Not long after I adopted my cat Bear (from the school parking lot), I started thinking about all the other homeless animals in Korea. Finally, I put thought into words and offered to do some fostering for KAPS in Daegu. I wanted to foster a cat, because kittens are highly adoptable, but KAPS only does fostering with kittens because the babies were susceptible to respiratory infections and cold and die. (Clue one.) And later, that they hoped to never see the kitten again. (Clue two.)
I was still feeling helpless over the condition of the horses at the stables in Yeong Ju and the lack of laws. There's nothing I can due. Worse, I was complicit to an extent. I had noticed them seem to be skinnier each time I rode. Finally, I talked to the old man about it. He had a lot of reasons why they were skinny: they aren't trained enough and safe for beginners so they were on a special feeding program. Also, one eats really fast. For a little while after our translated conversation, the horses started to pick back up. Then it came time to move, and I took a month off of riding. When I returned the deplorable, conditions slapped me upside the head.
The photos above where taken of a horse I was supposed to ride. After brushing her (and crying a little) I left.When I arrived home, my kitty said "meow" and strutted to one of his many scratching posts. This was oddly heartening after taking the photos above. I also noticed he was a getting a little fat and told him we were going on a diet together. He sneezed.
It wasn't long after giving up riding that I found myself traveling more than two hours from my home. I arrived at the shelter with the pink door just after twelve. I knew that they closed for lunch at one. I rang the bell and eventually an adjuma came. I followed her down an uncovered walkway and we turned right into a corridor.
Before becoming a shelter, this had once been a very traditional Korean house. The court yard had long since been converted into large cat pens. In the first, people friendly sick cats scurried to the chain link, mewing for some attention. I set my cat carrier down on a chair, and followed her just inside the second pen, where she indicated I should wait.
One of the cats took a deep liking for my shoes, and took the opportunity to mark me with his scent. In cat, that's "I think you are great!" Eventually other cats came along for a visit but the adjuma returned, with a little kitten. It was thrust into my hands. I nodded at the friendly cat and ask "erum?" (Name?)
"Opsiyo," she said, which translates into 'it does not exist."
She pose me and the kitten and snapped a picture, then the baby was placed into my cat carrier. Some paperwork came out and I gave her my alien registration card(ARC). I asked the name of another cat. By the time I got to asking about the kitten's name, I was pretty certain none of the shelter cats had names. (Clue 3)
She tried to tell me something well beyond my limited Korean and then made a call, hung up, dialed another numer and tried to talk to me again. I've gotten by in Korea for nearly six years with Konglish (English plus some terrible Korean), gestures and when all else fails, stick figures. But gesturing and pictures didn't work, and smiles where not returned.
Finally, I called Mrs. K. Translation happened. The kitten and newspaper was removed from my carrier. Another phone call was placed with cat in one hand, and receiver in the other. Finally, the kitten was thrust back into my carrier and I left with the precious cargo.
During the two hours ride home, I let the kitten snuggle in my arms on the bus and contemplated what his name should be. Sneezy? I looked at his runny nose. His eyes were clear and I felt confident that the cold was not too bad; the name would cease to be apt in a few days. As if to prove my point, he became squirmy so I and placed him back in the carrier.
Once we got home, he was a ball of curiosity, that did not like being limited to the office any more than Mr. Bear liked being locked out of the office. This is his house after all. He just lets me live hear because I pay the bills and feed him. Bear was even more offended when he saw the kitten. My co-worker said that Bear perhaps knew the baby was very sick from the beginning. I don't know.
Anyway, by Sunday night the baby was no longer clear eyed and curious. Yeongju is too small for an emergency vet, so I rushed home during lunch, and after mild coercion, was able to leave him at the vet's until I got off work. I let the kitty feeling satisfied that he would get the fluids he needed, and be back in my care in a few hours and that his cold would pass.
As it turned out, the foster baby had feline distemper which is highly contagious. At first I thought the vet had said leukemia instead of panleukopenia.
"Leukemia!" I gasped. "Omg, is Bear going to get sick."
The vet nodded solemnly at "Leukemina" and assured me Bear had been vaccinated. He then attempted to outline treatment in Konglish. At some point I said, "He's so young to undergo treatment for cancer?" The vet laughed and clarified the situation. However stick figures weren't sufficient to explain this disease, so I consulted Wikipedia.
Despite 90% mortality rate in kittens, the vet had been successful with some kittens recently and wanted to give this guy a shot. I agreed and when I got home, I emailed KAPS to let them know what the kitten had. A volunteer emailed me back to say, "it was quite common at KAPS, that he had two kittens with it and one survived, which was now undergoing treatment for a bad case of roundworms."
At first I was furious... at them for not telling me, at myself for putting Bear at risk, for the kitten who might have been spared with a routine vaccination and all the other sick cats. However, after thinking about it, I realized that KAPS is not a rescue, but a shelter and that there can be a sweeping difference between a rescue and a shelter. Finally, I understood that my perspective and their perspective were completely different. From their perspective it is better to provide shelter, food and water for a hundred cats than to leave them on streets.
In my heart I wanted to go back and adopt one of the cats, but many of them had been visibly sick and who knew what any of the cats had without vaccinations and what not. My wallet couldn't handle a hundred dollar adoption fee, plus another large vet bill.
And to tie this theme up, my friend Lynn just sent me a message that she almost adopted a cat. She had started putting food and water out for it, but just as she was about to claim it, the cat's owner (an English teacher) returned home from vacation. Without undue sarcasm, she wrote, "I guess he decided outside was cheaper than a kennel."
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).