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

  • DonnaD Friday, 22 February 2013

    Kodak

    none should be allowed the terror that Kodak faced, and that wee face made that terror obvious. But to have a no-kill nation (how about a No Kill North America?) is a wonderful dream to work towards...

  • Sharon Durham Saturday, 23 February 2013

    Great Idea

    Fantastic idea. This would be a great way to honor Kodak's memory. I can't donate much, but I certainly would pitch in! I have tamed many ferals and I know how difficult they can be to handle. I have made more than one trip to an emergency room, but never once did I blame the cat! Flight or fight is instinct. And poor Kodak had good reason to fear for his life.

  • Kumo Saturday, 23 February 2013

    Homer you ARE a hero to so many animals

    Dear Homer,

    Everything you are and do sends messages out world-wide, thanks to your concerned and articulate Mom. What you, the sweetest of cats, went through in the vet's office recently can influence how special needs animals, "feral" animals and cats in frightening situations are treated in the future.

    How lucky we all are that your Mom understands you and is also an "action mom" and has so many ways to get the message out. Then Kodak's death will not have been in vane.
    Warmest wishes,
    Kumo


    Keep up the good work, Homer. We celebrate you.

  • Kumo Saturday, 23 February 2013

    YouTube and the AAFP for getting the message out

    Dear Gwen,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response. Actually it should not be too difficult to get the word out. If you could tell Kodak's and Homer's story on YouTube just as you told it in your recent blog and then add instructional films, perhaps made by you or James Galaxy or by the people of the AAFP(American Association of Feline Practitioners) and then asked your fan base to e-mail the links for these films to all the shelters and vets in their area, then there would be a readily accessible source of information available world-wide.
    Is that an idea?
    Millions thank you's for caring.
    Warmest wishes,
    Kumo

  • Lisa Richman Saturday, 23 February 2013

    "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." Oh Gwen, AMEN! Every shelter volunteer can identify with that statement. Even non special needs cats, when furloughed for a time outside the shelter, evidence completely different personalities when in the quiet of a home.

    I know I'm often called in to help evaluate deaf cats - and when possible I'm there to educate potential adopters as well. I love the idea of a 'special needs curriculum'. I'll bring it up to our group when we meet today. Perhaps, as Kansas City strives to become a no-kill city, we can incorporate this as part of our strategy.

  • Mariann Saturday, 23 February 2013

    Education is the key

    You're right Gwen, we may never find out what exactly happend and why poor little Kodak was euthanised. All we can do is hope he is at peace and no longer suffering or scared, God bless his soul. But we can change the future and how people think with educating them, and the sooner the better.
    As for feral cats, they change, too, if given enough time and TLC. My little colony of ferals has turned into lapcat, even the wildest ones. Some took a few years, some a dacade, but they've all come around and out of their shells. Every time a look at them I'm reminded of the power of love and patience. We are sooooo lucky to have each other and friends like you and Homer. Hugs and kisses for Homer Bear, Fanny and Clayton.

  • greg finley Saturday, 23 February 2013

    couldnt agree with you more

    i feel so sad for kodak and yess there needs to be a program to teach people we had a blind and deaf cat named elliot he was on the streets for years i was called by a friend who had him in a shelter . she couldnt do anything with him he would just sit i n the middle of the room and not move ant all. i walked in and let him smell me and sat with him and he adopted me i took him home to our others babies all 6 of them and he adjusted very well . we had him for just a year and he passed away in his sleep broke my heart but since then i have helped other people adjust to cats with disabilties . we now have our baby sissy she has only one eye and she is the joy of my life shes 2 we still have all the others and she gets along well . so people just have to learn patiences is very important with a lot of love

