My Shelter Pet

I will never forget the day I met Sophie. I was having a really shitty day at work. By the time I took my lunch I wasn’t hungry anymore. It was the kind of day where I just couldn’t be around people any longer. When I left the office, I drove up the road in the opposite direction of my usual trajectory. I drove away from the cafes and restaurants and toward a more rural part of Sacramento County. I drove along a road bordered by telephone poles and dotted with manufacturing warehouses, in between unkempt fields of dry grass and awkwardly placed parking lots. I drove until I found a parking lot that I could turn into and turn around.

I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Sacramento County Animal Shelter. There was a woman in her truck in the parking spot next to mine and she was crying into her hands. I got out of my car. I thought about knocking on the window and offering her a tissue but, as I approached her car, she looked up at me and she shook her head slightly. It was the kind of crying that demanded solitude. I could tell that she had come to her vehicle to be alone. I felt so intrusive about pulling into the spot next to hers and getting out of the car that I decided to walk around.

I had never been to the Sacramento County Animal Shelter before. It looked like a prison. There were chain-link fences surrounding the building and I could hear various-sized dogs barking from the inside. I think I walked in the front door only because there was no other place to go.

There was a long line of people in the lobby and there were large binders with volumes of missing animals on a table in the back. I started thumbing through the binders. They were excruciating to go through. One of the posters read, “Family dog of five years-missing. Our children are heartbroken.” There was another flyer about a cat that needed medication to survive. Each poster was terrible and sad in its own right.

The staff at the shelter was doing all they could do to help the line move along. It was a difficult sight. There were people looking for lost pets. There was a man surrendering a pit bull mix, choking back tears as he met with an animal control officer. There were kids running around the lobby and screaming. There were a few of us just standing around, meandering. At one point, a young, boisterous black man boomed over the crowd announcing, “If you are here to look at the adoptable animals, the puppies and cats are through this door and the larger breed dogs are down the hall.”

I walked through the door.

The puppies were cute. All the dogs were cute. There were puppies and there were smaller breed dogs as well. Some of them were quite older. They barked and yapped and tried to get my attention. There were fluffy dogs and wire-haired terriers. There were white ones and black ones. There were mopey dogs and dogs that were excited. Some came right up to the cage fence next to the hall and stuck their noses through the fencing, almost as though they were begging to get out. Mostly, there were a lot of Chihuahuas, some of which were standing in the far corner of the shelter cages, just shaking and looking at the wall.

The kennels and bedding looked clean but the kennels smelled like shit and bleach. It was an outstanding smell, something that could hardly be washed away. There was a clear smell that indicated an attempt at cleaning and it made the overall smell choking and terrible.

I moved past the small dogs and into the cat kennels. As a cat owner I was surprised that the stench was quite a bit more tolerable. I had expected the tin-like smell of cat pee. Instead it smelled like medicine and plastic. It was almost minty, like someone had been burning a scented Christmas candle. There were cats in cages four-cages high and maybe nine-cages across. Every cage was full. There was every kind of cat that a person could imagine. There was even one of those hairless cats, wide-eyed with giant ears, all wrapped up in shelter towels and shivering.

At the end of the hall there were two little girls meeting with an “adoption specialist.” There was a dad standing along the wall, watching with a satisfying grin at their joy. Both of the little girls had fluffy kittens in their arms. The adoption specialist kept asking the dad, “Are you sure?” He kept nodding.

The cat section had its own little folding table with two mid-forties female volunteers. Both women were likely lesbians. They had short hair and wore printed vacation tee-shirts with cargo pants and thick sandals. They had a lot of clipboards in front of them at the table and several small stacks of paperwork. One volunteer shuffled paperwork as the other one tried to manage the kitten girls.

