The other day, an hour or so after another momentous thunderstorm, I was walking up the muddy river that serves as a road in more temperate conditions when I happened upon a weeks-old kitten perched precariously on a rock jutting just above the rushing water. Yapping dogs lined the road’s perimeter, but apparently none of them were ready to brave the water in order to munch the wee morsel.
Steeling myself against sentiment, I shooed away the dogs and continued on to the store. I have had little patience with PCVs who adopt animals here: unless one plans on making a permanent home in Moldova, how fair is it to subvert an animal’s natural instincts by accustoming it to hand-feeding, doting attention and a warm, dry sanctuary?
Ten minutes later, on the way back, a thinly bleated chorus of mews wafted up to greet me. The kitten was no longer in the road but I could hear it crying close by. Again, I steeled myself. You must not interfere, I told myself sternly. There are hundreds – most likely thousands – of stray kittens and puppies born each year in Moldova that will not survive a month, much less their first winter. If I had not happened down this path at just this moment I would never know about this one. But the mewling seemed to get louder and more desperate as I left it behind.
I recited all the logical reasons why rescuing a kitten was not a rational move on a my part: I live within a community where pets are not cultivated (the one dog that hangs around the center is not allowed indoors, nor provided any food other than kitchen scraps. I am the only one who pets it;) my income is barely sufficient to feed myself; I am away from site for days at a time; I cannot afford to spay or obtain vaccines; it probably has a ton of worms and fleas; yada, yada, yada. All these valiant attempts at hardening my heart steadily weakened as the calls grew more piercing and urgent in my wake.
So I did what any other smart PCV would do: upon my arrival back at the center I posed the question to another volunteer who happened to be staying the night with me. “Tell me, should I rescue this kitten?” Of course, Georgiana immediately leapt to the call of an animal in need. Arming ourselves with a bag and a pair of sturdy gloves, we set off back down the road to retrieve said kitten.
Only what we found was TWO kittens, cowering under a low carpet of bushes, soaked to the skin and shivering, almost skeletal with hunger. Great. One of them – a tabby with the big mouth that I had already seen in the road – was readily amenable to being picked up and placed in the bag. The other, a Russian Blue, was decidedly not. It scampered even further into the bushes, spitting and hissing for all its 2 ounces worth. Oh well, I thought, I really didn’t bargain for more than one anyway. But Georgiana was now on a mission; she determinedly flattened the bushes right after it and caught it within seconds.
Soon after finding them a box and warm blanket, we introduced them to the three young Dutch volunteers that are currently staying at my center. One of them, Leonie, immediately fell in love. She had one or both of them curled up into her neck for the remainder of the day, and took them both to sleep with her that night. Poftim.
I began formulating a convincing argument for why it would be good for HER to adopt two Moldovan kittens and take them home to Holland. She was easy to convince. Soon, she was researching transport options and firing off emails to an aunt back home who had successfully adopted several cats and dogs during her life travels.
The next day, the tabby disappeared. Leonie accidently stepped on it while taking off her muddy shoes after a run. It appeared to be unharmed and scampered off into the bushes. But later on when she went to bring the kittens in for the night, it was gone. This caused her a great deal of anguish and not a few tears; how can I admit to be slightly relieved that we were back to the original one I had first envisioned rescuing? It was doubly sad that it was the tabby – the one that fostered my sympathy in the first place with his persistent cries.
However, now there’s Jane. That’s what Leonie has named the Russian Blue, the one now so attached to people that she sets up a fuss whenever you walk away. And it looks as if she will be staying with me, after all. Though a process does exist for adopting animals and exporting them to other countries, it is complicated, tedious, expensive and time-consuming; certainly beyond anything Leonie can manage in her remaining week in Moldova.
For a time, I watched a television show called How I Met Your Mother. There is a character on the show, Robin Scherbatsky, who fantastically kept five dogs of various sizes in her tiny New York apartment. Despite Robin only being home perhaps one episode out of 20, these dogs appeared placid and happy, not requiring food, or walks, or attention, apparently going to sleep for long stretches of weeks whilst Robin cavorted about New York with her friends. Her furniture stayed pristine, big clumps of hair did not collect on the carpet and numerous throw pillows on her living room couch remained miraculously intact. Those of us who live with dogs – especially without the benefit of large suburban backyards or rural fields to set them loose in – know that five dogs in an 800 square foot apartment is a recipe for certain disaster, if not complete and irrevocable destruction of all one’s favored belongings.
This is one aspect of modern media that contributes to our continued naiveté in approaching the mechanics of our lives. I remember my daughter pining for Carrie Bradshaw’s life in Sex and the City, a part-time newspaper columnist who inexplicably could afford Manolo Blahnik shoes, long lunches at high-end eateries, and a darling apartment in Manhattan. When I would insert my (unsought) opinion that the likelihood of an actual columnist’ salary supporting such an extravagant lifestyle was pretty unlikely, she would froth and foam at my nitpicking lack of imagination. Couldn’t I just appreciate the story?
I should no more adopt a cat in Moldova than Robin Scherbatsky should cram five canines into a New York walk-up. But we continue to fool ourselves by referencing the glut of misleading, manipulative entertainment and advertising that does its concerted best to get us to watch, buy, and consume by convincing us that we are all better people for doing so. We tell ourselves the stories that we fervently wish to believe about life. And here I go with mine. I still don’t think I’ve done Jane any favors in the end by bringing her into my life. But, at least for this episode, she seems happy and I feel just a tad bit better for having ‘rescued’ her from an uncertain fate. Catch me next season to see how the story progresses….