  • Julia Tsiaka Saturday, 23 February 2013

    POV from another country

    Hello Gwen, Homer and USA
    While I agree with everything you say, you must remember how lucky you are to have any kind of organised animal welfare in every state (and every town?). We are inundated with strays and feral cats and dogs on my home island of Rhodes in Greece. Most of us foreigners (I am a Brit) are at least kind to the strays and in very recent years a couple of very good cat and dog support groups have sprung up to prevent cruelty and mistreatment of these poor animals.
    I am mom to yet another blind black cat - a girl called Musa. When she was a kitten she used to come to our back door for food along with the rest of her family. She was different in that she seemed to stand and wave from side to side with her head in the air like a snake when anyone approached her or gave the cats food.
    After she had been outside for the first eight months of her life we adopted her. We were afraid for her because of the hard life that strays have here in Rhodes and it was coming up for the mating season. I have to admit that euthanasia was one of my options. I hated thinking about it but I wasn't sure if it wasn't the kindest option. I'm sure that sounds hard to animal lovers but if you have no experience, you don't know.
    It wasn't until we brought her inside and started to look after her that we fully understood what a wonderful, clever, funny little thing she is - and now, of course, we love her so much that we can't imagine life without her.
    So yes, EDUCATION is the key. We have to try and teach people what can be rather than lay blame for what others may consider to be the best thing to do with the information that they have.
    I must say that I am very lucky in my vet in that she always talks gently to her and offers her a hand to smell before she gently tugs Musa out of her carry box. If Musa is still upset, she cradles her letting her put her head under her armpit (Musa believes she is safe that way) and stroking her before she even starts an examination.
    Homer was an example to us. Let's hope he will continue to be an example to the whole world!

  • Lucy Saturday, 23 February 2013

    Yes!

    Oh, Gwen! I agree. I would love to be able "that" person whom veterinarians or shelters could call on when they had a special needs animal in need of calming or help.

    I was able to work with one of my kitties after he'd been injured & had nerve damage in his leg. The vet told me his leg would probably have to be amputated, but I insisted on waiting & massaged it & his shoulder & he regained full use of the injured leg.

  • Julia Maxwell Saturday, 23 February 2013

    I totally agree

    Gwen-I could not agree more. I have had a couple of cats who were not "handicapped" for lack of a better word, that most people would have put down immediately because they were scared and acting out. One was feral , who turned out to be the sweetest black kitty I have ever known and the love of my life, and one who was not feral but who simply freaked out at the vet.I cry over Kodak and all like him.I love your idea and support your idea 100%.

  • Janette Kavanaugh Saturday, 23 February 2013

    I Love the Idea

    I was so saddened when I read about Kodak. I had been off-line due to an accident and didn't know anything about his state. It saddens me so much when an animal is not given a chance when so many were obviously ready to take him and understand that he would need some time to become accustomed to a new environment. Feral cats know who they can trust. One of the most extraordinary experiences I had was to have a cat I was feeding seek me out when she started having her babies. She had already had one and came frantically to the garage where I was working and when I realized what was happening, I quickly got a box for her. We fixed her a better place and she raised her five babies on my deck. I was never able to touch her but she trusted me completely with her babies. Gwen, whatever I can do to help with this wonderful idea you have, just let me know. I'm 80 but I'm not dead and any training, contacting media, etc. that I am able to do, let me know. Please, keep up the good work . . . and Happy Birthday, Lawrence. Homer, you keep eating and helping your Mom with Fanny and Clayton. Love you.

  • Becca Sunday, 24 February 2013

    This story made me cry. Poor little Kodak. May he rest in peace. I'm going to go give my black cat a big hug right now.

  • Karen Sunday, 24 February 2013

    I currently have three cats who are completely blind and I rescued feral cats for several years so I understand that they need to be handled very differently. I would think that a series of very brief videos, one for each type of special need, could be produced for a relatively low cost and made available online (YouTube?) to be viewed by ALL who might benefit. Then it would simply be a matter of spreading the word... It might not be the "professional" way to go about it, but fast, cheap and effective?

  • Dafaolta Sunday, 24 February 2013

    RIP Kodak

    It's interesting to note how many times in these comments people like you have mentioned the change that comes over their furkid once their known family enters the picture. It behooves professionals to remember that stressed out animals react badly to strange situations and to be more open to including people the animals are comfortable with *before* climbing into the riot gear.

    And you're absolutely right that animals who can't see or can't hear, or whatever other deficits they have, need to be approached in different ways than pets without those issues. A little imagination and a willingness to stop, to pause for a moment and concentrate on *THIS* cat and its needs, rather than mentally counting the seconds and the other animals in the waiting room that still need to be seen, will keep some of these disasters from happening.