I continued to browse the “cats available for adoption.” It was a mostly quiet endeavor, except for one black-and-white, short-haired tabby who kept crying and putting his paws through the bars. I put my hand out and let him grab one of my fingers and mew. “It’s okay,” I said. “You are very cute. Your time here will be short.” He looked at me hopefully. I wasn’t in the market.

I turned the corner to the “big dogs” hall. There was an isolated section of cat cages on my left that I didn’t pay much attention to. I could hear the big dogs even before I went through the doors.

The big dogs were a difficult sight. Many were losing hair and pacing. Some were howling at the ceiling. There were a lot of Shepherds and Pit bulls. There was a Black Labrador that had just been admitted on a call. I could tell that he was lost and missing his family terribly. There was a lot of Animal Control Officer activity in the large dog room and I just wasn’t comfortable. I headed back to the cat room.

As I walked into the hall, I noticed the section of cages that had been roped off. There were about forty cages but only three of the cages had cats in them. The rope had been set aside and there was a young female animal attendant looking at empty cages in the corner. The attendant didn’t notice me. I looked more closely at the quarantined kitties.

That’s when I saw Sophie.

She was sleeping. She didn’t see me. Not at first. But I saw her. She was tucked all the way in the back of her cage. She looked like a chocolate-faced, fluffy, milk-colored rug. And then she opened her eyes.

IMG_6881

I believe in love at first sight, but in very limited circumstances.

I don’t think that love-at-first-sight can completely exist between humans. For humans, love is a verb. It is a commitment that takes action and time. It may start with a feeling or an attraction, but love cannot be sustained without constant attention.

This is not true with humans and their animal companions. I have heard more love-at-first-sight stories between humans and their pets than from any other source. Sometimes you just know.

For Sophie and I, it was undoubtedly love at first sight.  When her blue eyes met mine, there was no turning back.

I met Sophie ten years ago. She was a little older than a kitten but was still very small. I looked up at the attendant wistfully and said, “I’d like to adopt this cat.”

She replied, “You can’t be in this section. These cats aren’t up for adoption.”

I planted my feet equally apart. I said firmly to the attendant, “I need to adopt this cat.”

The attendant explained that my cat had been left on the porch of the Sacramento County Animal Shelter in the middle of the night in a shoebox with the lid taped shut. Because she had been surrendered anonymously, the shelter had to keep her for three days in case someone came to claim her. After three days, the cat could be adopted.

The attendant could tell that I was horrified. I can’t remember if I was more horrified that my cat had been left in a shoe box on a porch or that she might be taken home by another family. The attendant leaned to me and whispered, “She was probably dropped off by a breeder. She looks like a pure bred Himalayan but she is pretty runty and she has something wrong with one of her eyes.”

I came back that afternoon and stayed with Sophie until the shelter closed for the night. I came back the next two lunch hours and afternoons. I ignored the ropes in the roped-off area and walked directly to the cage. I petted Sophie with two fingers through the bars. The animal officers and volunteers could tell that there was nothing that they could say to me that would convince me to leave so they just pretended that I was another volunteer.

The volunteers told me that adoption was first-come-first-served so I got up at 4am on the third day and drove to the shelter to wait outside until it opened. I was the first person there.

By the time the shelter opened, there were about 20 people lined up outside. I walked quickly to my cat. I walked directly to the cage that she had been in for the past three days. She wasn’t there. I turned around and searched the other cages. I panicked.

When I found her there was a family looking at her. A little girl was poking her fingers through the cage as a little boy squealed loudly, “I don’t want a stupid cat.” I grabbed the clipboard on her cage and took it to the two women the in thick-strapped sandals at the folding table. I handed them the clipboard and said, “This is my cat. I’m ready to adopt her.” They smiled. They had seen me those past few days.

I filled out several pieces of paperwork. I answered questions about indoor/outdoor cats. I vowed never to declaw a cat. (Of course.) They asked about children and dogs. (None.) At the end of the survey, I handed over my answers. I stood nervously. I shifted my weight to each foot as I watched them judge me. The two women reviewed my questionnaire and smiled. They looked up at me.

