FOR THE LOVE OF CATS
About seven years ago, Connie Kane walked through the door of the Blue Mountain Humane Association's Louise McNeely Memorial Animal Shelter.
A young calico tabby cat in the first viewing cage caught her attention, literally, reaching out to snag her clothes and meow.
It took Kane a few days to come up with the $225 pet deposit at her studio apartment, but that cat, Tiger, is now the 17-pound jealous, loving, communicative guardian of Kane's home.
And Tiger shares Kane's attention with every cat that comes through the animal shelter.
Kane can't remember exactly when she started volunteering at the animal shelter, maybe seven or eight years ago.
"I've just always been interested in working with animals, at least since I was 2," Kane explains. "My dad was, too. I just like working with animals."
It has been a theme of Kane's life since her earliest days in Reno, Nev.
"I've tried to help people most of my life. It's just natural to help animals, too," she says.
Kane lived in Nevada and California before moving to
La Grande about 20 years ago. She came to visit a friend, and soon found a job working in a child-care business. Gradually she picked up work caring for the elderly and disabled, and now in retirement simply tries to help out wherever and whenever she can.
One day she stopped by the animal shelter. Someone there Â— she can't remember who, now Â— asked Connie if she'd like to volunteer.
She said yes.
Kane now tries to put in two days a week at the shelter, usually a weekday and Saturday. Sometimes she's there, almost always in the small cat area, for up to four days a week.
Kane holds the cats, brushes those that will let her, gently stroking the more nervous, or plays games with the playful, bouncy cats. If shelter staff is busy Â— "You have to know they're really busy sometimes" Â— she'll clean cat boxes, wash food bowls and clean cat cages.
Kane, like everyone who spends much time at the animal shelter, is often saddened to learn that a cat hasn't been able to find a home, or that a kitten has been brought in seriously ill or injured.
"Others have told me that you have to look at the whole and do the best you can. If you can help the majority as well as you can, you've helped.
"You have to go on. That's really hard on the staff. They all have their own animals at home, too."
Kane, now 67, can only have one pet at her apartment complex. But her love of cats has ensured that she knows all the many cats that call the complex home. She can, she says, pet any of the complex cats she sees outside, except for one adult and a kitten that are just too spooky.
Her own lap kitty, Tiger, keeps her from even considering bringing in another cat. Tiger hisses and growls at any cat who attempts to walk in an open door, and as large as she is, other cats listen.
It is strange, though, as Kane remembers her early days with Tiger. Every time Kane visited Tiger at the shelter, the cat would cling to her, needing to be literally pried off her clothing when the visit was over. Tiger has never done that since the day she was brought home.
"I think she chose me, and that was it," Kane says, laughing.
Many people are coming to realize that Kane has a special expertise with cats.
On a recent weeknight, after 9, there was a knock at the door. Three teenagers were outside, one holding a young black kitten.
They asked for help in dealing with the foundling kitten. Kane was about to supply the teens with some cans of moist cat food, a small bag of dry food and explain what else they would need to get on order to provide a good, responsible home for the kitten.
That's often what Kane is able to do best at the animal shelter. She can talk to people just walking through, taking the time to share what she's learned about the individual cats along with her knowledge of cats in general. She gets three cat magazines, staying up to date on her passion.
And her knowledge, plus the day-to-day reality of volunteering at the shelter, has made Kane a gentle, insistent messenger of the need for spaying and neutering of animals.
While Kane believes the shelter is a wonderful place for unwanted animals, she also knows that there are more animals looking for homes than there are homes available. Fewer unwanted kittens and puppies is the only responsible solution.
"Spay and neuter Â— that's the bottom-line solution of pet overpopulation."
She wants to make something clear. She loves dogs, too, and has had them in the past, but the cats are the right size for her to handle at this point in her life.
A heart condition diagnosed at 7 and now arthritis limits Kane somewhat. But she's insistent that there are always things she can do for others.
Recently, she was asked to help at the Union County Senior Center, and she's put volunteer time in at Shelter From the Storm. She seems always a bit surprised and grateful when others think she can help.
While Kane never taught school, she has a dream to go into schools and help others teach children how to treat and care for animals.
"Children need to learn how to treat animals right, young. It's only responsible," she stresses.
Most days volunteering at the shelter are good days, Kane says. "But certain days are sad, that's going to happen sometimes. You have to learn to go with the flow as long as you have the health to do it.
Kane isn't putting an end date to helping out at the animal shelter, despite a recent hospital stay and changing shelter staff. She'd like to make it to 80, at least.
"There're more things I can do than things I can't do," she explains. "I just want to help, to be useful.'