Friday night I sat up for six hours watching as a kitten was dying.
I’d finally gone to sleep at 4am my time, and little Petal passed an hour later in the arms of her foster mom.
Trigger warning: pet loss.
I apologize for the radio silence the last day or so. On Friday evening around 6:30PM, I went in to give the Wildflowers their usual feeding. Everything was going as usual until I picked up the littlest kitten, Petal.
— BeeBeesHouse (@BeeBeesHouse) August 26, 2018
Here’s Petal’s story: she and eight other kittens were dumped in an open field only hours after their birth. Four died before they were found and brought to a shelter.
Now, I spend a hell of a lot of time with cats, reading about cats, understanding cats, speaking to people about cats. Even new mother cats who don’t know what they’re doing would not leave their kittens in an open field (what’s more, nine kittens suggests two mothers), crying with hunger, covered in their own feces. It’s a literal invitation to predators and goes against every well-refined feline instinct.
That is something humans do when their cats have kittens and they don’t want the responsibility of dealing with them.
Petal initially survived along with four other siblings. And when the proprietor of BeeBee’s House Kitten Rescue–Dina James–went to evaluate them at the shelter, she ended up taking them home despite having fostered two litters of kittens at all times since April and desperately needing a break. Babies that age have to be fed every 1-2 hours and kept warm because they can’t regulate their body temperatures. They risk illness because they don’t have the antibodies from their mother’s milk. They have to be stimulated to go to the bathroom. Orphaned kittens like that are euthanized every day at shelters because that’s kinder than letting them starve to death when there are no fosters available for them. But not on BBH’s watch–these kittens went home with her.
They made it through the first forty-eight hours, and then the smallest of the batch rapidly went down hill that night. Though there can be many underlying causes, they all fall under one name: Fading Kitten Syndrome. (It’s like SIDS for kittens.)
Based on my knowledge and experience, I have opinions about what happened–either involving congenital defects or the trauma when the kittens were dumped. I do believe the death was entirely preventable had the original human owner a. had their fucking cat fixed, or b. left the kittens with their mother(s) long enough to grow up, be weened, and adopted out. But as soon as that baby ended up in that field, the clock was ticking over her head, even as her foster momma did everything right, and went above and beyond to save her.
I watched Dina of BeeBee’s House revive that kitten twice with CPR.
I watched her fight.
I watched her beg the kitten to fight.
I watched her try every little thing I and google could think of to give Petal more time.
I watched her warm the kitten. Reassure the kitten. Syringe-feed and hydrate the kitten. Cheer the kitten on when she seemed to rally. Tell the kitten it was okay to go if she was ready. I shared her anger and offered the support I could from a distance.
That kitten, discarded like trash in a field where she awaited certain death in either a predator’s jaws or slowly from dehydration and exposure, could have lived and died without anyone giving a damn about her.
But she didn’t.
She had a name.
I did find one of her, from the first day she was here. It’s just her head, but it’s enough. pic.twitter.com/fKXg2FdBZ4
— BeeBeesHouse (@BeeBeesHouse) August 26, 2018
As she mentions in the thread, the shelter workers remarked that she was taking this very personally–that the death of this kitten she’d had only two days had affected her profoundly, which is surprising to some (many?). It’s the same remarks I’ve gotten my entire life that I get “too attached”. I used to bring home every injured, broken, and orphaned animal I came across, bottle-feeding and nursing back to health. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn’t. Every time I didn’t, I got my heart broken, and I was told over and over “You can’t get so attached.”
I’m now an adult, and I still get “so attached” and to the criticisms of that I ask…why not?
Why should we not take it personally?
Why should we not get attached?
What is the alternative? Caring less? When you don’t grieve the loss of the life you couldn’t save, when you don’t throw your whole self in to save something smaller and more vulnerable than you are, how many more steps is it to not caring at all?
Humans will go to great lengths to protect themselves from pain and injury. We engage in various behaviors to keep a distance between ourselves and others for our own safety (I do as well). Sometimes it’s warranted, but particularly with the vulnerable, the innocent, someone has to care. Someone has to fight for them, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant they seem. Everything deserves to feel like they matter, to be given comfort and love, and to not leave this world alone if they can’t be saved.
I don’t foster often but I’ve been in a few circumstances with kittens not my own dying in front of me. One was a kitten I’d had in my care only hours, the other I’d seen all of ten minutes earlier. Both stay with me still. Both experiences were deeply painful (and maddening). But when you’ve done all you can, and you can’t save them, you also can’t look away. You can’t show them anything but all of the love and compassion you have to give. Even if it hurts. In fact, it should hurt.
Because that tiny kitten discarded in that field mattered.
All of them matter. All of them deserved comfort and compassion, and to spend what little time they had in the world feeling safe.
I am so. fucking. tired. of being made to feel my whole life like unwavering compassion for the vulnerable is a character flaw, like there is something wrong with or broken in me because I get angry and upset when I can’t save something, or because I will put myself through that pain again and again after losing something. It’s why it was incredibly validating to me personally to see the No Man’s Land scene, where Diana is explicitly told to ignore suffering and that she can’t save everyone, and then she fucking does it anyway. Because for once the naive, compassionate character wasn’t framed as a fool–for once the situation was framed as: fuck you but no, I will save everyone, because that’s what I fucking do, and that is a Good Thing.
Look, I’m just gonna say: @dinajames is the fiercest person I know. She will fight to the death for those in her sphere, and anyone who falls inside her circle is blessed and fucking honored to have her strength and determination in their corner.
— Skyla Dawn Cameron (@skyladawn) August 25, 2018
It hurts. But sometimes pain isn’t bad–sometimes pain is a sign that the parts of you trying to make your small corner of the world a better place still work. And being able to feel that pain and go back for more, to not look away the next time you encounter suffering no matter how much it will hurt, is a sign of incredible strength–something to be honored and valued.
The responsibility of caring for another life–of having a creature in your care who will live or die according to your actions and is wholly dependent on you–should never be taken lightly. Guardianship of another life is a sacred duty. It is personal. It should always be “personal”.
We all do what we have to in order to survive–I understand that more and more the older I get, and I understand detachment is what allows some people to go back and keep helping after a loss. But it also stops a whole lot of people from helping as well. It gives them an excuse to look away from suffering. It’s why the burden of caring falls on the few instead of being distributed among the many.
I proudly will always get “too” attached. I take every death within my sphere personally even if not directly in my care at the time. I will fight to save everything I can, and hold space for anything that I can’t.
Compassion is not a character flaw.
Everyone should take the suffering of the vulnerable, human or not, “personally”–to not look away, no matter how painful.
And to try to do something about it when possible.