Best Friends Blog

A tale of two brothers

To a large extent, success within No More Homeless Pets depends upon a business-minded, measurement  approach. But, at heart, it’s still all about single acts of kindness, one at a time.

There are always two conversations going on within the animal welfare movement: One is about the big picture  — strategy, numbers, trends, policy and programs. The other is about the little picture — this dog or that cat, rat, parrot, ferret, bunny or whatever.

Here’s a story right from the heart of the little picture. It’s about Milo and Simon (pictured above), two kitten brothers who could have popped right out of a cartoon. They were black and white with perpetually surprised eyes and all the mischief of a pair of raccoons in an old Walt Disney nature movie.

For several months, Milo and Simon kept themselves, and the rest of us, hugely entertained, oblivious to the curse that hung over their heads — they came to Best Friends with feline leukemia, a virus that takes its worst toll on kittens.

In the “big picture” approach to animal rescue, these two, whose chances of surviving their first birthday were slim, would have been put down immediately to make room for healthy cats who might otherwise die for lack of a home. It would have been quite reasonable and understandable considering the bigger picture. But, the person who took them from the person who rescued them as part of a litter of feral kittens wasn’t looking at the bigger picture. She was looking at two saucer-eyed darlings, with no signs of illness and with energy to burn and charisma to spare. And by the time they reached the age that a valid blood test could be performed, it was way too late for them to become mere statistics in the big picture.

Their future was a crapshoot. Sometimes, kittens with fe-leuk go on to blossom and live reasonably long lives. More often, they just fade. The immediate problem with Milo and Simon, however, was to find a place for them to explore their uncertain future without the risk of infecting healthy cats or being exposed themselves to any of the routine “kittenhood” illnesses that could wreak havoc with their weakened immune system.

Judah Battista, then manager of the Best Friends clinic, decided to give Milo and Simon a home, knowing full well that anything could happen. And for a while it did! The little monsters were anywhere and everywhere, especially at 5 a.m. when they would tear around his house like a pair of squirrels chasing each other around the trunk of a tree. When interrupted, their heads would pop up in unison with that “who me?” look of surprise. It’s hard to imagine two more lovable and cute young cats.

And then it happened. First, Milo began to tire of play, and would sleep just a bit more than normal. Then he grew weaker and weaker, despite every traditional and alternative immune-boosting and blood-building therapy. Eventually, it was time to spare him the suffering of a life that no longer had any quality.

Soon after, Simon’s life took the same course.

So, why am I telling you this bittersweet tale? It’s because the small picture of individual lives, with all their joy and sadness, has a way of getting in the way for people whose main concern is the “big picture” — whether in the humane world or in the world of human affairs just generally.

I’ve worked with a lot of big picture humane organizations, and they often have a way of divorcing themselves from the messy and unpleasant details of the fate of individual animals and the “crazy animal people” who advocate for them. Whenever they do this, they leave something of themselves behind: their heart.

That doesn’t mean for a moment that they don’t care. Quite the opposite. They have often been torn apart by the emotions — their own and those of the grassroots animal people who come to them for help — of all those individual small pictures.

The solution that big picture organizations try to impose on the humane movement is to lay out straight lines, clear strategies and firm policies. But for the grassroots groups, and the animals themselves, every homeless pet is the next in a million exception to any rule one might wish to impose.

And the story of Milo and Simon is just another of those exceptions: a story of the heart and soul, and a story of simple acts of kindness from the time of their rescue to the time of their passing.

Any big picture solution that isn’t rooted in simple acts of kindness simply will not work.

Francis Battista
Co-Founder, Best Friends Animal Society

* Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in the 2003 March/April edition of the Best Friends magazine

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  • Cambridge RatMom

    Thanks for this story. I’m guessing many of us are small-picture people. We see the individual animal and we respond. I know I have. Thanks for giving theses little ones the best days of their lives. They lived in love and joy and were kittens as long as they could be. And when they could no longer enjoy themselves, they were spared the difficulty their disease would have made for them. RIP, little ones.

  • Missieburden

    Very bittersweet and what beautiful kitties… I am sure they share a special place in heaven.

  • This is a lovely story it helps me remember some of my short-lived rescues with a little less heartache. They certainly had more fun at my house than where I found them ! I work for human hospice and we have the same philosophy -quality time outweighs quantity time every time !

    • Marie Tagenius

      You are so right about Quality over Quantity.  The place Milo & Simon were rescued from was anything but ideal.  They were loved in their short time on this earth with us… but always remember how sad it would have been when getting sick while outside fending for themselves.

