Life’s work…times One Million

September 7, 2015

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Just after Oliver Sacks’ recent death, I read his last piece of writing, which ended with this note:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.

Those sentences have stayed with me since I read them a few days ago, my thoughts lingering with gratitude on what it means to have a life’s work, to be given the chance to work daily in the service of life. This may seem out of place in a blog about cats, but in honor of Labor Day and my mom’s birthday (she would have been 77 today), I thought I would share this with you, my beloved Million Cat Challengers.

I’ve believed wholeheartedly in the mission of animal sheltering since my very first day as a part time front office assistant at the Santa Cruz SPCA. Whether as an adoption counselor, kennel attendant, animal control officer or shelter veterinarian, it always felt like an honor to be charged with protecting the welfare and lives of these most vulnerable animals. But as much as I’ve loved this work, running through it all has also been the pain of the lives we couldn’t save and the suffering we couldn’t prevent.

From the first animal I euthanized (a patient, grey-muzzled lab mix) to the latest cat I passed by, staring out at me terrified from a cramped cage in an overcrowded stray room, each one holds a place in my heart as one I did not, could not, protect. And for each life that is lost, each instance of suffering unchecked, I also see the toll on the shelter staff.

What should be a gift, to work in the service of life, acquires a jagged edge. Workers struggle without the tools to make good choices. Frustration and sadness turn to apathy or despair.

That’s where you come in, and why I’m grateful to you today.

No single one of us invented the tools that are now changing the world for shelters and cats. But by joining the Million Cat Challenge together, you’ve not only changed the rules for cats in your shelter, you’ve made visible the progress each shelter is making, day by day and cat by cat. You continue to refine and share your discoveries so that every worker, at every shelter, has a better chance of protecting each life in their care.

As of today, the Million Cat Counter is rolling at the rate of 624 more lives saved by Challenger shelters every day. That’s one every two and a half minutes.

In the hour or so it’s taken me to write this, 26 more cats are alive because of your work.

For every one of those lives, there is a shelter worker whose burden is also lightened. So with that I say, happy Labor Day to all of you. We all deserve a chance to live “a good and worthwhile life”, and you’ve given that chance to more people than you know. I hope we all have much more opportunity to serve in whatever way our gifts are suited for, and when it’s time to rest, to do so in good conscience and with a sense of work well done. –Dr, Kate Hurley

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