How I learned to stop worrying and love kittens
April 19, 2013
That’s right . . . I haven’t always loved kittens. In fact, my time working at an animal shelter taught me to dread them. Kitten seasons, especially the ones that started early and ended late, were bad news for us, and even worse news for the adult cats surrendered to the shelter. Older cats, sometimes even those barely out of adolescence, just couldn’t compete. Adopters were drawn to the cute little ones while the others, as we euphemistically said, ran out of time.
In doing humane education, I heard people ask why they couldn’t let their cat have just one litter before she was spayed. Parents really wanted their children to experience the miracle of birth, and the fun of watching kittens grow up. On particularly difficult days during peak kitten season, I had to stop myself from saying, “Why don’t you meet me at the shelter this evening so we can share the miracle of death.” Instead, I explained the problems of overpopulation in the most helpful words I could find. And I encouraged parents to turn on the Nature Channel more often.
As happens in that line of work, I relied on some interesting coping skills. One of them was shutting kittens out altogether. I knew they would be adopted, and that they would get plenty of attention from others at the shelter. So, I focused on the adults, doubling my efforts to get their stories into the world. Twice a month, I took older cats to a local TV station for a Saturday morning pet feature. I touted the benefits of adopting “experienced” cats, ones who would not required kitten-proofing a house. Usually, there was someone waiting to meet the new star when I returned to the shelter, but not always. Kitten season was hell.
When a friend sent me the link to the Kitten Cam last year, I initially resisted. And yes, I judged. Purrfect Pals volunteer John Bartlett has fostered 37 litters of kittens, the last several of them on camera. At the time I tuned in, the Scientist Kittens were in residence, still tiny things with their thin, patient mother, almost a kitten herself. I watched for a few minutes, felt my blood pressure elevate, and walked away from the computer. John seemed like a nice, sensible man, and I knew Purrfect Pals to be a solid organization, fully committed to helping cats in all circumstances. Why then, I wondered, had they colluded to promote kittens? How in the world could I condone this blatant irresponsibility by watching even casually?
I had a lot of thawing to do, and the last several months have brought a big and welcome melt. I started watching the kittens in the evening after work, and before long I left the livestream running on my computer while I worked. I got hooked, and, oh my gods, realized how much fun it is to watch kittens open their eyes, learn to walk, and tussle with each other right up to adoption day. With my early warning system completely disabled, I suddenly understood why parents would want their kids to watch this.
And the best thing is, they can. John and Purrfect Pals are brilliant. People of all ages can get involved – and involvement is what happens – and it is even better than having to clean up after a litter in your own home. Plus, it is obvious how many resources go into raising kittens. Watch John, admittedly a model foster parent, and you’ll see how much time, energy, and money it takes to do this right. People inclined to let their cat have that one batch of kittens should witness the entire process on the Kitten Cam.
So, learning to love kittens is changing my life. For the first time in years, I feel energized about rescue work, and understand it can be a very different experience than what I knew in the past. In addition to the connections many of us have made through the Kitten Cam, we regularly celebrate the creativity of people who have fallen under its spell. These cats inspire their fans to be creative. From making wonderful videos and needle-felting tiny kittens, drawing pencil portraits and setting up a Café Press shop, people engage with their hearts and hands. This is the future of rescue work. It is truly an act of love. And yes, it is fun!
Watching the Scientist family last year, I remembered how much I wanted to create a book about rescued cats. I couldn’t even begin to do it until I let myself fall in love with kittens. It was appropriate that my first reconnection was a paper collage portrait of Ellie Marie and her family. I am happy to say that I am moving forward with the book project, and have just finished a portrait of sweet Penny (earlier known as Newt), one of Ripley’s kittens. She is the first of 13 Purrfect Pals cats who will receive a quilt and have her story told in collage and words.
Here’s to kitten power. Oh yes, keep spreading the word: don’t wait to have your cat spayed!