The following post is by Jen Leary, Founder of Red Paw Emergency Relief Team
After two years of responding, and over more than 300 calls involving hundreds and hundreds of animals-most passing through my home-you start to lose track of who’s who. You begin to ask yourself where the third Midnight came from? Is the second Max a dog or cat? Did we give his displaced family resources? What did they need assistance with and what type of assistance? Which Max was reunited with his/her family? Until they all start to blur.
But not with Baldwin’s response. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was September 9, 2011. We had only been in existence for two months. The phone rang at 5:00 in the morning, for a fire in Southwest Philly where a cat had been displaced. I threw on my Fire Department uniform just in case the response took a while so that I would already be dressed for work. I grabbed a jacket to throw over my uniform and off I went. I could drive you to his old house right now I remember it so clearly.
I pulled up and the family was sitting outside on their porch. As I walked closer to the porch, I noticed a little girl was sitting on the steps with a dirty little cat. He was just sitting there, not in a carrier, just sorta hanging out. I picked him up and put him right into my carrier- without any trouble. I assured the little girl that he would be well taken care of and kept safe. I asked the client if he had been inside during the fire – the damage from the fire didn’t look all that bad but they couldn’t stay there because of the smoke and water damage – she stated he hadn’t been inside the house and that they all got out together. The little girl said goodbye to Baldwin, and then off we went.
When I got him home, in the light, it was obvious this cat was a little special. He had thick mattes on his dirty, discolored white fur, he wobbled when he walked, and he was drooling. Still, he was very cute! He had eyes like a person, piercing green eyes and he tilted his little dirty head when he looked up at me. I left him with Lori, our COO, and I went to work, checking in on him all day. Lori stated she had given him a bath but that she thought something might be wrong with him.
I called the client and left a voicemail later that morning stating he needed to see a vet due to sneezing and a weird fur/skin thing. We ended up taking him to the PSPCA that night. They assessed him and I was surprised that everyone knew him there and called him “booger-face,” and they said that he had been there dozens of times and that he had a ton of health issues in the past, including MRSA (a skin infection), feline herpes, and a heart murmur. They also stated that he had been adopted and returned three times!
In addition Baldwin needed surgery on his mouth, had ear issues, needed to be on three different daily medications (two twice a day for his teeth and ears), and needed the mats on his fur shaved. I called the client again and left another voicemail stating his medical needs and asked what she had been doing and how she wanted to proceed, but did not hear back. Since Baldwin was obviously very sick and uncomfortable in his own skin, we told the vet to give him whatever he needed, as long as it would make him feel better. If he was going to be with us, we couldn’t let him suffer. I felt better knowing what was wrong with him but was very upset that he had been suffering for so long.
As the day and nights went on it was clear that Baldwin was a little more than special and that something was very much wrong with him. Because of his condition, he would wake up in the middle of the night and cry out like a newborn infant. Some nights, if he went upstairs or was in a different room he would cry and it seemed as if he was lost and yelling out to us, so we’d have to get out of bed and go get him. We thought maybe he was blind or couldn’t see at night. Although, as soon as we went to him and picked him up, he was fine and would purr and lay in my arms until he fell soundly asleep.
It was very sad watching him go through this, constantly crying, pawing at his face and mouth, like a squirrel shoveling nuts into his paunches, the obvious difference is that he would then yell out in pain while he shook his head back and forth, eventually just not eating. I had not known him very long but I was very quickly falling in love with him. He would crawl up on me at night and sleep with his head on my chest leaving little drool spots on my shirt, he’d follow me around like a dog, he also would bite and scratch me when I tried to clean him or give him his meds, but I was convinced they were love bites!
Finally, four days later his owner called back, stating she had just gotten him a month ago from the SPCA and was unaware of his medical issues and that she would follow up with me about getting him the care he needed. As you can imagine, the news must have been overwhelming. Consequently, we never heard back from her. Finally, three months later, our lawyer tracked her down and she signed him over to us immediately so that we could provide the proper medical care!
Since then, Baldwin has been in our home and we have been to the vet dozens and dozens of times due to his medical issues, on average, once a month for a year and a half. This strange little dirty, scared of the dark, beautiful broken whiskered cat, that we lovingly refer to as Baldie, is on medicine twice a day for the rest of his life, he’s had three surgeries on his mouth, and has almost died once! Today he is still with us and doing great. He was too sick and his constant medical care was too much to adopt him out, plus, he is so goofy and fun we loved having him around. He is still as special as ever, still drools on me, all the time, still bites when we try to clean him, but he only has two teeth now, so it’s not so scary! We’ve been able to manage his pain and his quality of life. He now gives back by going to schools, community groups and workplaces, etc to do speaking engagements on Red Paw and pet preparedness!
We did hear from Baldwin’s previous owner a year later. She called to check on him because her kids were asking about him, wanting to make sure that he was doing ok. She stated that at that time they had just gotten him and that after the fire they didn’t have the money or means to take care of him and she wanted to thank us for what we did for him.
I started Red Paw to keep families together, to lessen the burden on the shelter system and to ensure animals were cared for after a disaster in their home, regardless of the family’s financial situation. We work very long and hard and do as much as we can to reunite families. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Yes we are an emergency response organization, but, we are also an animal welfare organization. Sometimes the welfare (and health) of the animals we rescue overshadow everything else. For me, and for Baldwin, that day on September 9th changed both of our lives forever!
I am convinced that I started Red Paw to save Baldwin’s life. I have five cats and two dogs of my own and I love them with all of my heart – but Baldwin…I love that little cat more than life itself, like I birthed him myself! When I’m stressed out and exhausted, wondering why I ever started a non-profit organization, I look at him, sleeping, so happy and content and I know everything else is worth it!
Sadly, after almost three years together, Baldwin passed away on May 24th, 2014. He died at home (RPHQ), in his favorite bed, surrounded by people who loved him very much. Words can not express how much we miss him and the huge void that little cat left behind, in our hearts, in our house and in the organization. Baldwin knew that he had been given a second chance and truly appreciated it. He gave back to his community and touched the lives of so many by doing fire safety presentations and outreach events. He was such a good boy. He will never be forgotten and he will live on forever through Red Paw and he will always be our Ambassador and the love of my life! Watch his tribute video: http://youtu.be/OpNOr6obbn0