What It's Like To Save A Cat Destined For Death Row

It may be Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog month, but we certainly don't want to forget about the staggering number of cats in shelters everywhere who are in imminent danger of euthanization. Today's rescue story comes from musician Steven Wilson of Pasadena, CA, who along with his wife Shazia volunteer regularly to save felines from this sad fate. Read his incredibly heartwarming account about one rescue in particular — Cubby — and just try not to shed a tear.

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Credit: Shazia Wilson

My wife and I volunteer for a cat rescue group that focuses its efforts primarily on one “shelter” in the Inland Empire. This place has such a high rate of euthanization that it should be called an abattoir and not a shelter. Because we were part of this rescue group, I often had to look through the intake photos of hundreds of cats a week. An intake photo is a bit like a mugshot for cats. These pictures rarely depict animals at their best. Instead, the cats appear scared and confused, and the images are often blurry and out of focus. Even so, these are the photos that are placed on the shelter’s website to entice the public to come out and adopt their new buddy. Needless to say, they aren’t very successful.

I’m not exactly sure what it was about Cubby’s picture that got under my skin, but I knew that he had to be rescued and failure was not an option.

One day while looking through the intake photos, I found a picture of a large, black and white tuxie cat dangling from the arms of one of the shelter workers. He looked terribly confused and sad. Even now as I write his story, my heart is swelling and I’m getting teary eyed, just like I did when I saw his photo for the first time. Below his picture was the name “Cubby.” I’m not exactly sure what it was about Cubby’s picture that got under my skin, but I knew that he had to be rescued and failure was not an option.

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Credit: Shazia Wilson

I contacted others in the group to find out what our options were and what I needed to do to spring this big boy from prison. It didn’t look good. Cubby was on his last day at the shelter and his time was quickly running out. If we were able to get Cubby pulled in time, we still didn’t have anybody that would be able to foster him. At that time, the situation in our home was such that we weren’t able to take him in ourselves, even temporarily. After an hour or so of desperate calls we found a foster home for Cubby in San Diego, but they wouldn’t be able to take him for three days. The first day wasn’t a problem because Cubby would have to go from the shelter directly to the vet to be fixed as is required for all rescue animals. Now we had two days to cover.

Money was really tight for us, but we offered to cover the cost for Cubby to board two additional nights at the vet clinic until we could pick him up and transport him to his foster home in San Diego. It seemed as though we had everything figured out and we could now arrange for somebody to pull him from the shelter.

Even though Cubby was supposed to have some time left before the end of the day, he had already been taken to 'the back room.'

I called the shelter and informed them that there was a rescue effort under way for Cubby and that a puller was en route. The woman's voice on the other end of the phone instantly lit up. Several of the shelter employees had taken a liking to Cubby and had been hoping for a rescue. She began to type on her computer while telling me how handsome and sweet this cat was and how he had become a favorite of so many employees.

Suddenly her tone changed: “Oh no.”

Even though Cubby was supposed to have some time left before the end of the day, he had already been taken to “the back room." The back room is where shelter animals go to die. They are given a lethal injection and then unceremoniously dumped in large, plastic trashcans. If you ever question whether or not you should spay or neuter your pet, do an internet search and find photos of overflowing trash barrels full of dead animals that have been euthanized at any shelter that doesn’t have a “no kill” policy. If you have a heart, it will break. My heart felt like it was being squeezed by a large fist at the thought of Cubby meeting his fate somewhere amidst a pile of dead cats and dogs. I sat and waited on the phone for what seemed like an hour but was probably about two minutes. The shelter worker picked up the phone let out a huge sigh.

“He’s okay. He was next in line but I got him out. He’s okay.”

We made arrangements for Cubby’s pickup and hung up the phone. I thought about the words “he was next in line” and started to cry over a cat I had only ever seen in a photograph.

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Credit: Shazia Wilson

The day finally came for us to drive out to the vet’s office and pick up Cubby the mystery cat. They brought him from the back in a pet carrier that they placed next to me while I paid for his room and board. There he was. He was even bigger than I thought he was going to be. Not fat, just big. He had a big head, neck, and chest. If cats played football, he would be a linebacker. Nearly seventeen pounds of awesome!

I said, “Hi Cubby!”

Cubby said, “muuur.”

Cubby doesn’t say “moew”, he says “muur.” It sounds like the word myrrh, so we joke that in a past life he was one of Jesus’ three wise men and "myrrh" is his “hodor.”

I let him walk out of the carrier and onto the counter. I finally got to meet the cat whose bad shelter photo inspired me to coordinate a desperate and hurried rescue effort. He immediately put his head under my hand for a scratch. It was all worth it.

We drove him to San Diego and left him with his foster mom. On the drive home I told my wife that if anything ever happens and his foster mom could no longer keep him that we were going to take him regardless of what needed to be done. Six months later, he did come to live with us.

On Christmas that year we adopted Cubby as a gift to ourselves.

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Credit: Shazia Wilson

Cubby is amazing. He’s a giant heart covered in fur. He’s always at the door to greet us when we get home. When you sit down on the couch, he immediately plants himself next to you. Since Cubby has come to stay with us we have taken in several temporary foster kittens. They all gravitate to him. They climb on him, wrestle with him, bite his ears, and he never seems to mind. His patience with the foster kittens has earned him the titles of “Buddha” and “Uncle Cubby." He probably deserves more credit for fostering the kittens than we do.

There are times when Cub is snuggled up next to me on the couch, gently snoring and I think to myself: “he was next in line.” How if I were to have called the shelter just a few minutes later this amazing little guy wouldn’t have gotten out alive. How all of this happened because of something I saw in a bad photograph of a frightened and confused shelter cat.


Main image credit: Steven Wilson