My badge reads:
Lisa: experienced cat socializer
It has paw print stickers all over it.
I expected to walk dogs when I started volunteering once a week at the no-kill shelter. I saw myself as firmly Team Dog. But they needed help with the cats so I went to help with the cats.
I soon found that I had a knack with the…um…”difficult” cats. The ones who take a chunk out of your arm if you make eye contact. The abused, traumatized, aggressive felines. For some reason, I can touch the cats no one else can get near. I can take the wild-eyed maniacs and turn them into the cuddly lap sitters that everyone wants to take home.
I don’t have very many valuable skills – but I am the Asshole Cat Whisperer.
Last week, I finished my shift whispering at the asshole cats and I was leaving through the lobby. There was an older gentleman standing at the front desk of the shelter, holding a tattered cardboard box, shaking his head vehemently.
“No, I can’t, I have to go back to work.”
I walked over to eavesdrop, leaning on a nearby wall and pretending to read a text.
“Well, sir, because he is wild, we can’t legally take him. He needs to go to the wildlife rescue center. It’s an hour away, so it’s really hard for us to find people who want to drive all the way out there.”
The man looked frustrated as he stared down at the box in his hands.
“What’s in the box?” I piped up.
“It’s a bird. I found him stuck to a glue trap. He’s okay, I think, but he’s got glue all over his feet so he can’t stand.”
He opened the cardboard box for me. A tiny little brown wren lay on his side, breathing hard, but breathing. His feet were a tight, sticky ball of toes. When the bird saw us leering at him, he began to flap and flop around. We quickly closed the lid.
The man looked at me. “I found him in that glue trap and I couldn’t just leave him there. I couldn’t stand to see him suffer. I was a sergeant in Vietnam…I’ve seen enough suffering. I couldn’t leave him there.”
I teared up and thanked him for his service and agreed that I was also anti-suffering. Of course I’d drive the bird to the wildlife center. The man introduced himself and held my hand with both of his.
“You can call me Sarge.”
We needed to put the wren in a sturdier box for transport but the front desk woman said she couldn’t legally touch the bird.
“Can I legally touch the bird?” I asked.
“Okay. Umm. Can you just close your eyes for a second?”
Somehow, the wren ended up in a sturdier box and that box went in my passenger seat.
When we arrived at the rescue center, they were waiting for us.
“Is that our wren?” They asked me.
“Yes, he’s a little feisty,” I said. I explained that he had been flopping around in the box but he seemed to calm down when I played Death Cab for Cutie. I thought that might be helpful information for them.
There are millions of people in the world, doing small, everyday things to stop the suffering. Someone took glue off tiny wren toes. Someone else held open a door for somebody who was carrying a groceries. Or texted just to check in after that doctor’s appointment. Or donated $10 to a cause they believe in. Or decided to not be the first one to let go of a hug. Each individual thing might seem like nothing.
But it’s not nothing.
A moment of compassion is everything.
I put a seatbelt around a box and drove for a couple of hours. It wasn’t a big deal, what I did, but it felt amazing. I did something tangible to make the world better – for one bird, anyway. And when the world feels overwhelming and the challenges feel insurmountable, the small wins become major victories.
Sarge and I worked together and in a teeny-tiny wren-sized way, we helped stopped the suffering.