog

    My Little Blind Kitty just climbed purring into my lap. Lily would have the same reaction as Homer or Kodak to being handled. She becomes crazy when we try to trim her nails, so I can just imagine how terrified poor Kodak was. Education and compassion are key in handling blind kitties. Maybe Gwen you could do a YouTube video explaining how to care for blind cats, both for the general public and for the staffs of shelters and vets?

  • Karen Friday, 22 February 2013

    So Sad

    Gwen-Terribly sad story. I totally agree with your comments. My sister found a semi-feral, microchipped, and thrown out like a piece of trash. She had been previously abused by children. This cat LOVES my sister but is very mean to any one else. Lady Latte follows my sister around like an ankle dog! Unadoptable? I think not.

  • Erica Friday, 22 February 2013

    Training

    I make computer based training if you would like to try to coordinate something... Would need a team effort though!

  • April Crawford Friday, 22 February 2013

    Excellent Blog

    Kodak broke my heart.As you know I have one cat with no eyes(Montoya) and two with one eye.Education on special needs would be a wonderful idea for both shelters and staff of Vet Clinics.I am lucky in that I have a great Vet and Montoya gets spoiled rotten by the girls and my Vet.Something needs to change and soon!

  • Kim Adams Friday, 22 February 2013

    For those of you handling cats, Alley Cat Allies put out this awesome video about how to handle cats in a shelter setting. This might be something people could share? http://www.alleycat.org/page.aspx?pid=969

  • Janette Kavanaugh Saturday, 23 February 2013

    Yes,

    Alley Cat Allies is a wonderful organization that works almost exclusively to help save feral cats and I'm sure would be a wonderful source for getting some training or telling one where it could be gotten.

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