2012 July 15-17
Louisville, KY to Los Angles and Fresno, California
It started out with an innocent email from a desperate cat rescuer in Louisville, Kentucky (KY). Could we help her find homes and transport for her nine rescue cats, because her own health was failing and she could no longer provide for them? All we could tell her was that we would network all we could, and we would help with transport somehow if we could. So we called and emailed the usual angels, and the usual angels came through! Chief among them -- Lynea Lattanzio of Cat House on the Kings.
Lynea can always be counted on for a reality check. "You want to bring nine unadoptable cats out to central California where we are overloaded with unadoptable cats??" Not quite what we wanted to hear. But hey, she did reply and she didn't say "NO!" So we were encouraged. Then two other cat rescuers from California also replied, and between the three of them and us, we thought we might be able to help with five of the cats in need, if they were actually adoptable or could become so.
In rescue work, nothing is ever simple except when it happens by accident. This venture was going to take a lot of planning, which meant it would be far from simple. But it was full of serendipity, from start to finish. The first amazing coincidence came two days after that email cry for help with the nine cats: a good friend of ours had just purchased a twin-engine plane from Nashville, Tennessee (TN) and could we help get it back to southern California for him? Well, Nashville is only a three-hour drive from Louisville! I asked if he would mind if we brought a few well-behaved passengers with us (ahem), and he said that would probably be fine! Okay, then, we had a way to get these rescue cats back to California, all we would have to do is get the cats the rest of the way to their rescues within California and then get ourselves back to New Orleans from California. The plane was so roomy and powerful that we could have taken a hundred cats, especially if we removed some of its many seats and put them in one of the many outside cargo bins. It was going to be a no-brainer, there would be so much room in there it would be a waste!
Apparently the universe thought it would be a waste of space, too. (Does Nature really abhor a vacuum?) Because another two days later there came an email from someone who knew someone else for whom we had flown some young goats to California. These folks were desperate to get five young goats from the Knoxville, Tennesee area to California before July 18, and the logistics of getting all five of them on commercial flights had become too difficult. Remembering the small size and ease of transporting those other young goats, we said "Sure! No problem!"Lesson #1: Don't accept cargo or passengers without knowing their sizes and weights and accompanying baggage.
The little kitties who showed up with their original rescuer Joanna in Nashville on Sunday late afternoon were actually six lovely large felines in six very roomy crates which took up most of the back of the plane! We breathed deeply and hoped they would fit neatly on top of the goat crates if we just removed all four rear seats. But then, we would not actually see those goat crates until we flew eastward about a hundred miles to Athens, TN, south of Knoxville. I started going over the arithmetic again with the crate measurements I had assumed...
Here is a photo of Joanna with the plane, and a photo of the cats as they flew with us eastward to Athens:
Lesson #2: Don't assume that because everything in the plane seemed to work great when you test-flew it with the original owner, it would still work fine a week later when the owner was nowhere to be found.
The first thing we discovered was that the AC charger in the plane was dead. Then we found that our portable GPS battery was failing and it would only work for a short time before it needed to be plugged into a charger. No way did we want to fly across the country without a GPS. We decided we would work on that problem after we arrived in Athens and found a Motel 6 to stay in with all the cats, and after we got a look at those goat crates.
So we jumped in the plane with just a couple of hours of daylight left, and we used what little battery remained in the GPS to navigate through the thunderheads that ringed the route eastward to Athens. We discovered immediately that the intercom was not compatible with our two headsets. We could both hear Air Traffic Control, but only one of us could talk to them, and the left seat could not hear what the right seat pilot was saying. Well, at least it would be a long peaceful flight without much conversation!
We arrived in Athens, called the goat folks, and they drove right over with some empty crates to see how to fit them in the plane. We wanted no surprises in the pre-dawn darkness tomorrow with six cats and five goats standing around waiting on us. There were two Extra-Large crates and one Large crate. That's when we realized these were not tiny young goats! They were each 70-80 pounds. Reminder of Lesson #1.
We also asked them to bring us some speaker wire, as we had figured out a way to hot-wire the GPS so it could be charging for the entire flight. To insulate the wires we had to get creative, as we didn't have any electrical tape. I knew someday those doggie poop pouches I carry in my purse would be useful! That plus the short length of string I carry around as an emergency dog leash did the trick, and we felt worthy of a MacGyver episode.
Well, it took some thinking about the order in which to load everybody, but we figured a way to get all of the crates and critters in the plane. There would not be two inches of spare space for any other gear, so we filled the wing lockers and nose cargo compartments with everything else we had, including all but the two front seats of the airplane. Optimistic that we were ready for the early morning adventure, we called a taxi and headed with our six feline companions to the nearest Motel 6, our watch alarms set to wake us about five hours later.