“She is already fixed. You can take her home today.” One of the women said.

“Now?” I asked.

“Now.”

They put Sophie in a cardboard carrier and I walked past the small dogs out to the shelter lobby to stand in line. There were already several people in line and the lobby wasn’t much different from my first impression. There were people thumbing through the binders. There were kids running around. There were people with dogs on leashes waiting in line. It was loud and smelly.

I didn’t care. I had my cat.

I stood in line waiting to pay the adoption fee for my cat when I noticed the woman in front of me. She had a beagle on a leash sitting next to her sitting and wagging its tail across the linoleum and looking guilty. She intermittently smiled at the beagle and occasionally threw the beagle a dirty look. I remembered her long brown hair. I mostly remembered her eyes. It was the woman from the truck in the parking lot.

“Is this your dog?” I asked gleefully.

She looked at me and remembered me.

“Yes. This is the asshole who ran away from the dog park.” She smiled in a way that kept her from crying. “This is my damn dog.” She laughed. I laughed too.

She asked, “What’s in the box?”

“My new cat.” I said. She winked at me.

When it was my turn, I put my cardboard box on the counter and handed over my paperwork. That day, I paid $75 to adopt my best friend.

It’s About Money

It is 2015. I’m 35 years old. I have a college education. I don’t have children. I don’t have student loan debt. I am employed. I have a partner who is employed and we share in the household income. We rent an apartment. We have one car. We do not go out a lot. We do not have credit card payments. With the exception of shoes, a few items of clothing, a few gifts for friends and family, and food, we have not bought anything new in over two years. We struggle with money every single day.

My entire generation is struggling with money. All of us struggle with money. We are struggling in significant and incredible ways. If my generation is being honest, we will probably struggle with money for the rest of our lives. And, if I’m being honest, everyone I know is struggling with money, regardless of generation.

house2015

In 2005, back when I was married to a different person, I bought a house with my husband. We were both college graduates from parents of college graduates. We both earned reasonable and steady incomes. Our mortgage payment was about 30% of our income. It was something that we could reasonably afford. We did what every other person our age had done at the time. We got a mortgage that was an 80-20 split. 80% of our mortgage was a part of one loan with one set of terms and 20% of our mortgage qualified as our down payment and came with a completely different set of terms, something shady and delectable to the financial industry. By 2007, our mortgage payments ballooned to over 60% of our income, partly because the payments went up, and partly because our income went down. By 2008, our home had been foreclosed on. It was quick and dirty. For reasons mostly unrelated, my husband and I divorced the same year.

By 2010, I was renting an apartment and beginning a new relationship with the person I now know is the person that I will spend my life with. When we met, I was working at the same job that I worked at in 2005, when I had bought my house. By 2010, my income hadn’t changed much from the day I had started with the agency. It had gone up in 2008 but then there were lay-offs and cut backs and my income had fallen back down to its 2005 level. It was still reasonable but healthcare costs had gone up significantly, along with insurance costs, and food costs, and utilities. I was struggling to make ends meet when they told us that our agency would be cut by about 50% and that there would be significant layoffs.

My partner and I decided to move closer to her work. The commute was significant and gas prices were still at record-breaking levels. I would take the layoff and receive unemployment benefits while I looked for a job in our new location. We moved 50 miles to the north and tried to make a new life.

My unemployment benefits ran out in 2012, a full two years before I found a job.

 

There were two years between my unemployment benefits running out and finding a job and those two years were the worst two years of my life.

It’s hard to admit defeat.

It’s hard for middle class people to address poverty because we think that we are too good for poverty. I thought that I was too good for poverty.

My partner and I lived below the poverty level for two years and we pretended to everyone that all was well. We never let on. We didn’t tell our friends and family. We didn’t tell anyone that we had to go to the food bank to pick up food. We didn’t tell anyone that I had to work for our landlord in order make rent. We didn’t tell anyone that the garden in our back yard was actually a significant food source. We didn’t use our heater for an entire winter because we couldn’t afford the bill for propane. These just aren’t the things you want to share.

