Poupack and Shiboo

Poupack braced herself against the blowing snow as the made her way towards her apartment building. Her hands and feet had begun to tingle in the biting Nebraska weather. No creature should have been outside in the miserable winter, but shivering next to Poupack’s apartment building was a black cat.

Poupack ran upstairs to her apartment for food. She and her husband didn’t own any cats, which meant they didn’t have any cat food on hand. Poupack settled for a piece of sausage. “The cat ate the sausage very fast,” Poupack said, “and I could hear her saying what sounded like ‘yum, yum, yum’.”

After the hungry cat had gobbled down the sausage, Poupack gestured to the cat to come inside with her. The cat backed away in fear.

For the rest of the evening, Poupack worried about the stray cat. She fell asleep dreaming that she had a black cat of her own.

While attending her university classes the next day, Poupack continued to think of the stray cat. She watched the minutes tick by and could hardly wait to drive home to see if the cat reappeared. To her delight, it did. Poupack wasted no time heading to the store for cat food.

Shiboo in her adopted home, Photo from Poupack
Shiboo in her adopted home, Photo from Poupack

She treated the cat daily to milk and food. Within a few days, the cat braved the threshold of Poupack’s apartment and ventured inside. Poupack had no qualms about spoiling the cat and soon her new companion was returning to her apartment every evening, where she would sleep on blankets surrounded by cat toys. “She became a good friend of mine. She purred in her blanket, and I knew she was happy,” Poupack said.

Three weeks later, on Christmas Day, it seemed as if Poupack and her husband had received a most wonderful and unexpected gift. Poupack detailed the night in a notebook: “The snow made everything white. I was making a potato soup to get warm and singing a Christmas song. That night I waited by the window, and I prepared a gift we had brought for our cat.”

But her new friend didn’t show. Poupack didn’t know what to do. As she tucked herself into bed that night, she felt sad and anxious.

The next day there was still no sign of the black cat. Poupack’s thoughts were a whirl: Did the cat get sick? Did she have food? Did she have a place to stay? “After a few days I had to accept that she was gone,” Poupack said. “Probably she went to another neighborhood.”

But while Poupack might have given up hope, she had not been forgotten by her new friend. After a long day at school, Poupack came home to the sound of a cat’s meow. Poupack shouted with joy, “This is her!” Indeed, it was her new friend. Poupack said, “She came to me, and I took her home, and I named her Shiboo.”

Poupack, her husband, and Shiboo soon became a family. Shiboo never strayed far from her new home, and she’d always come running when called. When inside, she happily received attention, and her purrs could be heard throughout the house.

Their story could have ended here but in March another surprise awaited Poupack and her husband. For several weeks, Shiboo had been eating more than normal, and putting on weight. “I thought maybe she is growing up or maybe she is getting chubbier,” Poupack explained.

In her notebook, Poupack wrote: I was getting ready for spring. The weather was still cold, but the birds were chirping. I fed Shiboo as usual, but she wasn’t very energetic. She laid down and she fell asleep.

In the morning, Poupack woke to hear small mews. “I thought I was dreaming,” a teary-eyed Poupack wrote in her notebook, as she described her discovery that Shiboo was a mother. “The kittens were very small and cute. Two of them were gray, two were black, and one was gray and black. I touched them. They were tiny, and they were drinking their mom’s milk. I put Shiboo and all her babies in a box. I was happy, and I went back to sleep. That night I got a special gift.”

Stan in his adopted home, Photo provided
Stan in his adopted home, Photo provided

Fast forward to May. Raising five kittens is a lot of work for anyone, let alone for a couple who had little experience with cats. By this point, the kittens were several weeks old. Poupack and her husband contacted The Cat House for help. In her notebook, Poupack wrote: Shiboo’s babies are growing up and ready to be adopted and to have their homes with other families.

On May 6, The Cat House called Andy and me. We’d been eagerly awaiting our first opportunity to foster for The Cat House, and the moment had finally arrived. That Sunday afternoon, we brought Shiboo and her kittens to our home. In my journal, I declared: In one afternoon, our household increased from three cats to nine!

Their first afternoon with us began quietly with Shiboo hiding under the bed, two kittens exploring the room, and three kittens snoozing in their crate. The calm lasted for about five minutes.

Then chaos! One kitten struggled to climb into a litter box. Another kitten crawled onto a scratching ramp. Two kittens romped on blankets. The first kitten finally succeeded in using the litter box, which meant that all the other kittens suddenly had to use the bathroom too. The kittens’ exuberantly flung cat litter everywhere. Soon one kitten was poking at Andy’s camera while another kitten was trying to haul himself onto our guest room’s bed by clawing his way up the comforter. Eventually, the kittens grew hungry and tired. Peace reigned again while they ate and slept.

In the month that followed, our days continued to be filled with a mix of calm and chaos. Shiboo warmed up to us and occasionally came out from under the bed to seek attention. The kittens clambered over us begging for food, playtime, and love. Andy and I soaked up every experience with them, feeling that we too had been a special gift in having the opportunity to foster Shiboo and her kittens.

At Poupack’s request, The Cat House had put us in touch with each other. Although Poupack and her husband were headed out-of-state to visit relatives, Poupack offered to answer any questions we might have and expressed the hope that we’d stay in touch. The same day that we brought Shiboo and the kittens home, I emailed Poupack a quick update and several photos. Every few days after that we exchanged emails. I asked what foods and toys the kittens liked best. I also shared lots of stories about them as they settled into our home and their personalities began to emerge.

On May 20, Poupack emailed to let us know that she and her husband were back in Lincoln and to ask if they could visit. They dropped by late that afternoon, bringing a thank you gift of chocolates. As soon as they saw the kittens, Poupack exclaimed, “Oh, they’ve grown!” Shiboo was hiding under the bed, but came out for food, and there was an instant connection. Poupack chattered at her, and later Poupack’s husband sat next to Shiboo and brushed her. While the kittens amused themselves with a turbo track toy, we made plans for future visits. Every few days for the next two weeks, Poupack and her husband came to see Shiboo and the kittens.

On June 1, Andy and I took countless photos and cried when we delivered Shiboo and the kittens to The Cat House. The heartache of letting them go was eased somewhat due to Poupack and her husband deciding to adopt Shiboo. Poupack’s dream of owning a black cat came true after all.

After briefly mourning her separation from her babies, Shiboo settled back into a comfortable indoor life. She ate well, slept well, and resumed the playfulness that she had lost during her pregnancy. In her fall, Poupack told me she had become used to talking with Shiboo at the end of a stressful day and giving her hugs. She also shared that Shiboo loves the puzzle toy we gave her.

Katie in her adopted home, Photo provided
Katie in her adopted home, Photo provided

Despite knowing that Shiboo had found her forever home, we missed our fosters. At the end of our June vacation, we eagerly visited Shiboo’s kittens at The Cat House. These kittens had spent a month with us, and had become part of our hearts. Seeing them again brought tears to our eyes.

Over the next few weeks, we continued to visit the kittens and rejoiced each time their numbers decreased. Katie and Chloe were the first to be adopted, then Stan, and finally Leo and Georgie were adopted as a bonded pair.

Katie’s adopter shared that, “Katie (now Finley) is doing great. She loves to snuggle and follows us from room to room. She has come to an understanding with our two dogs. They’re not exactly friends but they can sleep at separate ends of the couch together. She LOVES to play with little toy mice and will do that for hours. She has even learned not to bat them under the range or refrigerator. We absolutely love her.”

Stan’s adopter shared that, “Stan is doing well. He is the best! He bonded quickly with our ‘middle’ child cat. She’s two years old. They snuggle and play all the time. He loves to sleep with us & always falls asleep on our chests, purring very loudly. We love him dearly!”