The morning packing of all the critters went really smoothly! Check these special photos out. That's Tanya helping to load the goats, and Angel and Simon riding atop in the front. Angel slept most of the way, but Simon was awake and interactive much of the time. He reached out and grabbed the back of my hair when he wanted attention, and of course he got it.
The flight went without a hitch, too. The thunderstorms that had plagued the area even until late the night of our arrival had spread out to either side of our planned route. Now, I am not superstitious. But sometimes it just seems like somebody somewhere must be pulling strings to help what we're doing succeed. It was just too awesome. Winds were not too bad, and we made it all the way to California with just one quick fuel stop in Borger, Texas, north of Amarillo. 200 kts average groundspeed and about nine hours of flying time had us on the ground near Ontario, CA at about 1430 local time.
The people who were supposed to pick up the goats didn't arrive for another two hours, but the goats didn't care. They had plenty of hay to munch on, and fresh water, and lots of people to rub their ears and talk to them. The cats, on the other hand, were totally done with being stuck in carriers. It had been over 24 hours now, and they did not look amused. Now what to do with them?
Well, it turned out that the California rescuers had not completely decided who was going to take which cats, and they thought it might be best if all the cats first went up to the Cat House until everybody knew the personalities and other adoption-critical traits of each. Fine, sounded like a great idea. Except that Cat House was a four-hour drive away, and this plane was going nowhere now that it was where it belonged. I was looking at a long drive, and if it didn't happen now, these cats would be stuck in their carriers for yet another night.
Longtime friends and animal lovers Glen and Emily gave me a ride to my car from the airport. On the way, I got a call from one of the rescuers who said she could drive up in a few hours to pick up one of the cats. Glen offered to hold the cat overnight so that the rescuer could drive up leisurely the next morning. Perfect! Seemed like serendipity again. Everybody was happy, and I grabbed something to eat and drink and made ready to drive up to Cat House with the other five cats, leaving Pretty Girl with Glen.
First thing I did after getting in the car was to plug in my phone to charge it, as it was dead from the long flight (with no working AC charger, remember?). But the car charger receptable was dead! Well, darn! How could I drive up there and find this place without a phone? Glen reached out and gave me his cell phone, and off I went. At least I would be able to make a call in an emergency, or call Lynea and get more directions.
I had left as promptly as I could, but still too late to be sure I'd make it to Cat House before everything went dark there at about 8:30pm. Lynea had sent me directions to get in and told me to make myself and the kitties at home in the guest room of the "senior center." (That's senior cats, by the way. An enchanting place where I've stayed before, truly enchanting. There are no sweeter souls in the world than old animals. But I digress.)
Indeed I did arrive there well after dark. I remembered the combination and let myself in the main gate, and with my dim headlamp on I looked up and found myself looking at more beautiful lighted eyes than there were stars in the sky. It was a sight to behold. My insides warmed and smiled a million smiles. There were cats everywhere! Free, tails up, meowing to say hello, rubbing against my legs. It is feline paradise up there! To a cat lover, heaven could not be nicer. But I was tired and the cats were tired, so where was this senior center? I put on my headlamp and started to walk in the direction I vaguely remembered... but things didn't look right. The direction I thought I should go looked to be a storage area for sacks of kibble. And all the other directions I tried took me to other buildings and yards and cat infirmaries, and I didn't dare shine my light in any windows because I didn't know if there might be people in there trying to sleep!
So after all of the difficult problems we had solved in the previous days, here I was, with cats at their final destination, done with flying, done with driving, and I was stuck! I finally gave up looking for the senior center. I brought the cats in with me in one of those nifty big wagons Lynea keeps out at the main gate, along with an old sheet and towel I had put on the car seat. We strolled over to the circle driveway where there was some nice flat green grass, I put four of the cat carriers in a star shape where they could all see each other and the very curious thousands of resident cats couldn't get in their faces, and put the sheet down on the grass for myself and for Dottie, the overweight needy kitty who really likes to be near a human. I figured she could sleep right next to me. Not so bad, I thought, I'm a lifelong camper and I love the smell of grass and fresh air. It would be a lovely night sleeping out here under the stars!