We are better off these days. But not by much. We pay our bills most of the time. Sometimes we can even put a few dollars into savings.

 

A friend of mine went into her bank today. She is 40-something and one of the most interesting and brilliant people I know. She is a writer and someone I constantly admire. She is paid to write articles that I wish I could write. When I think about my life in five years, I think of her.

She has been struggling with money. Today, she told her friends, “The teller at the bank could tell that I am a lady who lives by my wits and she was not amused.” A friend asked, “Did you cross the funny/outgoing–rude/crazy line?” My friend replied, “No. I was just being poor in public.”

 

My car died today. It’s a good car but it is ten years old and has been acting up. Today, after finishing a cup of tea and getting ready for work, I went to start my car. The engine wouldn’t turn over. The engine made a rraerrr-irrrr sound and then nothing. I tried to have my neighbor jump start my car but it didn’t help. Ultimately, I had to have the car towed from my driveway to the mechanic.

I don’t have the money to fix the car. Well, more accurately, I have the money to fix the car but it was money that my partner and I had been saving to go on a long-awaited camping trip this weekend, a trip that we booked in May and is likely no longer a possibility. I also don’t have money for a new car. I don’t have money saved for a down payment and my partner and I do not have the credit scores to buy a car and make payments at a reasonable rate. The car is our single, shared family vehicle.

My partner and I have been squirrelling away money these past few months because the non-profit organization that I work for is about to lose a significant grant that helps to fund the organization. I know that my salary will have to be cut in order to maintain the financial health of the organization. I love non-profit work and I know the drill. I have been trying to prepare in the interim.

My partner and I have been trying to save at least three months of expenses so that we can have time to prepare for the next step. We know what it’s like to have no money and it sucks. We are hoping to avoid that.

 

I am sick and tired of being poor. Everyone I know is sick and tired of being poor.

According to articles published by The Atlantic and Business Insider, “Millions of America’s young people are really struggling financially. Around 30 percent are living with their parents, and many others are coping with stagnant wages, underemployment, and sky-high rent.” This article addresses the struggles that people of my generation face but it fails to make note of how many financial sacrifices the parents of my generation have had to make in order to accommodate the failed promises of American Society that their children were afforded. Our economic instability is not simply affecting our recent college graduates. Our failed economic structure is equally effecting the parents and grandparents who are trying to help generations X, Y, and beyond.

 

According to every American myth I know, according to the dogma laid out by the American dream, me, and people like me, should be financially well-off. I went to college before getting married. I got married before buying a house. I bought a house before considering children. I did all the right things.

But all of that dissolved in the financial crisis of 2008, a financial crisis that was orchestrated and intentional with no apologies and no criminal indictments from America’s financial or legal community. I didn’t have children and I lost the house. I lost the house and I lost the marriage. My college degree can’t get me a job.

Isn’t it time to just say it? Can’t we just say it? Shouldn’t we just be honest with each other?

I’ll say it.

The American Dream is dead. The American Middle Class is nothing but a fallacy. We no longer have an American Middle Class.

 

The American Dream is dead but not in the way that people who engage in politics would like to use the phrase. It’s not about State’s Rights, or Gun Rights, or Libertarianism. It’s not about taxes or representation. The American Dream is dead because the American middle class no longer exists.

The American middle class can’t make their mortgage payments. The American middle class can’t put their kids through college without borrowing large sums of money from financial institutions. The American middle class cannot provide for their families without going through the door of American finance. The American middle class has been captured by the finance industry and it is suffering in unprecedented ways.

The entire world is suffering from American finance.

At least the people in countries like Greece and Iceland know what happened to them. They know that they have been screwed. They know that they were completely and totally fucked by the worldwide financial industry. The people of United States of America still have no idea.