Poupack could have ignored the hungry and shivering black cat next to her apartment building. Instead she offered her food, shelter, friendship, a name–and, finally, a home. When Poupack and her husband needed help with their unexpected cat family, we stepped in to foster Shiboo and her kittens through The Cat House. For a month, we gave of our home and our love. When the kittens were ready to be adopted, The Cat House took them into their building where they cared for them while they were visited by prospective adopters. And then as the summer wore on, each of the kittens were adopted by loving owners. So many people came together to find homes for this family of strays. My husband and I are proud to have played a part.

LAA & TCH Raised $9,000 at Meow & Chow

The ninth annual Meow and Chow, which took place the evening of October 27, raised $9,000 for Lincoln Animal Ambassador and The Cat House.

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors and The Cat House are grateful to the numerous businesses and individuals that donated food and prizes. Attendees dined on a selection of 18 soups, a dozen breads, and several desserts. About 100 prizes were won through numerous bingo games and raffle drawings. In addition, 75 people won M&M bags of various sizes.

Appreciation goes to Nature’s Variety for sponsoring the fundraiser and the Center for People in Need for offering the venue space. Also invaluable were the 50 volunteers working behind the scenes.

LAA and TCH also thanks the 200 diners who showed support by attending the event and buying raffle tickets.

By 5:30 p.m., energy ran high among diners as each table awaited their turn in the food line. Sharon, who has attended for several years, said she came to support a good cause and to reconnect with people in animal welfare. She always looks forward to trying a variety of soups.

After the meal, TCH volunteers Wayne and April Skoda called several games of bingo. Another long-time attendee, Lauren, said she appreciated that the services of LAA and TCH benefit the whole Lincoln community. Prior to attending Meow & Chow she hadn’t ever played bingo, and said she enjoys playing it.

The evening culminated in a raffle that featured an iPad, $250 Target Gift Card, Husker Football tickets for the Illinois game, and two Cat House embroidered red fleece jackets. Another long-time attendee, Mickey, declared that the whole evening was fun. She particularly likes all the opportunities to win prizes.

New this year, 12 diners entered the Halloween costume contest. The three top winners received raffle tickets and an assortment of other prizes. The winning couple dressed as superman and wonder women. Unfortunately, superman himself joked that “his kryptonite necklace may have caused them some advanced aging.”

Both Lincoln Animal Ambassadors and The Cat House are volunteer-run, and proceeds from Meow & Chow go towards their operating expenses. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors addresses the root causes of animal homelessness in the Lancaster County through a voucher-based low-cost spay/neuter program, an income-based pet food bank, and humane education. The Cat House is a no-kill shelter and adoption facility for cats in the Lincoln area. The group also runs a Trap/Neuter/Return program for feral cats.

This Is Rescue

This is rescue. Momma Jenny (perhaps one of the sweetest cats ever) found her way to us when her kittens were just wee little nuggets. They’ve been in one of our amazing foster homes and now everyone is ready to find their forever homes. —The Cat House

On July 12, Andy and I were scheduled to take our current foster kittens to The Cat House, as they had just been spayed/neutered and ready to be adopted. Then I got an email from the The Cat House’s president, asking us if we’d be willing to foster a Momma cat and her four two-week-old kittens IF no one else could do it–thinking that we would probably want a break before taking in any more cats. We wrote back immediately and told them to stop looking, that we’d take them.

Later that day, we brought in our current foster kittens and got a look at the new ones. They were so small. We’d never cared for such young kittens. But starting the very next day, they were ours. Like their mom, three of the kittens had short black hair, while one kitten was a chocolate-point Siamese. During the three months that Jenny and her kittens were in our care, we saw them grow in size and develop unique personalities. By witnessing those changes, Andy and I became even more convinced of how companionable cats can be.

To prepare for writing this article, I reread my journal entries about our cat foster family. In a space of three months, our foster kittens transformed from rat-like creatures that slept almost 24/7 in a nesting bed, to furry energetic kittens that kept us awake as they raced around the foster room. Andy and I are so sad to let them go but also so happy to have been part of this beautiful experience.

For the first few days in our home, the kittens wanted nothing to do with us but were all about their mom. If we dared to pick them up, they cried immediately for her. But then on July 15, when I held out my hand, one of the kittens clasped my fingers and my wrist.

Suddenly we became important to them. When a friend came to visit that first week, the kittens whimpered as she lifted them out of their nesting bed. But when Andy or I picked them up, they clung to us and were quiet.

When the kittens were about four weeks old, Andy and I began to give them supervised crawl time in the foster room. They explored in pairs and often on very unsteady paws. In addition, their outings were always quite short-lived. They never wanted to be far from their mom or from us. The kittens were often now extending their paws to Andy or me, and would curl up beside us on the floor.

In less than a week, the kittens began scrambling over the edge of their nesting bed and tumbling to the floor. For a day, Andy and I tried returning them to their nesting bed whenever we saw them loose. It didn’t take long before the kittens also figured out how to climb back into the nesting bed. At that point, Andy and I granted them their desire for more freedom, while also placing blankets on the floor next to the nesting bed to soften their falls.

From this point forward, it seemed as if every few days or even hours brought new changes. The kittens were now starting to look fuzzy. They were also learning to walk and run without tripping over their paws. And, to the dismay of both Jenny and us, they were showing more independence. Oh, to be sure, they still came running when called, but no sooner would they respond to our calls than they’d want to scamper off to discover their next new adventure. At the same time, the kittens weren’t ready to completely leave the nest. They still nuzzled and played with Jenny frequently. But when they weren’t with their mother, the kittens wanted to climb our legs, our arms, our chest, and our faces to sniff and to nibble. But even as they climbed on us, their need for independence was growing more apparent. If they began to slip on their ascent, rather than let me help, they’d dig in their claws and doggedly find a way to cling to my clothes or skin.

At the turn of the month, two more major changes happened. First, the kittens began to pee on the floor, therefore letting us know that they were ready to use the litter box. Andy and I began putting them into the litter box right after they woke up or nursed with Jenny. Of course, there had to be that one kitten who tried to eat the litter. Soon after, Skippyjon lightened the mood with comical expressions on his face as he tried to poop. We couldn’t have been prouder pet foster parents that week, due to the simple accomplishment of our kittens learning to use the litter box.

The second change was the gradual introduction of canned kitten food. We started them on a soupy pate. Sprockets and Pixel Immediately understood what they were supposed to do and began licking the food. Miss Minoes waited until her mom ate but then followed her lead. Skippyjon for some reason wanted nothing to do with even the softest food and refused for days to eat it. Once in a while, he gave in and ate from my hand. It wasn’t until August that Skippyjon began to eat as often as the others. By that point, the kittens were also beginning to try dry food. Andy and I were also monitoring their progress by regularly weighing them.

In early August, our friend came back to see the kittens, and her first reaction was: “They’ve gotten so big!” In contrast to her visit, the kittens now allowed her to pick them up and hold them to her chest. In fact, they acted like Velcro, sticking to her feet and her hands. Our friend’s husband also came, and the kittens took a fancy to his hair. Over the weeks that followed, as we invited over more friends, the kittens became more and more social. At the same time, by the end of each visit, the kittens were ready to retire with Jenny and with us.

As the kittens came into their own there were still many changes to come, starting with that of appearance. The eyes of the three black kittens turned green, while the eyes of the Siamese kitten stayed blue. In addition, their teeth and nails were growing longer, an event which led to our common refrain of “OW!” as the kittens started to bite and scratch. I began to wonder if any of our clothes would maintain a respectable appearance. To my relief, the kittens began to figure out how to use scratching posts and to play with toys. The kittens also began to change in other ways too. For example, they became more adept at climbing and jumping, which meant there was soon no stopping them from claiming the human bed in the foster room as their own.

Andy and I introduced Jenny and the kittens to more and more adventures. We banished our own pets from the living room and blocked the doorway, so that our foster cat family could explore the living room in peace. There, the kittens wasted no time investigating our shoe rack, the plush cat mouse bed, the cardboard cat castle, and the cat tree. Upon other occasions, we gave our pets the run of the basement, while our foster cat family could have free rein of the entire main floor. They began to demand those adventures, with the result that we often had to restrain them from rushing past us each time we opened the door to the foster room.

