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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!

Science Family Portrait

Science Family Portrait

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!


Post a comment
  1. April 19, 2013

    I’d add that getting to know the personalities of each cat, especially the mother cats, has a great value for potential adopters. What a great way to promote adopting older cats then to see how they play and interact with other cats and people.

    • April 19, 2013

      Good point! Funny thing is that many of these moms are young themselves, and finally get to release their inner kitten once they are in their new homes. It’s the best of all worlds for their adopters.

  2. April 20, 2013

    I agree. I think the fact that all of the kitten cam mamas have found loving homes, most on adoption day, shows that by letting viewers get to know and love the mothers, they see the virtues of adopting adults.

  3. April 21, 2013

    Beautiful story, and lovely portrait and quitl! Thanks for sharing!

  4. S. Pace #
    April 21, 2013

    I would add that this hopefully would give “miracle of birth” parents encouragement to foster shelter newborns rather than add to the problem with “just one litter.”

    • April 21, 2013

      Yes! With good parental guidance, fostering can be a great family experience, with children learning about both the responsibilities and joys of caring for other beings.

  5. Amanda #
    April 22, 2013

    My friend found a stray pregnant kitty…what should she do??

    • April 23, 2013

      Amanda, since I am not sure where you live, I can give only general suggestions here. First, look for a shelter or rescue organization, preferably one with a good foster network to care for mama cats and their kittens. Shelters that operate without an explicit no-kill policy, and do not have foster care in place, may choose to euthanize a pregnant cat. It is important to ask about these policies before taking this little stray into a shelter. And if you or your friend are ready for the adventure of fostering her and the kittens yourselves, there are good resources to support you in doing the best for the felines, right up to finding them all homes when they are old enough (and have themselves been spayed and neutered!). Good luck to you!

  6. Kit #
    April 30, 2013

    What a wonderful project! Love the collage of Ellie Marie and her babies. I wish there was one for the gorgeous Bishop. Penny (Newt) is overrated in my opinion. Her fans are obnoxious, too. They incessantly fawn over her and mention her at inopportune times. One person from Germany constantly spams “Newt is Cute!!!” on posts that have nothing to do with her. Ugh. So grateful that you’ve included the stunning Ripley. Looking forward to it. I also hope you feature cats from other Purrfect Pals fosters and not just from John Bartlett. There are many deserving and loving cats that are not featured on a kitty cam. Plus adult cats are awesome, and not just kittens. People just don’t want to deal with the baggage that may come with an adult cat. Sad. Apologizes for the long comment. Delete at your leisure.

    • April 30, 2013

      I have two replies to your comment. First, while constantly amazed by the fan base inspired by the Kitten Cam, I am aware of the better-worse aspects of this kind of public interest. On the plus side are all the people inspired to foster on their own, and in the minus column are fans whose behavior may be less than appropriate. On the whole, this phenomenon has brought together community, and I am glad to be part of it. Next, I’ve already shared pictures of quilts made for Kitten Cam fosters, but the project features many different Purrfect Pals cats, mostly adults, and many considered “special needs” animals. The first quilts I made for this have already gone to 3 older cats, rescued from a breeder, who arrived in poor condition with almost no socialization. They have had their quilts while in foster care, and I have been waiting for their story to continue in new home(s) before I start their portraits. I will also be creating quilts/portraits for cats adopted from Purrfect Pal’s FIV-land, Leuki-land, and other areas of the shelter. Every cat has a story to open eyes and hearts, and that is the point of this project. Hope you will keep following!

  7. May 10, 2013

    I do love kittens – but over *there* , not here, in my house. I know I don’t have the time, the patience, or really the skills to properly raise and socialize a kitten (and the one cat we’ve had since she was 8 weeks old is living, schizophrenic proof of that). FDJ and the other kitten fosterers have my utmost respect for their selfless willingness to give these babies a good, solid start in life, and I bless the ones who share stories and cams, because it means I can share in the beauty and sheer joy of kittenhood, without worrying about screwing up the kids for the rest of their lives.

    Also, given the last few batches of fosters, it means someone else is being woken up in the middle of the night by the escapades, which is a major plus.

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