First things first: nobody knows exactly where this all goes.
Not you. Not me. Not even, on this rare occasion, the cats.
You come to this sparkly corner of the internet to read about cats, not novel coronavirus. You may be miffed that it has infected (sorry) even this happy-go-lucky space. But there is no Tabby’s Place without people, and people are feeling a little panicky these days.
Either that, or they’re feeling defiantly non-panicky, anti-panicky, “everyone needs to calm’n the holy heckeroni down” unpanicky.
Two camps, really. But here we all are, sharing one great refugee camp of a world, needing each other whether we like it or not.
And for the time being, we’re a bunch of slightly-anxious campers.
We are living in strange times, and even a corner of the world as sleepy and sweet as Ringoes, NJ is affected. We have no cases of COVID-19 here, yet. But we’re all compulsively hitting “refresh” on NJ.com and bribing each other for hand sanitizer. We’re hand-washing and elbow-bumping. We’re worrying, and worrying that we’re worrying too much, and talking each other off the ledge of worry from a safe distance of ten inches.
Cats are not at any risk from the virus, but we’re rife with “high-risk individuals.” It could be argued that “high-risk individuals” are the heart and hands and soul and spirit of Tabby’s Place. Take away everyone over 60 or quietly bearing a “pre-existing condition,” and there are precious few human beans left wandering our halls.
It is at this point that I ascend my soapbox. (Please hold my hand; I’m impossibly clumsy and this would be an embarrassing time to fall.)
Much of the “keep calm and carry on” counsel in this time of COVID-19 has gone something like this: “Don’t sweat it. It really only affects people who are older than rocks or have something like diabeetus, so most people will be just fine.”
It’s there in every sentence worded, “Lady So-and-So, WHO HAD PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS, died.”
“Mr. Such-And-Such, WHO WAS 89 YEARS OLD, is in critical condition.”
Subtext: the strong ones, the valuable ones, the ones who count, will be fine.
So sad, too bad for the weaklings.
There’s one problem with this attitude.
We’re all the weaklings.
No, you may not fit the definition of a “high-risk individual.” You may be younger than springtime, with shiny hair and tiny pores and nary a crow nesting at the corners of your eyes. You may be 98.6°, 120/80, without so much as a hangnail. You may be strong in all the ways that matter on a chart.
But you, dear one, do not walk this world alone. Your “fragile” friends matter immeasurably.
And you need them.
Is this not the conviction that powers everything we are and do at Tabby’s Place? All the tomes in the world could not contain the number of times we’ve been asked, “Couldn’t you help more cats if you focused on the healthy ones?”
The strong ones? The low-risk ones? The easy-to-love, low-need, highly-desirable ones?
Of course we could. But only at the cost of our Tabbular soul.*
Tabby’s Place has always been about the weak and the weird and the weary. When a cat is too little or too much for other shores, we’re their harbor. We’re a magnet for pre-existing conditions.
And we’ve learned the best-kept secret in the wide world: life is a pre-existing condition.
There are no guarantees. The race is not to the swift. We need us all, and the strongest among us sometimes carry canes and pacemakers and visible or invisible scars. In your dark night of the soul, don’t be surprised if it’s a “high-risk individual” who carries you.
We need us all.
This is hard. This means inconveniencing ourselves for each other, and inconveniencing each other when we’re the needy ones. (I can attest that the latter is much harder.) This means meticulousness, launching the Disinfecting Disco of 2020(TM), being extra-careful even if it makes us roll our eyes. This means going slower, taking pause, giving thought, giving grace.
This means being Tabby’s Place to each other.
I’ve often felt that the wider world could use
a little great galumphing gobs of “Tabby’s Place” in how it teaches us to treat each other. The ones at “the bottom,” dealt the weakest hand and the smallest slice of cake, should be our top priority. The needy — the Simons, the Cottons, the Lunas and Lesters — ought to be the most precious and honored.
The last shall be first.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
And so, if you’ve wondered how Tabby’s Place is tackling COVID-19, we’re doing much the same as usual. We’re taking care of each other, knowing we don’t know the future, believing it belongs to the merciful. We’re watching the news and following our emergency plan and doing our best to protect our people, of all ages and diagnoses and species.
(Oh, you wanted specifics? We have a hard-core, jacked-up daily disinfectant protocol. We’re stockpiling supplies so the cats won’t miss a minute of insulin or chemotherapy or cookies. We’re cancelling Aged to Purrfection visits and volunteer orientations and all such things until things get safer. We’re tightening our hours from 1-4pm. We’re encouraging our high-risk humans to stay home, out of an excess of precaution and love. And then we’re disinfecting absolutely everything all over again.)
Novel coronavirus is not (yet?) in Ringoes. But as it lurks around the edges, may we never let it inoculate us to love. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ and kittens’ keepers, and they are ours.
*Dusty but necessary disclaimer: we are grateful for every single animal rescue organization. Some are called to save kittens; some are called to swaddle seniors. Open-intake, “no-kill,” Special Needs, highly adoptable…may these too-many terms never divide us from the shared mission in which we each have a small, sacred calling. We need the groups that focus on numbers; they need us. Always: we need us all.