Yet no matter how independent they became, they never stopped desiring human contact. When in the living room, they regularly sought us out on the recliner, where they learned to coax for treats and fall asleep on our laps. In addition, when Andy and I chose instead to hang out in the foster room, they acted no less happy. They climbed on us, played games on Andy’s tablet, and listened to me read. Perhaps most special to me is that when I slept in the room with them, they’d all snuggle atop or next to me throughout the night.

What about Jenny during all this time? Foremost, she was a dedicated mom. In her earliest days at our home, she never left her kittens’ side other than to eat and drink. When with them, she wrapped all four legs around them to keep them warm. If the space where she chose to nest them was cramped, she’d lie in whatever position necessary to provide them room. When she did leave to eat or drink, she immediately returned to them if they gave the slightest whimper.

Jenny was also a protective mom. For some reason she viewed Andy and me as safe, but if she heard any of our pets outside the foster room she instantly bolted upright and hissed. The few times we accidentally neglected to completely close the foster door, rather than having to look for her in the house, we found her standing guard behind the door.

As the kittens matured, we saw yet another example of her love. Multiple times, I’d find Jenny playing with one or more of the kittens. They’d stretch out together, she’d wrap her front paws around them, and they’d tussle.

At the same time, Jenny was a complicated creature to figure out. From almost the very start, Jenny meowed plaintively at the door of the foster room and nothing we did ever completely alleviated it. During our stay with us, her need to be out and about went in waves. At times, just being allowed to roam the house would relax her to the point that she purred. Other times, nothing seemed to satisfy, and more than once she banged against and/or knocked over barriers.

At least some of her restlessness had to be due to her being a mom. Perhaps now that the kittens had less need of her, Jenny felt compelled to meet more of her own needs. Or maybe now that the kittens were straying more often from the nest, Jenny’s maternal instincts also hit full gear. At any rate, when we decided to allow the kittens crawl time, Jenny often worked against us by scruffing the kittens and returning them to their nesting bed. Once the kittens started to venture out without our help, Jenny showed her displeasure by pacing the floor until all four had returned to the nest. As time went on, some of her unhappiness might also have been due to her not wanting to let go of her kittens. When the kittens began to seek us out, Jenny would at times interrupt their snuggle time by calling them persistently until they returned to her to nurse.

Mid-September, Andy and I received word that it was time to bring Jenny and her charges to The Cat House. In the weeks following, we’ve visited The Cat House weekly. I’m glad to report positive changes in Jenny. Andy and I long suspected that Jenny might have been an outdoor cat and wasn’t comfortable being cooped inside. Even if this is true, motherhood must also have been a factor in her restlessness. Near the end of her time with us, Jenny had begun to play with toys and to coax me for ice-cream. Since bringing her to The Cat House, we’ve seen her toss around toys, and even scamper in play. It’ll be interesting to how she matures as she becomes a cat in her own right without babies to watch.

For a while, I’ve wanted to write about our most recent fostering experiences. Yet the focus for an article remained unclear until Andy shared with me that these particular kittens helped him see how strongly dogs and cats need human companionship.

“I think it’s fascinating that, in spite of how little time we spend with them, they’re so strongly drawn to us,” Andy wrote in an email. “As soon as I go in the room, they immediately start trying to crawl up my legs! Why? What have I done that makes them want to be with me? I don’t hand-feed them. I try to play with them, but can they really have more fun playing with me than they have playing with each other? I don’t think so. I pet them a lot, but I’ve never seen any signs that they really enjoy being petted. And yet they want to be with us. It really seems like they have this innate desire to be with people. It’s weird but cool.”

I’d take his observation a step further to say that I see parallels between caring for kittens and human parenting. Recently, as a greeter at the church I attend, I watched a mother with her baby. The child reached out with his hands to grab at her hair and it felt like déjà vu. Over the summer months, our foster kitten Miss Minoes had developed that same exact habit with me. One online parenting article suggested that being able to grab at things is a milestone for human babies. It’s the first step to more interactive play. And this is exactly what I saw in Miss Minoes. She progressed from having no interest in me, to wrapping her paw around me, to extending her paws so that I’d hold her, to playing with me.

As I reread my journal entries, there’s another parallel that stood out to me about parenting, which I didn’t comprehend at the time. As objective as I tried to make them, my journal entries show a gradual progression from excitement of fostering two-week-old kittens, to a pleasure in how adoring the kittens were, to a state of exhaustion. Every day became about cleaning litter, changing dishes, grooming, and entertaining our charges. When I lamented this once to my dad, he reminded me that it’s caring for children (albeit in our case the feline kind) is tiring but worth it. By late August, my journals again began to reflect how blessed Andy and I felt in our role. When the time came to let them go, we were relieved for a break but also very certain that fostering is something we’ll do again next spring, and the following spring, and….

I recently read an article which reiterated what I consider to be a misconception about cats. The article contended that because some cats are affectionate while others are standoffish, they defy logic and remain a perpetual puzzle. The more cats I meet, the less sense this makes. Some people are affectionate while others are standoffish. Some dogs are affectionate while others are standoffish. And the list goes on. To me, the more social skills that dogs, cats, and people learn during their formative years, the greater the likelihood that they’re going to turn out social as adults. At the same time, even children who are raised in the same home and in a similar way can turn out different, because people’s personalities and the experiences that shape them are unique. Some will be extroverted, some introverted. Some will be excitable, some will be calm. Some will be mischievous, some will be well behave. I believe the same holds true for cats. And so even though Sprockets, Pixel, Miss Minoes, and Skippyjon grew up under our care, they vary in how affectionate and playful and serious they are. I don’t think this defies logic. I think this makes them no different from any other creatures. Including people.

As I write this article, eight of our fourteen foster cats have been adopted, while six remain at The Cat House. All of them are loving and entertaining. Please consider welcoming one of them into your home. And if you do, please send me updates!

Editor’s Note: Two of our remaining fosters at The Cat House are Nacho and Taco. Their photos are below. Whenever we visit The Cat House, Nacho wants lap time. His sister, Taco, always enjoys a good play session. The two are a bonded pair.

Kitten 101, According to Nacho, Taco, Queso, and Sopa

THE FIRST DAY

The four kittens arrived at their new temporary home. Their pet foster parents took turns welcoming each of them by saying their names and hugging them. Then the pet foster parents quietly slipped out of the room and eased the door shut behind them.

The four kittens looked up and down and around their room. They whimpered a little, and then were drawn to a cat bed that had a familiar smell. The kittens realized it was a bed from their previous home and were comforted to have found something familiar in this new place. Nacho wrapped his paws around his siblings, and they snuggled into him. He could feel them quivering and tried to reassure them.

NACHO: What did mom say to look for? Water, food, and litter box. All check!

QUESO: I miss our last foster home.

SOPA: I can’t sleep.

TACO: It’s too quiet. There are no children.

NACHO: There’s also a people bed, a scratching post, and lots of cat blankets!

The other kittens peeked over the top of their bed. Their eyes scanned left and right. The walls were a calming ocean green color. Bright sunshine danced across the hardwood floor. But nothing cheered them. They hunkered back into their bed.

Nacho tried again to boost their spirits. He reported that there were fluffy pillows and a thick comforter on the people bed. Queso shrugged and Sopa turned her head away, but Taco sat up to check out the room for herself.

TACO: I dare you to climb the people bed!

QUESO: Let me sleep.

NACHO: There are lots of toys here. Who wants to play?

SOPA: I want mom.

The door to their room opened, and the pet foster parents entered with bowls. They placed the bowls under the foot of the bed. The kittens could see that two were full of water. Now they were scooping food into the other bowls. They stopped to smile at the kittens. They reached out their hands and gently patted each of the kittens on the head. The woman told them they were cute and took something out of her pocket. Then she snapped a picture.

