You know that story about the man on the beach? He’s walking along and he sees masses of starfish washed up onto the shore. Hundreds, maybe thousands of starfish. And he’s walking and contemplating these thousands of dead and dying starfish and he sees a little boy. Little boy is picking up starfish, one at a time, and flinging them back into the ocean.
And the man says, What are you doing? You can’t possibly throw back all those starfish! It doesn’t make a difference!
The little boy, in his innocent childish wisdom picks up another starfish, and flings it overhand into the water. No, he says, but I made a difference for that one.
I fucking hate that story.
I once interviewed a girl who told that story as an example of why social change is important. She mistakenly substituted seahorses for starfish, which is a slightly less picturesque. She didn’t get the job.
Also, the boy would have been infinitely more effective if he’d canvassed the neighborhood for other people who were upset by all those dead starfish and organized them to strengthen pollution laws in their little seaside town. You have to think big picture, little boy.
So I adopted a cat a few weeks ago. (A non sequitur like that probably deserved some kind of disclaimer. Sorry.) And the cat adoption process works something like this: you answer a few questions about yourself and your lifestyle. You tour the cat barracks where 60 or 70 cats are sleeping and write down the ones you find appealing. Your adoption counselor facilitates your meetings with a few cats while you decide which one to take home.
So that’s how Zelda Fitzgerald came to live with me. And hide under my couch, meow all night, puke on my bedroom floor and get a $183 ear infection.
She’s my starfish, right? No matter what happened to all those other cats, Zelda has a couch to shred, a trash can to spill and her own, private box to poop in.
Except that I don’t feel that way at all.
I love my cat. I have no doubt that we made the best possible choice. But I keep thinking about how unfair life is for all those other cats. I mean, yeah, there were a lot of people looking to adopt pets that Saturday. But the shelter was running a “buy one, get one free” special on their cats. Actually, it was “buy one, get one of equal or lesser value,” because if you got a kitten (more expensive) you got an adult cat free. This is generally a bad sign. “Buy one, get one free” is retail code for “jesus h. christ we can’t get rid of these things fast enough!” If your grocery store ever runs a “buy one, get one” sale, check expiration dates.
I think about these other cats a lot. Maybe I should have gotten two. Or three, you know? Cats are small. So is my apartment, but that’s not a big deal. I still remember their silly shelter names. KitKat was super fluffy and had a weight problem. And a cold, so she snuffled and purred on my lap. Foccacia was apparently depressed because he’d been in the shelter so long. There was Sophie, who Dan liked but we did not even get to meet. And a grey cat whose head was too big for his body. Buster was an orange tabby.
This is partially a function of my conviction that everyone in the world is an idiot; therefore, no one is really qualified to give these cats a home except for me and maybe four people I can think of. I don’t feel this kind of guilt toward homeless people. And I imagine the cats at the Dumb Friends League are better provided for than the average resident of a homeless shelter in Denver. At least the cats get regular veterinary care.
I don’t think Zelda Fitzgerald feels guilty. At this point she probably can’t remember the shelter or the other cats or much besides the fact that we played with a ribbon five minutes ago and that was fun.