The people of America are suffering. I am suffering. It’s about money. It’s money. The people of America are suffering because there is an incredible difference between the people that have money and the people who are struggling to make ends meet.

I have credentials. I should be able to get a job that pays well. I should be able to own a home. I should have reasonable health insurance costs.

I have a degree from UC Davis.

I have no money. I have a car that needs repair. I have a job that can’t pay me. I’m the American Middle class.

It’s about money.

Why You Should Care About California’s Drought, Even If You Don’t Live In California

No one can overstate the incredible seriousness of California’s drought. There have been signs dotting the I-5 freeway, a freeway that traverses the central corridor of California, for a few years now blaming congress for California’s “dust bowl.”

The California drought is incredibly serious. California’s dust bowl isn’t the result of decisions made by congress but it is an issue that warrants political and community discussion. Water is scarce in California and it should make more than a few ears perk up.

dustbowl

The Central Valley, which has the reputation of being California’s most “fertile” farmland is actually a desert that has been irrigated by delta water and aqueducts in order to force food to grow. It is a terribly inefficient use of water. For more than a century, we have cultivated the hottest and dryest part of California in order to feed California and the rest of the United States. For many, many years, this technique has been working.

This year may very well mark the year that growing food in the desert of the Central Valley is no longer an option. California is running out of water. And soon, the United States may be running out of food.

According to California’s government agriculture website, “California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. The state produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. Across the nation, US consumers regularly purchase several crops produced solely in California.” In other words, one out of two of every fresh fruit, nut, or vegetable that you put into your mouth came from California. Much of your favorite produce, like an artichoke or a basket of grapes, are grown primarily or solely in California. They’re delicious and they may soon be gone. If we can’t grow it, you can’t eat it.

As a resident Californian, I’m doing my part. If it’s yellow, I let it mellow. My household and I have cut our water usage by at least 40% this year and we were not big water users to begin with.  I was impressed to see that almost every Californian has let their lawn go brown. But, for many urban and suburban people, the loss of their lawn has also meant the loss of household gardens and the death of urban fruit trees.  Water is in short supply and California’s abundant food supply is shrinking in unthinkable ways.

Lake Oroville  (credit: California Department of Water Resources)

Lake Oroville (credit: California Department of Water Resources)

Unfortunately, for food production in the US, it’s not enough for Californians to simply stop flushing their toilets for number one. It’s not enough to stop watering lawns or take shorter showers. Nearly 80% of water usage in California goes towards growing food. Nearly 80% of water usage in California is agricultural. The dispersement of water usage in California needs a creative makeover.

But water conservation also needs the help of the people. We need the rest of the United States to get involved. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Stop buying bottled water, especially from Nestle. Bottled water comes from clean, natural resources, usually at the expense of the taxpayer and almost always at the expense of the greater good. Nestle has a water packaging plant on the Sacramento Delta River, one of the most important watering holes for California Agriculture. There have been protests staged at Nestle water plants but there are no signs of them discontinuing their water grab. If consumers stopped buying Nestle water, it could help.
  1. Advocate for farmers and big-ag to use more water-efficient mechanisms when watering crops. Be a champion for farmers and help them to use new technology. Help farmers access new technology by advocating for tax breaks and grants when farmers switch to water-saving mechanisms.
  1. Support small farmers and eat local. Eat what your local farmers grow. Avocados are amazing. I won’t lie to you. Avocados are one of California’s greatest and most delightful exports. But they are usually grown in large, industrial settings, like almonds and many other crops. And they aren’t grown in most of the rest of the United States. Small farms and farmers use less water than industrial farms and large-scale farmers. Many small farmers use their own wells and water and have technology in place to conserve. Talk to the farmers in your neighborhood and eat what they grow.

The California Drought is something that every American should be worried about and it is something that every American can do something about.  Please help us.