  • Kiwi the Shelter Kitty! Monday, 25 February 2013

    Holding Kodiak forever in my heart

    Kiwi is only too familiar with da issue of kitteh behavior and feral status at da Montgomery County Humane Society (MCHS) (http://www.mchumane.org), where she so happily met her forever family: Lady Nom Nom and Sir Furreh Face.

    Kiwi has observed dat da term "feral" has migrated to serve various purposes in da vocabulary. It is no accident dat scientific investigators prefer to name der subjects and processes with da dead Greek and Latin languages, for da mysteries of da living tongue lead to peculiar outcomes.

    At MCHS, da term "feral" scarcely refers to, literally, feral kittehs (dat is, individuals who live solely on der own resources, in a wild manner reiminiscent of der African and Asian progenitors). Rather, dis term is applied primarily to individuals who, though profoundly unsocialized toward hoomins, are rather intimate with hoomin institutions nonetheless, showing particular appreciation for such hoomin sites as dumpsters, restaurants, and stray kitteh feeding stations. A genuinely feral animal would avoid such predictable waystations for hoomin activity.

    Indeed, while dyed-in-da-wool feral kittehs are, sadly, euthanized routinely at da Montgomery County facility (and countless other county shelters), kittehs red-tagged as "feral" upon admission often loosen up subsequently, and may even seduce da staff with considerable affections. Dis appears to occur sometimes when da kitteh figures out whom da food and clean litter is coming from.

    Kiwi does not, however, especially fault those who howl deprecations against dis or other animal shelters, for da animal shelter certainly does preside, God-like, over decisions of life and death. It is a tenet of many theologies dat God, among innumerable other characteristics, is eminently qualified to absorb da tears, da rages, even da deranged hatred of dose who have, all too often, been badly stung or wronged. Da shelter, where imperfect beings make dese perfectly permament decisions, is hardly any model of infallibility, and it would be closer to da mark to say dat dese are institutions where professionals have learned to shoulder da burden of stark imperfection.

    So, Kiwi concludes, da tragedy is dat fragile beings, such as kittehs in need, do face dese dire challenges, and come to dese dire ends, in our flawed, yet magnificent, world. If stricken souls burst forth, in der agitation and rage, to rain tears and fists upon da place where a happy ending was not to be, Kiwi can only offer dem her deepest sympathy and compassion.

  • Lynda Rodrigo Thursday, 28 February 2013

    3 Kodak

    Gwen, another great blog post!! First, Happy belated birthday to Laurence! Hopefully this terrible ending will teach people something. Kodak was of course scared and trying to protect himself. I'm certain it was nothing more! I also had a blind black cat so this really tugs at my heart. Love and patience can do miracles! Thanks Gwen for all you do for our helpless furry friends. It's stories like this that make me love my volunteer time at www.tabbysplace.org all the more special!

  • Dr. Jane & The Girls, in MN. Friday, 01 March 2013

    Heartbreaking

    Such a needless, tragic loss. I know it can be tough at shelters, but there IS NO EXCUSE for this to have happened. There really isn't. They should have given Kodak a chance to have a home and to be loved, not abandoned and terrified. This just breaks my heart.

  • Dawn Filippou Tuesday, 05 March 2013

    I am so sorry to read about that poor cat. I am sure he was so terrified at the shelter. Maybe now he is running around with other cats and being able to see for the first time in kitty heaven.

  • Sue Garbacz Tuesday, 16 April 2013

    When my daughter first found Precious, she was the most vicious little no eyed evil ball of black fur. Her little front feet were deformed and required surgery. The vet advised us to have her put to sleep. Of course that was not an option. Precious turned out to be the most amazing, amusing, loving and loved, little black ball of terror. I read the book "Homer's Odyessey" a number of years ago when Precious was still alive, and it was like reading a book about my own cat. She was 11 years old when she passed. I care for 9 cats now. All would be concidered unadoptable, but they had the good fortune to wander into my yard and my life. Each one has their own special story and I am so lucky to be a part of it. I agree, poor little Kodak deserved the chance to be adopted. If Precious or any of the cats that I share my home with now, were put into a cage, they would propably all exibit unfriendly behavior, but in a home setting with lots of love and attention, they do just fine, (well, most of the time). It's too bad Kodak never got the oppertunity to prove himself.

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