Val’s Pals

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August 28, 2014

It was a year ago that our family rescued a frail little kitten who immediately stole our hearts.

Within a few minutes, we’d agreed to name her Val — Brooks’ choice — and rushed her out of the summer heat and to our home to begin to care for her. Val had been living in terrible conditions in an alley on the near northeast side of Des Moines. (We’d rescued one of her siblings a few weeks earlier. That kitten — we named her Vinny because she was living behind the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store — was only three weeks old but was tormented by more than 150 fleas. She also had ear mites, worms and an eye infection. She was dehydrated, weak and on the verge of dying in the summer heat. By the time we brought Val home with us, Vinny was well on her way to a full recovery.)

Sadly, Val was not so fortunate. We removed more than 150 fleas from her on her first night with us and started to get food and fluids in her. We stayed up through the night with her and were cautiously optimistic the following morning when we took her to one of our veterinarians, Dr. Jessica Merk at the Ashworth Road Animal Hospital. Dr. Merk told us that Val’s condition was precarious. She took all the necessary and proper steps to help Val, but noted that Val was so dehydrated that it wasn’t possible to draw blood for tests. Over the next 48 hours, Val seemed to get stronger and stronger. Her appetite seemed strong. She was active and affectionate. She seemed to truly appreciate our care.

Without warning late Saturday morning, Val collapsed. We thought at first that she had simply exhausted herself but realized something was terribly wrong. We rushed her to an emergency clinic, but there was nothing they close do to save Val. Debora held her as the doctors euthanized her. Brooks, Debora and I cried for the little kitten who had won our hearts in those short two-and-a-half days that we knew her.

Our friends knew we were crushed by Val’s passing but one noted that Val knew in her final moments that someone was with her, loved her and cared for her instead of leaving her to die in the heat and filth.

Since Val’s death, we’ve rescued a number of other kittens. Brooks cares for Vinny and the cat named Suzie who was just a kitten when we saved her from those same awful conditions just a week after we lost Val. In 2014, Debora and Eric have rescued 14 kittens to date.

Today is a big day for our family as we remember Val, the little black kitty with the white chin. To remember the day and honor Val’s memory, we will be at the Animal Rescue League of Central Iowa this afternoon to donate 1,160 pounds of dry cat food. It’s a tradition we intend to carry on in memory of Val and to fulfill a need. Thank you to all our fellow feline lovers who do so much for rescue leagues and no-kill shelters around the country and in their own homes to ensure that cats receive the love and proper care they deserve.

Eric Woolson

Debora Blume

Brooks Woolson

Update (February 26, 2015): Last year of rescues ended successfully with 12 more captures — the final one coming on a very cold, icy December 23 morning. (Eric captured 24 of the 26 cats and kittens by hand but the remaining two kittens, separated from their mother for several days, finally gave in to hunger and were caught in a live trap loaned to us by our good friend Jim Wachuta.) Among the final 12 critters caught were two feral mother cats. Both have been living indoors, Alley since Thanksgiving and Van Girl since mid-December. Van Girl got her name because she has a twisted left ear that looks like it’s almost missing. In the summer of 2013, we first thought she was a male, so we called her Van Gogh. When we saw her with the first of several litters over the course of a year, she became Van Girl. Thanks to the generous efforts of the Animal Rescue League of Central Iowa, both Alley and Van Girl were spayed, micro-chipped and vaccinated. Alley has settled in nicely with a member of the ARL staff but is eventually expected to go up for adoption. Van Girl has taken up residence in our spare bedroom while she becomes domesticated and ready for her new home. And the two kittens captured the week before Christmas? Both are in loving, indoor homes.

Update (November 1, 2016): The need to help abandoned and feral cats and kittens never ends. We recently received a Sept. 30 text from our good friend, Jess Daab, manager of the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Des Moines, that three abandoned kittens were fending for themselves near the store. When Eric arrived, he found five kittens and managed to catch the first two by luring them from their hiding place with one of the handy cans of cat food he just happens to keep in the trunk of his car for just such situations. After the first two kittens were captured, cleaned up and spirited away to the Animal Rescue League of Central Iowa, the mamma kitty moved her remaining three kittens to an abandoned house just down the alley. Eric was familiar with the spot and, over the course of the next two weeks, proceeded to catch the last three kittens and the mother. All received much needed medical care, have been cleaned up and are in new forever homes.

Our two favorite photos from this group are of Alphie, a little black-and-white critter who got his name because he was already an alpha male who pushed his siblings out of the way to get to the food. He also fancied himself as a little tough guy until confronted with several flea baths, a warm place to sleep and regular meals. The first photo shows him shooting daggers at Brooks the day after we took him in. The second photo is of him meowing loudly as he’s on his way to be reunited with his siblings and mom at ARL.

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