None of the kittens moved until the pet foster parents had gone. Only then did they venture out of the bed to eat. After their tummies were full, they immediately returned to their bed.

The evening stretched into night. One by one the kittens yawned. Purrs arose from them as they fell asleep, holding and comforting one another.

DAY TWO

The first rays of a new day filtered into the room and woke Nacho. He wanted to explore their new home, but he didn’t want to disturb the others. Instead he stayed perfectly still and tried to think of how he’d help them adjust once again to a new home.

Queso began to toss and turn, knocking the others out of bed. They glared at her and sleepily crawled back into bed. But by now everyone was awake.

QUESO: When are our new foster pet parents going to come see us?

SOPA: Maybe they’ve abandoned us?

TACO: Or maybe they’re just giving us quiet time?

NACHO: Exactly! I think our pet foster parents are being smart. Think of everything that’s happened in the past few days. Mom was brought back to her outside home. We went to that place where they made us sleepy and we woke up with thread on our bellies. Now we’re in a new place. Our pet foster parents are giving us time to recover from all the changes.

The girls turned their back to Nacho. They knew he was right, but they still felt unhappy and so they didn’t like his answer.

Nacho patted Taco on her head. Taco licked Nacho’s face. Even if they didn’t know what lied ahead, they were safe and warm and in a good place, and so she was ready to be happy again.

TACO: Don’t humans sleep at night? Maybe they’re not up yet?

QUESO: Tell us a story, Nacho.

NACHO: If I were to tell my pet foster parents one thing….

TACO: No! I want a story, not school!

NACHO: It’s not us who needs school. It’s our new pet foster parents. We need to talk about what we need to teach them. First is food and water. We’re already three months old, so we’re big enough to eat on our own. But we’re also still growing, so we need lots of food. Our pet foster parents should feed us two, three, four times a day. We should have as much food as we’ll eat until we’re about six months. And our water dishes should be emptied, washed, and refilled once or twice a day.

TACO: This is what we need to teach our pet foster parents about the litter box. It should be scooped a couple of times per day to keep it clean. Every few days, they should dump the litter, clean the box, and replace with new litter. And here’s the most important thing: because we’re kittens, our pet foster parents need to use non-clumping litter. If we eat clumping litter, it could clump inside us and make us sick.

SOPA: Ew! Why would I eat litter?

TACO: To find out what litter tastes like.

SOPA: You’re weird.

TACO: Seriously, we might not even be trying to the litter. It could just stick to our paws, and when we lick our fur, we could accidentally swallow the litter.

QUESO: You forgot to say that our pet foster parents shouldn’t overfeed us. It’s not healthy for us. We’ll tire out faster and get more diseases from being overweight.

NACHO: Someone’s been listening to the pet channel….

QUESO: And you forgot to say that if we get sick, the litter should get changed more often, and our foster pet parents should ask the shelter about taking us to the vet.

NACHO: Now you’re just showing off!

QUESO: Can I talk about vet care?

TACO: No! We just got back from the vet.

QUESO: This is what our pet foster parents should know about vet care. We’re been tested for worms and intestinal parasites. Some kittens can get fleas (but we didn’t!) and will need to be treated for them. Because we’re kittens we’ve already gotten some immunizations to protect us against diseases. We’ll also need more in our first year.

TACO: Are you proud of the big words you used?

SOPA: She kept me awake one day practicing them!

QUESO: And on our last trip to the vet, we got fixed so that we can’t have babies.

TACO: Babies? We’re still babies ourselves!

NACHO: But cats can have babies as young as four months.

SOPA: You should also add that as kittens, we need to be watched carefully for signs of illness. If we don’t drink or eat or pee or poop in a day, we need to see the vet. If we vomit or have diarrhea, we need to see the vet. If our eyes are watery or our noses start to run, we should see the vet. If our tummy hurts or swells, or if we’re coughing or finding it hard to breathe, we should see the vet.

TACO: Whew! That’s a lot to remember.

QUESO: Shh! I hear footsteps!

This time after preparing breakfast for the four kittens, the pet foster parents sat on the floor next to the kittens. The four kittens exchanged glances. Nacho stretched and then hopped out of the bed. He was hungry and wasn’t going to let the presence of people stop him! Nacho ran to a bowl, and then looked over his shoulder at his siblings who were slowly following him. He knew they’d follow his example, and so he turned and sniffed the hands of the pet foster parents before digging into the food. The girls stared at the humans, and then darted to a second bowl of food.

Bellies full, the four kittens meowed to one another. Nacho returned straight to the pet foster parents. He butted his head against the man, then the lady, and purred. He loved people! Taco saw laces on the shoes of the man and began to poke at them. Then she saw a plastic ball that had been at their first home. She ran up to it and batted happily at it. She was even more excited when the man threw it for her to chase. The other two girls darted up to, then darted away from the humans, and then back again. They exchanged nose rubs with Nacho. After that, they scampered after Taco to play, but kept peeking back at their new foster pet parents. So much to see and to do!

 

DAY THREE

The four kittens grew more and more delighted with everything they were figuring out. For instance, now that they’d stopped moping and started exploring, they’d discovered more than one of the comforts from their first foster home. The cat bed, the curved scratching post, and even all the toys except the catnip sticks had made the journey with them.

They’d also discovered a new scratching post, one with a nook where they could hide. Then there the tons of cat blankets, all of which smelled fresh, as if they were new or at had least been washed clean of the scent of other cats.

But better than all of these was the people bed!

it was huge! It towered above their heads! The bed had taken the kittens a few tries to climb it. They had to use the sheets hanging over the side to scramble to the top. Nacho and Taco had also found they could hoist themselves up by using the legs of their pet foster parents.

Once on the bed, the four kittens liked taking turns to strut along the headboard as if it were a balance beam Queso and Sopa enjoyed leaning over the footboard and surveying the play action. The footboard was also a great way for Nacho and Taco to launch themselves after toys.

The four kittens were even torn about whether to continue sleeping in their bed or to use the people bed. The decision was made when the man slept in it the third night. After lots of meowing and staring, the four kittens snuggled up next to the man for a very, very, very long nap.

SOPA: Is he dead?

QUESO: He can’t be. His chest is moving.

TACO: Don’t humans sleep for ALL night?

SOPA: They’re weird.

NACHO: But they’re also warm and soft. I like snuggling with them.

QUESO: I don’t like that they want us to meet new people.

SOPA: Me either. I hate change.

TACO: I just want to stay with our pet foster parents forever.

QUESO: Tell us a story, Nacho.

NACHO: If I were to tell my pet foster parents one thing….

TACO: Fine! More facts! This is what we need to teach our pet foster parents about play. Handling and playing with us at least once a day will help us release our energy and build a bond with them. We’d welcome playing a few times day for at least ten minutes. If those playtimes are consistent, we’ll come to look forward to them. I like when they toss mice and balls for us to chase. My favorite is what they call danglers because they fly around me and above me, so they’re hard to catch. But when I do catch them, it’s fun to snag them out of the air or tackle them to the floor.

QUESO: How about what they call an air purifier?

SOPA: I don’t think that’s a toy. I think it’s to keep our room from getting too stinky

NACHO: Someone’s been listening to people talk.

TACO: I like what they call a laptop.

SOPA: Me too. I could watch it all day!

QUESO: You forgot to say that playing with us will cut down on our urge to bite and scratch and other naughty stuff. They shouldn’t let us play with their fingers or to chew on their toes. If they do, we’ll never outgrow those bad habits.