  • I love this, that person gave these kittens time to play and share the world together before they died. I am sure God smiled at this. This is the heart of animal rescue . I work for human hospice and we have the same philosophy =quality time outweighs quantity time every time !
    Thanks for sharing this lovely story. It helps me remember my short -lived animal babies with a little less heartache !

  • Nannypedia

    I never feel like I am adopting a cat; I am adopting a “story”. Currently I have 3 which is what my ecosystem will support!

    • Cambridge RatMom

      Love your phrase “what my ecosystem will support.” Now I have a name  for it. Thanks.

  • Amen

  • Sheilamolenkamp

    We adopted a homeless cat who was around 1 year old. When we took her in to have her spayed the vet discovered 8 dead, decaying kittens inside of her. She was tested for feline leukemia and tested positive. We decided that we would give her the best life we could with what ever time she had. She lived to be 9 years old and died of breast cancer. She had a great many happy days and times and gave us much joy. I have never regretted our decision to give her a chance. 
    it is very sad that many people put down cats who have feline leukemia. They may have many good years ahead of them.   

    Sheila E. Molenkamp

  • Marie Tagenius

    I remember these guys… have some pictures I took of them myself when they were in their foster place, where I personally helped care for them. They were so amazingly sweet and well loved.  However, when it became clear that they would be impossible to place because of the FeLV it was amazing that Best Friends’ stepped up to allow them a full life as long as they could live it. 

  • Becky Dodge

    I guess I’m a “small picture” sort of person. All of my adopted dogs have had some problems either when I adopted them or issues I found out about later – from infections and injuries when I found them, to being heartworm positive when adopted, to being senior dogs, to having allergy issues which require special food, etc. As some one in one of the comments said they all are worthwhile and all have given me so much over the years and I doubt seriously that I’m going to stop “getting suckered in” by a face, a pair of eyes, etc. any time soon. Each time after one passes I tell myself that now is the time to stop but sooner or later I see one who grabs my heart and so I give in again. I’ve adopted 10 dogs since 1995, all either adult or senior (one as old as 15) and one of those lived with me for only a month before she passed. Four are currently living. The other six have gone ahead of me but I love all of them, living and dead, and remember them all as clearly now as when they were standing in my living room getting excited about food, loving, or just sleeping on the sofa insisting on laying a paw or a head on my lap.

  • Anonymous

    A very touching story.  They are all worth saving and all special.  It’s just heartbreaking when you know you can’t save them all.  But you think about the animal or animals you did give a loving home to and a quality of life and you have to be happy for that.  That is what keeps you from being overwhelmed by sadness for all the others that you cannot help.  Somewhere down the road I know there will be less animals needing to find a loving home.  Things are definitely going in the right direction now towards that goal.  

  • Lovefelines2003

    Great post, Francis.  I see this all the time here in Los Angeles at the shelters and it’s heartbreaking when one only sees the bigger picture, because there are thousands and thousands of stories about individual animals that aren’t so big, but are just as important and do ultimately, lead straight to the bigger picture.  Thanks to your son Judah for giving these sweet kitties a loving and safe home for as long as they were able to live a quality filled life.

  • stanley’s mom

    this post really resonated with me…i feel like i used to use those “straight lines” as a reason to not be more involved, even though i have always tried to find furry friends who i thought might be less appealing to the white picket fence folks (unfair stereotype, i know).

    my life and feelings changed forever when it was time for my husband and i to adopt our first dog together. i had always wanted to focus my dog adoption as an adult on seniors, but my husband had less dog experience and i wanted to let him drive our search. then i saw a dog and something just told me to pass him along. my husband was on the phone finding out about this overweight senior elkhound right away -we just knew. stanley was 110% overweight, but otherwise seemingly healthy. 2 years later, our lives have changed forever and he is literally half the dog he used to be. recently, we discovered that his heartworm status was overlooked in the re-homing process and he has tested positive. he’s been such a miracle dog that we are convinced that he has one more miracle in him for his 12th birthday.

    i share our story not only because he is such a special guy, but mostly because shelters like homeward pet adoption in woodinville, wa are taking chances on dogs like stanley that no one else would. they gave him an opportunity to find his furever home and we are so incredibly grateful that they gave us the chance to find him. it has forever changed my ideas about who is “worth” saving and has really helped recommit me to a greater level of involvement in rescue. as i’ve read this series of posts about no kill philosophies it makes me thankful that somewhere at some time, someone said “we can do better” those people made it possible for us to have our heart dog with us (sitting her napping in his thundershirt!) and no matter what the future brings, these two years have been an incredible treasure for us.