Well, it wasn't. I didn't realllly mind all the cats, but I had one of every kind at once. There were feet attackers, head sleepers, belly nuzzlers, hand biters, all of them at least twice over. They kept me warm, but they also kept me awake. By around 1 am it was getting really wet and cold. And Dottie was starting to complain a little too. Time to regroup. I checked on the other cats, covered them all with my sheet to keep them a little warmer, and Dottie and I headed to the car to warm up. A few hours later, about 4 am, a car pulled up. Help at last! I got out and stumbled all over myself trying to explain that I couldn't find the senior center and I had all these cats and... and the nice lady finally interrupted me in a firm voice and said "Hold On a minute! Who are you, anyway???"
Within minutes, we had the cats to their guest room and let them all out of their crates. Oh heaven for them! They immediately set to looking about. Simon thought this was just great and strutted around on the shelves, meowing and purring with tail high. Angel climbed to the top shelf of the closet on a soft bed up there and proclaimed it her own. Secada and Ginger each found their own townhouse and buried themselves deep in the back to become invisible. The lady brought in a large tray of wet food and put it in the center of the floor, and Dottie headed for it immediately. (Gotta love Dottie!!) Then she found a lower shelf in the closet and appeared to fall fast asleep.
With my charges safe and sound at last, I followed Linda to the guest room at the senior center, said hello to each and every one of those blessed senior kitties, took a warm shower and with great relief and peace fell fast asleep myself.
It was a lovely morning. I was up and visiting with Lynea and the cats and other workers by 10, helped clean some cages and met a bunch of new cats and some new humans, and then left for my next adventure (which you'll have to hear about in a subsequent article, it's another dog rescue on my way back to Los Angeles!).
Oh wait! There's one piece of great news about these cats! While Glen had Pretty Girl overnight in Pasadena, they fell in love! Glen's old male cat Bear was as sweet as he could be to Pretty Girl, and the two of them slept on Glen's bed together. Glen called me (I had his cell phone, remember, so the only call I would expect to get would be from him!) and asked me when the rescuer was coming to get Pretty Girl. Oh, I forgot, I guess I'd have to call her. He asked if the cat had an adopter yet. I said well, I don't think so, she's just going to a rescuer.... yup, you guessed it. Pretty Girl -- a lovely three-year-old short-haired calico -- now lives with Glen and Emily and their other three cats -- Bear, Willie, and Mickey. She's one lucky little girl, too. A three year old short-haired calico with a white blaze and white boots, a real looker. And soo friendly and sweet. The boys will take good care of her, and Glen and Em sure will. Seems that adoption was meant to be.
So as of today, July 19, there are five new cats at the Cat House on the Kings who are up for adoption. Their pretty photos are in the galleries below. (The photos above have them looking pretty scruffy, having been in crates for 36 hours and with some wet herbal goop that Joanna and I had applied to their feet but which looked to have made its way all over their bodies...) If you want some really sweet and well-traveled cats, check out these five winners!
Angel is a tabby liberally sprinkled with white (born around August 2010). She can be shy or very friendly, depending upon the setting, but she's always beautiful (which is not evident in this snapshot). She has the cutest, carmel-colored triangle pattern over her nose and striking celadon eyes.
Cada is a beautiful, declawed (front paws) Maine Coon-brown tabby, about 7 yrs old. She is rather shy and will hide when she hears a stranger, but she loves running water and plays like a kitten in it. She could blossom with the right person.
Dottie (dear, dear Dottie!) is a plump, short-haired black-and-white cat with a dot of black fur next to her white nose and golden eyes (born around September 2009). She is a very sweet, laid-back "bed" cat that stays close to the one she loves.
Ginger is an elegant, long-haired tortoiseshell cat (born around July 2008). She is gorgeous and very loving once she trusts someone, though she can be very shy at first.
Pretty Girl (since adopted by Glen and Emily) is a beautiful, sweet and friendly short-haired calico, born around October 2009. She won the heart of this family in about 30 minutes!
Simon, the male of the group, is a very handsome black and white long-haired Cymric (bobtail). He is outgoing and friendly and not intimidated by anything!
Lastly, the goats are not up for adoption! They're in Riverside, CA now and some of them might be heading to the Phillippines to live out their lives happily there.
And we are back in California for a short time and will make our way back to New Orleans toward the end of the month, carrying out some other dog rescues and work here in the meantime.
P.S. What were the seven cities?
1. New Orleans, LA (where we started).
2. Nashville, TN (courtesy of Southwest Airlines)
3. Lebanon, TN (drove there to get the airplane)
4. Athens, TN (our first flight in the plane, about 100 miles east of Lebanon; we spent the night there with all the cats)
5. Borger, TX (our fuel stop enroute to California)
6. LaVerne, CA (our final flight destination)
7. Parlier, CA (home of Cat House on the Kings and the cats' final destination, at least for now)