NACHO: This is what our pet foster parents need to know about socializing. The more positive experiences we have the better. This way we’ll grow into well-adjusted adults. They should expose us to all kinds of different noises and parts of the house. They should groom us every week and get us familiar with a crate so that we won’t hate them taking us places. They should introduce us to new people, new pets, and to those small humans. And it helps to reward us with lots of treats so that we’ll our new experiences

TACO: Mom didn’t have any that because she lived outside, and so that’s why she’s afraid of people. But she wanted us to have a better life, which is why she gave birth to us in the window well of a house. She said socializing was the most important thing we could learn. We need to keep meeting new people, even if we don’t always like it.

SOPA: But why does everything important have to be so hard?

QUESO: It just is. Besides, maybe all the visitors we meet will be as nice as our pet foster parents.

TACO: Duh! Our foster pet parents invited them, didn’t they?

Later that day, the expected visitors came, and the kittens were ready for them. The mom and her son followed the foster pet parents into their room. At first, they sat on the floor with the kittens and just let the kittens come up to them. Then the visitors began to pick the kittens up one by one. Who could resist their cute faces?

Soon the kittens warmed up to the visitors, which meant it was playtime! Nacho and Taco tumbled about a blanket that had been laid on the floor to provide extra warmth. The girls batted toys back and forth to one another. The visitors laughed at their antics, and the pet foster parents took pictures.

Then the boy grabbed one of the toys. The two shyer kittens stared at him, not sure what to expect. He moved the ball to the right and then to the left. The girls sat up and their heads moved as the ball moved. The boy moved the ball to the right and left again. Nacho and Taco stopped to watch. The boy eyed them, and then proceeded to move the ball up and down. Now all the kittens were watching the ball.

Suddenly he threw the ball. The kittens dashed after it. The ball bounced and rolled here and there. The kittens tumbled over one another trying to catch it. But Nacho was bigger and faster, and he got to it first. He batted it to Taco, who batted it to Queso, who batted it to Sopa. Then the boy picked up the ball again, the kittens watched, and the boy threw it again.

After many rounds of this, the mom told her son it was time for them to go home. The kittens watched them go, and then clambered onto the people bed to rest. The pet foster parents laid with them and looked through all the pictures they’d taken. Then they left, returning shortly to change water, food, and litter, and to straighten up the bedding.

When the foster pet parents left, the kittens yawned and stretched. One by one they jumped off the bed, hungry after their day of adventure. As soon as they’d eaten, they returned to the bed and watched the waning daylight through the window.

QUESO: I heard our pet foster parents say that they were going to show our photos to their friends, and that maybe that would help find us our forever homes.

SOPA: We’re going to have a good future.

NACHO: Once upon a time, there were four kittens who each needed a home. They lived with one foster family, and then a second. Both families cared for them, and so those kittens grew up safe. They had everything they could want. Food, water, shelter, plenty of toys, and tons of adventures, and so they grew up feeling loved….

Inspired by Their Spouse

You never know who your passion for animals will inspire. It could even be your spouse.

Matt Yank has always loved animals but says his biggest inspiration to volunteer in animal welfare” came from his wife. Megan helped Matt realize that animals, “don’t have a voice and we owe them the respect and love that they show us unconditionally.”

Since 2010, Matt has spent his Fridays cleaning cat rooms and caring for cats at The Cat House. He has also helped with special tasks such as “hauling the pallets worth of cat litter that needs to be replenished once a month” and “locating and wrangling kitties that don’t want to be placed in kennels or have found themselves in precarious situations or locations.”

Andy Frederick has always loved animals but credits me tongue-in cheek his involvement with animal welfare: “I’m not technically a volunteer. I was conscripted by my wife.”

Since 2005, Andy and I have helped a variety of animal welfare groups. For several years, we sponsored high-needs dogs at Hearts United for Animals and visited them to help with their socialization. In 2012, we fostered (and later adopted) a happy-go-lucky senior silky terrier named Gizmo through Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue. For the three years that I volunteered with Husker Cats, Andy helped me during bad weather to feed community cats and clear snow from their outdoor homes. Since I began blogging for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors in 2015, he’s served as my editor and occasional photographer. This spring, we started fostering kittens for The Cat House.

Those years of helping animals have given both men moments in which they can take pride. For example, Andy cited the challenge of the challenge of finding a workable sleeping arrangement for Gizmo. “We’re pets-in-our-bed people,” Andy explained. “If a pet wants to sleep in our bed, that’s where the pet sleeps. And at the time we had Gizmo, we also had our toy poodle and a cat, both of whom slept in our bed. But Gizmo didn’t see well and didn’t understand that he shouldn’t go stumbling around in our bed, because eventually he would get too close to our cat and the fur would fly.” The solution? Andy initially tried dividing our bed with a sheet. He strung a rope above the bed and down the middle, and then draped a sheet over it, so that Gizmo was on one side and our cat was on the other side. “It worked,” Andy said, “but we didn’t like sleeping in a divided bed. Then I built a bed for Gizmo on my side of the bed. It was low enough that he couldn’t climb out of it and into our bed, but it was high enough that I could easily reach him to pet him.”

Another memorable experience for Andy was serving as my photographer when we visited the Nebraska State Penitentiary to do a series of articles about the Second Chance Pups program. Andy said, “I’ll never forget walking through the prison yard to and from the kennels; it’s a completely different world. I’ll also never forget how strongly the inmates care for their dogs, and what skilled and patient trainers they are. Of all the photos I’ve taken in my life, I’m proudest of the photos I took of the Second Chance Pups program.” One of those photos even took on a life of its own. Someone took one of the photos that Andy had shared on Facebook and uploaded it to Imgur, where it was viewed by 1.5 million people and resulted in unexpected donations to the Second Chance Pups program that day.

Some of the moments the two men have experienced as volunteers give them cause to look back on and laugh. For example, Matt was once asked to help catch a cat that had escaped while a foster pet parent for The Cat House was doing an interview at a local TV news station. “The kitty had been loose for several hours,” Matt said, “and staff at the news station had no clue where she was. All they knew was she was in the studio somewhere.” A volunteer at The Cat House called Matt to ask him to help find and secure her. “I walked around the studio for ten minutes,” shared Matt, “and found her immediately. The look of shock on the staff’s faces was priceless.”

In another incident involving a cat, Andy shared his story of the door dasher from the first litter of kittens we fostered for The Cat House. While the kittens were with us, Andy prided himself on being quick enough to nab the door dasher whenever he tried to dart out of our spare room. Every time Andy would tease him: “I’m faster than you!” Flash forward: The kittens graduated to a room at The Cat House and Andy and I went to visit them. A family was with the boy kittens, so we occupied ourselves by visiting other cats. Later while Andy was taking a break on a bench in the hall, he heard the family prepare to leave. “The door opened,” Andy said, “and–whoosh–there went the door dasher! The hallway goes in a rectangle around a block of inner rooms. The door dasher went counter-clockwise, away from me, so I went clockwise. I got to the next corner over a split second before he did, and the instant I saw the black blur I put my hands down and he ran right into them. Then I lifted him to my face and said, ‘You’ll never be faster than me!’”

Then there are the life-changing moments. Matt and his wife Megan have fostered many kitties. Every time he hears that they’ve found a permanent home Matt is very proud of them, but fostering can also bring grief. “On a couple of occasions, we have had fosters that had terminal illnesses that gave them very little time to live,” Matt shared. “In these instances, we took in the cats as if they were ours and gave them the love they deserved. And when the time came for them to cross the rainbow bridge I stayed with them so that they weren’t alone.”

Both men have both grown in their volunteer abilities. Matt pointed to a dramatic increase in how much he can contribute to The Cat House, while Andy noted that his editing abilities (and maybe his photography skills) have improved.

The two men have also learned more about animals from caring for them. Matt praised his wife’s gift for knowing when animals are sick, and said that thanks to her he’s better able to “identify when an animal is in distress and in need of medical attention.” Andy expressed amazement at how “even young kittens can have distinct personalities” and said that “it’s fun watching their individualities emerge.”

