Scooping up life’s lessons

I was looking for The Republic’s table at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair when I ran into Keisha Keen. She was staffing a table representing the organization she founded (and that I was lucky enough to write about in last year’s August edition of She), The Litter Box Kitty Rescue. After exchanging pleasantries and congratulations — in the past year, Keen moved her rescue kitties into the kiosk at Petco, giving them more visibility and greater odds for adoption — an idea hit me.

“Keisha, do you need any cage cleaners for the Petco kitties?” I asked. This wasn’t a completely spontaneous query; during four-and-a-half years of my life in Indy, until I moved to Columbus in spring 2014, I’d cleaned cages for a cat rescue group that also had space in Petco. I knew the drill.

Always a nonprofit pro and master of scheduling volunteers, Keen was ready with the open shifts.

“I need cleaners for Sunday evening,” she said. I promised her I would think about it and let her know, but I knew I was going to take that shift. The following Sunday, I met Keen and her husband to learn the drill, and now, on each Sunday until infinity, I will be there, paper towels in one hand and scooper in another, serving the needs of some of Columbus’ finest adoptable kitties.

It’s funny to think that someone might miss cleaning litterboxes, but I did. It’s actually here, working in these little feline domiciles, that I’ve learned some of my best lessons.

I’ve learned that there’s nothing quite as messy as a kitten with digestive troubles, but that, with a little elbow grease, everything can be cleaned and set right. I’ve learned that, when cleaning windows, one should wipe horizontally on one side and vertically on the other. Most importantly, I’ve learned to love fearlessly.

When I tell folks that I do animal work, a standard reaction is: “Oh, that’s so sad. Those poor kitties! How do you do it?” My response is that one needs to reframe the situation. Rather than focus on the sad part, I choose to think of these cats as lucky. They’ve been placed in a great organization, and they are headed on to a fully vetted home where they will be cooed at and cosseted. I get to be there with these cats on a portion of the journey to the home of their dreams. I get to ensure that, for the amount of time that my shift takes, they hear a gentle voice, that they can play with the laces of my battered purple sneakers and that they have kisses softly rained down on them.

And I extend that into the world at large: Never let the potential for sadness hold you back from doing anything. Every time we set a purple-sneakered foot out our front door, there is a possibility that we will encounter sadness. It’s sort of a contract we make with life, whether we’re talking about romantic love or scooping up litterboxes for cats who are not ours; sadness is around every corner but, in balance, so is satisfaction beyond our wildest dreams.

Now pass me that scooper.

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Jenny Elig is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at or 812-379-5671.