A couple of weeks ago, a picture was shared on our Facebook page that, according to Facebook, reached 25,000 people with 3.400 of them engaging with the post through "likes", comments or shares. The picture was a collage of 12 adoptable pets considered "long term shelter residents" who have been waiting far too long for their forever home - from 52 to 757 days.
Despite the considerable social media attention the post received, nine of those pets are still waiting, continuing to be overlooked, day after day.
Perhaps part of the reason can be found in a quote by Mother Teresa: "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." Seeing groups of animals in need can be emotionally overwhelming and make the problem seem too big for any one person to help, which results in inaction.
Being presented with one however, just one individual pet in need, often sparks a deeper connection and an urgency for action. With that intention in mind, I'd like to tell you about just one of the adoptable pets in that photo, Eris.
Eris is a 3 1/2 year old grey tabby feline female who came to the SPCA Albrecht Center as a stray kitten in August of 2015. She was adopted three months later and lived with her family until February, 2018 when she was returned to the shelter.
The reason given for her return was that she didn't get along anymore with the other pets in the house. Assuming that she did get along with them for the majority of the two years in her home, there must have been a reason for her change in behavior.
An examination by our veterinary care team uncovered what that change was. Eris had developed a vision problem, and was likely lashing out at the other pets because she could no longer see them well enough to anticipate their approach or sudden movements.
Further examination by a veterinary ophthalmologist, provided by a generous supporter, resulted in a diagnosis of a form of macular degeneration, a medical condition which results in blurry or no vision in the center of the visual field and a cloudy appearance to the eyes.
Thankfully, Eris is not in pain and she seems to have at least some vision, though it may be limited to lights, shadows and shapes. Knowing this, and seeing that Eris was otherwise friendly and affectionate, she was placed back on the adoption floor.
Eris lives in a nice-sized enclosure, situated in the shelter lobby among other adoptable cats in their own enclosures with a window overlooking a courtyard and within easy access of visitors, volunteers and staff members.
Since I walk past her enclosure each time I enter or exit the building, it's become routine to slide open her door and say hello. She's become accustomed to expecting a treat or two when this happens, which I try to restrict to the first and last visits of the day.
Eris can be standoffish with new people and like any cat, can sometimes decide she's had enough attention and hiss or even nip to let you know. But she can also be very loving, she likes head scratches, belly rubs (if you dare) and lap time. Catnip brings out her playful side and she absolutely loves to eat.
She recently demonstrated surprising confidence when allowed to roam the empty lobby floor for a few minutes. She investigated fixtures and corners with a relaxed stride and a happy, vertical tail.
All of this probably sounds to you like Eris has a safe, comfortable life at the shelter. She does, and will for as long as she remains there. But for every day that Eris occupies her enclosure, that's one day less that another homeless cat could.
And an animal shelter, no matter how nice, is not a the same as a home. Sure Eris' basic needs are met, and she receives attention and love, but often times when observing her through the glass door, she seems lonely, and sad.
Eris' condition and behavior history restricts her from having roommates, and most visitors, are turned off by the appearance of her eyes and with no eye contact, aren't able to establish a connection. Even with regular visits from staff and volunteers, most of her time is sadly spent alone.
Eris deserves a better life - a forever home with a family of her own. Please help us find that for her. The ideal home would be without young children or other pets and in an environment that doesn't often change. She absolutely must be an indoor-only cat and she is litter box trained. For more information about Eris, call 803-648-6863 or visit her at 199 Willow Run Road in Aiken.
Sarah Neikam is the Operations Manager for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the Albrecht Center since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA Albrecht Center.