Matt and Andy both offered encouragement to animal lovers who are not yet involved in animal welfare. Matt shared a quote that’s a favorite of his and his wife: “You haven’t lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” His advice to new animal welfare volunteers is to not view their contributions as work. “It should never be seen as a job but more as a fun and fulfilling activity.” Andy has some tongue-in-cheek advice for people who are married to animal welfare volunteers: “Support your spouse in his or her volunteer work if you’re too unmotivated to find volunteer work of your own. Your life will be richer for it.”

What do the wives of these men think about their husbands’ support?

Megan wrote, “I couldn’t ask for a better person who supports and contributes to my passion for animals and cats especially. A lot of people ask me if my husband likes cats too and I wish to emphasize how much Matt truly loves animals and most importantly cats. Some days I think he likes cats more than me, but I doubt it!”

As for me, I feel blessed every day that Andy encourages me to rescue cats, foster cats, buy stuff for cats, and train cats to do tricks, agility, and therapy. I might inspire him, but he also motivates and challenges me, and as such our lives are all the more enriched.

Farewell to Shiboo and Her Kittens

Fostering a cat family of six has been both a learning experience and a joy.

Andy and I have fostered only two cats previously, but only one at a time. We weren’t prepared for how busy a family of six cats would keep us. For example, there’s the daily job of caring for them. At mealtimes, the eager cats climb over my feet the moment I walk into the room, making it a challenge not to trip over them. Before I can feed them, I need to retrieve their dirty dishes and fetch food from the closet without shutting the door on them. Doing this in another room wouldn’t be any easier, because then I’d have to wrangle with my own cats, who are just as insatiable.

Then there’s the daily task of cleaning up after six cats. Initially, we put out one litter box per cat for a total of six and used non-clumping litter for the safety of the kittens. Initially, I scooped dirty litter from the litter boxes twice a day and only emptied, cleaned, and refilled the litter boxes on weekends. Unfortunately, non-clumping litter isn’t easy to scoop and so it became difficult to keep the litter boxes clean, and eventually gnats became attracted to the litter. In an attempt to stay ahead of the gnats, I cut the number of litter boxes from six to two and began completely emptying and refilling them every day. The ongoing task of cleaning up after six cats gave me an inkling of how much dedication must be required by shelter and rescue workers who care for far more animals.

The only interruptions to these regular chores was when a cat needed veterinarian attention. For a nursing mother and her growing kittens, there were vaccinations, de-wormers, and antibiotics. And then, once the kittens were old enough, they and their mother needed to be spayed or neutered. The night before their procedures, we had to remove food. The cats also had to remain separated for a few hours when we got them back, so they wouldn’t be tempted to run and climb and jump before the fog of anesthesia had lifted. While the cats could have food immediately, water was withheld until they were full recovered so that they wouldn’t pass out, fall into the water, and drown.

Although our previous fostering experiences didn’t prepare us for everything involved in caring for six cats, we had some idea of the benefits. For example, having kittens gave us a reason to regularly invite over friends. While Andy and I do like to socialize, we’re also introverts, which means it’s easy for us to let weeks pass between social visits. Throw in other factors, such as yard work and studies, and that time can stretch to months. Except kittens do better when socialized from an early age, and so we were eager to introduce them to people of all ages. In turn, our pet-loving friends are always open to a fix of kitten sweetness. It’s been fun these past few weeks having visitor after visitor at our house.

Ironically, in light of how much tighter our schedule is when we foster, caring for six cats also encouraged Andy and me to relax more often. He’d come home from a full day at work, collapse on the spare room bed, and enjoy being surrounded by curious kittens. In the middle of cranking out an article, I appreciated closing my eyes and listening to the patter of feet. Okay, it sounded more like the patter of elephant feet, but it was still fun! Even just trying to hold squirming kittens so I could their fur or clip their nails provided me with a mind break. Over Memorial Day weekend, I slept in the spare room with the six cats to keep them company, and that took me back to sleepover days from childhood. Another special moment is how, after Shiboo (Mama Cat) had finished nursing her kittens, she’d stretch out and let Andy stroke her head. Her purrs of contentment sounded so relaxing, it’s easy to curl up and fall asleep too.

At the end of May, Andy and I were both happy and sad to say goodbye to our foster cat family of six. Happy, because it felt good to have played a small part in their journeys to their forever homes. There are millions of homeless cats who will never know the joy of human companionship; Shiboo and her babies are among the fortunate who were saved. But, of course, we were sad to no longer have them in our lives. Shiboo is a sweet and caring mother, and we enjoyed discovering the personalities of her kittens as they romped and befriended us. Overall, it was a great experience, and we look forward to future opportunities to foster through The Cat House.

Then There Were Nine!

Andy and I received the call earlier this month that we’d been waiting for. The Cat House had a cat family that needed a temporary home. In one afternoon, our household increased from three cats to nine!

We began with the following sage but basic advice. Provide a safe place and then allow the cat to explore it. When checking in on a cat, keep visits short. Play with the kittens, but mostly spend quiet time with them until they’ve adjusted.

Safe space: check. That one was easy, we put them in the guest room. But the other two, not so much. Kittens are just too darn cute!

When we released them from their crates, we couldn’t resist staying to watch. Not only did we stay, but we shot video and took photos. One of the black kittens and one of the gray kittens immediately scurried out of the crate. Minutes after they began to explore, we picked them up to cuddle and say hello. Meanwhile, Mama Cat had ducked under the bed to hide, and three of the other kittens were still snoozing in the crate. We respected their nap time for about five minutes. Then we gently lifted them out of the crate and welcomed them to their new temporary home.

Soon the chaos of caring for five kittens ensued! One kitten struggled to climb into a litter box. Another crawled onto a scratching ramp. A couple romped on the blankets I’d laid on the floor. The first kitten finally succeeded in using the litter box, which meant that all the other kittens suddenly had to use the bathroom too. The kittens’ exuberant clawing sprayed cat litter everywhere. Dust billowed. But the chaos wasn’t over. A grey kitten was poking at Andy’s camera. A black kitten was trying to haul himself onto the bed by clawing his way up the edge of the comforter.

At this point, due to not knowing what would be needed, our spare room was relatively barren. About the only source of sleeping quarters were the two crates and a human bed. While we had provided a scratching ramp, there were no other sources of enrichment. Andy suggested we should add more stuff, and the next day he bought a cat bed. As for me, I scrounged through our house that evening for stuff our cats could part with. I found more scratching items, blankets, and some catnip toys. All were an instant hit!

After Andy and I had gotten our fill of kittens, I served up food. That first night overwhelmed me. I’ve gotten used to our own cat trio circling me for food, but I wasn’t prepared for five kittens clambering over my feet as I shuffled across the floor. Nor was I ready for five kittens tripping over each other to reach the bowls of food. Watching all five of them push and shove in their eagerness to eat exhausted me.

But the chaos is worth it. Andy and I have enjoyed watching the kittens develop their distinctive personalities.

First up are Leo and Georgie. These two black kittens are among the boldest of the five. Unless Andy and I examine them, we can’t tell them apart. We’re lucky that one is a boy and one is a girl. But the one is never far from the other, and so we’ll just blame both for the havoc they cause.

They were the first to greet us at The Cat House, the first to explore our spare room, and the first to climb onto the guest bed. This means they were also the first to scare us by crawling between the headboard and the mattress. Oh, and the first to climb on top of the headboard. Whenever I write in my journal, both clamber all over me. They want my pencil, my eraser, my journal. Anything they can pick up with their paws. And if I dare to clean the floors with paper towels, both will try to help by jumping on me or grabbing at the towels.

Leo and Georgie aren’t completely identical, however. We’ve figured out that Leo is the escape artist. Most every day, he manages to dash out of the room at least once as we enter or leave. He always races down the hall and straight to the living room. Fortunately, our own cats have been too shocked by his sudden appearance to do anything but stare. And Leo thankfully lets us return him to the safety or our spare room without hassle. But he’s getting smarter. Now when he reaches the living room, he immediately begins to search for a hiding spot.

We’ll also credit them both for the love they give. One of them curled up beside me on the bed the morning after the cat family’s arrival and promptly fell asleep. They’ve recently both started sitting on my lap when I write in my journal. Both will let me hug them. My other favorite thing about Leo and Georgie is how they’ll sit up and wave their front paws in the air. It’s almost like they’re saying hello!

Next up are Kaydee and Chloe. Kaydee is a dilute tortie and Chloe is a blue tabby. Somedays I can tell them apart; other days I just call them the gray kittens.

Kaydee is kind of shy and quiet, while Chloe is easy-going and curious. Or at least that’s how they were described to us. I’m not so sure the description is completely accurate!

When Andy got down on the floor that first evening to take photos, Chloe was the one who bravely approached him and checked out his camera. She’s also the one who first tried out the cat scratcher.

And what’s her sister, Kaydee, doing? Sitting on top of a crate and batting at her siblings. She’s not so innocent!

When I’ve vacuumed the room, Chloe is the one who chews on our Dust Buster. She’s also the one who takes a ride on the cat blankets when rearrange them. Chloe will steal anything that I bring into the room. She’s also tried to sneak food from the closet.

Then there’s Kaydee. When I relax on the bed, she’s the one who kisses my hand. She’s also been known to wrestle my toes. Kaydee will lay on the bed instead of crowding my feet when I enter the room. She’ll also wait for her siblings to eat before going to a dish.

Whether or not Chloe’s and Kaydee’s personalities will change as they grow, what’s clear is how close they are as sisters. They play, sleep, and even pose together for photos. Sister love!

The fifth kitten is Stan. He’s a tiny kitten with a calm personality.

No matter what’s been happening, Stan will be asleep or hanging in the background waiting for his turn. When I take a nap, the others will crowd around me while he sits and licks his paws. If there’s a new toy on the go, he’ll let everyone else check it first.

That’s not to say Stan doesn’t have a mischievous side. He’s run around the room and tossed catnip toys in the air. When I introduced a trackball toy the other day, he batted the ball around the track. He’s been caught tugging his sisters’ tails.

There’s a charm to Stan. He’s never tried to pull down our curtains, knock down my notebooks, or grab my hair. When I scoop the litter boxes, he just watches me instead of jumping on me as if I were a toy. He likes to nestle against his mama. Stan’s so laid back and observant, he makes me wonder what’s he’s thinking.

Mama Cat and her five kittens have now been with us for two weeks. In a way, it feels much longer. It’s time-consuming to scoop up food, change water, and clean litter twice a day for that many cats. That much work can wipe one’s energy.

In another way, our time with them will be too short. I’d like to see Mama Cat become less shy. When she comes out from under the bed, she loves to have us pet her, but most of the time she stays under the bed while her babies play. I’d also like to see her babies become more comfortable with being groomed and trained. It’d be fun to watch them explore outside of the spare room and to snuggle with them at night. I hope that at least some of the people who adopt them will send updates and photos.

The cat family will be with us until the end of the month. In that time, we’re going to soak up every experience with them and give all the love we can. All too soon, our household of cats will decrease from nine to three. But we’ll have pleasure of knowing that each will find their forever home through The Cat House.

Want to help cats too? If you have the space, please consider fostering for The Cat House. Supplies are provided. If you don’t have the space, please donate to help The Cat House with its fostering program. Fostering helps saves lives!

Luigi, June, Miss Kitty, and Gulliver

The moment I walk into the blue section at The Cat House, I see Luigi at the door to his room. I hear June’s plaintive meow calling visitors to her room. She loves attention, as does Miss Kitty, who resides in an adjacent room. Miss Kitty is simply less vocal about her desires and prefers to wait in patient silence. The crinkle of a tunnel lets me know that Gulliver is on the prowl. Visitors easily get him to chase wand toys. These are four of the cats I’ve gotten to know best during my recent visits to the Lincoln’s no-kill cat shelter.

With his big eyes that beseech one to stop and say hello, it’d be hard not to love Luigi. I’m certainly smitten with him. The first time I sat in the middle of the senior room at The Cat House, he immediately came up to me, sat on my legs, and pressed his angular body against my chest. The more I stroked him, the more he purred. When my legs fell asleep, Luigi calmly stood next to me while I repositioned myself, and then he curled atop my legs again until I readied myself to leave. At that point, he followed me to the door, waiting for the next visitor.

Luigi’s overcome a lot since being found a few years ago as a stray and turned over to The Cat House. He walked up to someone’s house, looking emaciated and as if he’d been on his own for a long time. He had an abundance of health issues. These days, Luigi suffers from kidney disease, but otherwise is full of spirit.

On my subsequent visits to the senior room, Luigi has allowed me to hug him and has bestowed me with his kisses. He never fails to give me attention and so I never fail to visit him unless there are other visitors. Then Luigi desires their presence too. He even once stood on the edges of his litter box just to catch the eye of a passing visitor. And visitors want to see him too. Some pick him up and hold him close to their face, an action Luigi rewards with loving purrs.

June and I initially didn’t hit it off. When I first visited her, her purrs sounded angry to me, and so I felt intimidated by her. Volunteers have told me this is a common experience for visitors, and that June’s growls sound worse than they are. They advised me that June loves attention, an assessment I soon discovered to be true. During my second visit, after I had petted her for a time, I stopped to take some notes. A brief time later, June started to tap me and continued to do so until I resumed stroking her.

Just like Luigi, June is lucky to live at The Cat House. When she was found by a volunteer, June had a large eye ulcer. June stayed in a foster home until there was room at TCH. Upon arrival, health issues plagued June and she started off cranky. After her eye surgery, June’s attitude improved. Part of her thyroid has also been removed and June receives medication for a heart murmur, but neither stop June from staring contentedly out her window or from watching out her door for visitors.

I’ve grown to adore June. Her gritty eyes and raspy breathing remind me of my first cat, Lucy. When I touch June, she meows and leans close for head, ear, and chin rubs. Her eyes will close, and she’ll purr up a storm. At times, she’ll shrug off attention, such as when there have been many visitors or if I touch her side. Otherwise, she’ll stretch her paws out to me and attempt to pull me close. When I respond by giving her attention, she’ll lavish me with kisses. June at times will even curl up on my lap and knead. June is a sweet girl with unconditional love.

Miss Kitty is a relatively new face to me but equally difficult to resist. When I first passed her room, she sat demurely waiting for any visitor to greet her. As soon as I opened her door, Miss Kitty rubbed against me, sniffed me, and then waited for me to give her attention. Once I had stroked her a few times, she strolled off to eat but soon returned for more attention. I tossed one of her plush mice in the air and she batted at it. We played a few rounds like this, and then Miss Kitty curled up by her window happy with life.

As too often is the misfortune of cats, Miss Kitty found herself homeless when her owner had to relinquish her because cats were not allowed in his apartment. After she had been shuffled between several of the owner’s friends, it was clear a more permanent solution had to be found. Miss Kitty came to The Cat House. She originally roomed with multiple cats, but she hated sharing the spotlight with them. The decision was made to move Miss Kitty into her own quarters, from which she can watch other cats but receive attention without having to compete. Everyone is now more relaxed!

Visitors love her striking looks, as well as her sweet personality. Miss Kitty has a majestic coat of blue and white. Whenever I visit, Miss Kitty enjoys listening to me chatter and appreciates neck scratches too. I also appreciate her curious nature. She routinely takes notice of my pen and my camera. She’ll bat my pen around and will grab at the strap on my camera. I’ve tried to capture her antics but it’s tough to take close-up action shots. At times, I’ll snap a photo of her playing with a mouse. Miss Kitty has that perfect blend of being snuggly and playful.

At first, I overlooked Gulliver. His presence was overshadowed by Haven and then Klondike, both of whom have been adopted since I started my regular visits to The Cat House. Over time, Gulliver’s keen sense of fun caught my attention. First it was the crinkle of a tunnel as Gulliver dove into it. Then it was the ping of a ball being rolled around the room. Another time it was the swish of a wand toy. I began to find myself fascinated with this quiet but energetic red and white cat.

Gulliver came to The Cat House from The Capital Humane Society. He’d wandered from his outdoor colony and had been picked up by Animal Control. Unfortunately, Gulliver tested positive for FIV, which meant The Capital Humane Society wouldn’t put him in its adoption program. Yet his friendly nature made him a potential adoption candidate, so The Cat House took him in. To his credit, despite the turnovers of roommates, Gulliver has stayed well adjusted.

I now seek out time with Gulliver. Maybe he knows that he’s on my radar, because on my last visit he greeted me as soon as I entered his room. We played with his wand toys. He sat beside me, head-butted me, and purred when I gave him attention. Then he turned his attention to his roommate, which incidentally is yet another new one. The two of them apparently have hit it off too. They enjoyed chasing one another through a plastic cat tunnel and roughhousing in their cubby. Gulliver not only likes fun but makes me laugh, which is good for the soul.

Every cat likes to love and to be loved. The four cats whose stories I’ve shared have a lot of love to offer, and their happiness will be complete when they find the perfect family to love them. Until then, they are cared for and loved by dedicated volunteers at The Cat House.

Cleaning Rooms and Playing Santa to Help Cats

If you have ever adopted a cat from The Cat House, attended its Santa photo fundraiser, or had your pet microchipped at Parkview Animal Hospital thanks to the Coalition for Pet Protection, you just may have met Rodney Cameron or Doug Bedell.

Rodney has always loved animals. In 1999, when he and his wife moved to Lincoln, they had two cats and hoped to adopt a dog. Rodney ’s wife, Traci, was also interested in volunteering with an animal rescue group. During a meeting with the president of the Coalition for Pet Protection, the couple fell in love with one of the dogs up for adoption. Rodney describes Julia as “beautiful, loving, and playful.” Adopting Julia led to Traci’s continuing to volunteer with CPP because she wanted to give back to the group who had given her so much in Julia.

Santa Photo from Rodney
Santa Photo from Rodney

Inspired by his wife, Rodney has now been volunteering at the Coalition for Pet Protection for the past eighteen years. He helps to set up and breakdown the microchip clinic—where pet owners receive a discounted rate for getting their pets microchipped—that CPP provides in partnership with Parkview Animal Hospital. Wanting to do even more for cats, Rodney began volunteering at The Cat House fifteen years ago. Rodney helps with the no-kill shelter’s fundraising efforts by donning a Santa suit and making appearances at local pet stores to pose with people’s pets.

Like Rodney , Doug has always loved animals. After his daughter told him about The Cat House, Doug began volunteering there. For about ten years he helped at TCH, which he describes as “a well-run organization staffed strictly by volunteers.” He started as most TCH volunteers do by cleaning rooms, then became one of the team leaders for this task. His duties also included transcribing messages from the answering machine, serving as a guide during open hours, transporting cats to vet appointments, reviewing potential adopters’ applications, and helping at fundraisers. About The Cat House, Doug said, “Every time I go, I always see a cat I want to take home. So many different personalities for such diverse types of people. It’s fun just to say hi to everyone and just go pet and hold all sorts of cats.”

ALLISON: Share some of the memorable experiences you’ve had while working in animal welfare.

DOUG: A funny moment I remember was trying to clean a room at The Cat House with about a dozen kittens. What a mess! They were attacking the broom as I tried to sweep, climbing up my legs, jumping into the trash can. Some of them escaped from their room and I had to chase them down.

RODNEY: One time, in the early days of me being The Cat House’s Santa, I had the chance to get my picture taken with a potbelly pig. It was a sweet thing and one of its front legs was in a cast. You should have seen the mom and dad fawning over him. They really loved that animal.

DOUG: A moment that sticks out is when a lady had to give up her cat. I don’t remember the reason. She was in tears and I tried to console her. She told me she would visit him as often as possible. I remember her coming to visit him. I’m guessing the cat eventually got adopted.

RODNEY: The first cat we adopted from The Cat House was a Cornish Rex named Chocolate Lover; we renamed him Topper. TCH had two other Cornish Rexes and we were considering Rafaella, a pretty cream/brownointed cat. We decided against her when my wife picked her up and Rafaella squirted diarrhea on the front of my wife’s shirt. Rafaella eventually got over that habit with the person who adopted her. We were already friends with that person and whenever I went over to visit, Rafaella would crawl under my shirt and lay down every time. She was so sweet.

Rodney ’s love of animals began when he was growing up in California. His parents used to regularly take Rodney and his sisters to the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park. At age nine, Rodney got a parakeet, which learned to fly to Rodney ’s shoulder when he patted it. He got a second parakeet a few years later. He loved taking care of his birds. Then he met his wife, who had a cat, so Rodney became a cat guy. Now the couple also own two dogs.

Through Rodney ’s animal welfare work, he’s “developed a consistent manner” in how he handles their own cats and dogs. Rodney knows how to groom them. He can trim their nails, and even has a cordless drum sander “to round out the dogs’ claws after trimming them.” Rodney also knows how to administer pills and subcutaneous fluids. Finally, Rodney has learned to network with rescue people, which he says is “a terrific way of quickly spreading the word about an adoptable pet.”

In contrast to Rodney , Doug has owned cats most of his life. When he married, he and his wife started out with an orange tabby named Maxwell. One of Maxwell’s favorite activities was harassing the neighbor’s beagle, which Doug says the neighbors thought was hilarious. Since Maxwell’s death, the Bedells have adopted many other cats. One cat they adopted was orphaned by the F4 tornado that destroyed the small town of Hallam, Nebraska, in 2004. The kitten had not yet been weaned, and so the Bedells had to quickly learn how to bottle feed him. Fittingly, the Bedells named the little tabby Hallam. Currently the Bedells have two cats, both adopted from TCH.

Through Doug’s animal welfare work, he learned how to approach a cat that doesn’t know him and how to read its body language. Doug found it both challenging and rewarding to work with pet owners. “I’d get frustrated hearing excuses for why people turned in their pets. And then there were people who adopted a cat that was deemed ‘unadoptable.’”

ALLISON: Do you have any tips for future volunteers? Why should others volunteer?

RODNEY: Don’t give up. Cleaning cat boxes and all the other standard care that goes with cat rescue is challenging work. There may be sad times when a cat is dying no matter what you or a vet does for it. Be there for the cat and give it as much care and love as you can. There will be cats that need your help, so stay strong and pass your love and knowledge on to others. This will give other volunteers the strength they will need.

DOUG: I’d strongly encourage people to volunteer at any animal shelter or rescue organization. You’ll feel as if you’re making a positive contribution to the community, you’ll meet new people, and yes fall in love.

RODNEY: There are so many animals that need homes. If there weren’t so many cats and dogs that got left behind in numerous ways, there would not be so many organizations needing help. Every single rescue needs help, I guarantee it.

The Cat House’s Cat Love Therapy Program

Back in 2011, Shawntel Myers read about a therapy dog in a book she bought at a The Cat House garage sale, and started to wonder if the same could be done with cats. She brought the idea to The Cat House, where she volunteered, who agreed for her to try cat therapy. The first visit was a success and this was the beginning of Cat Love Therapy, which celebrated its five-year-anniversary just over a year ago. I met with Shawntel recently to find out more about the program and her involvement with The Cat House.

ALLISON: What inspired you to become a volunteer at The Cat House?

SHAWNTEL: I wanted to find something to do outside of school/work, and volunteering was something I considered. My mom volunteered with The Cat House for a short period of time, which got me interested in joining the volunteer team. This was a perfect way for me to help out in the community and enjoy the company of cats at the same time.

ALLISON: What are your duties at TCH?

SHAWNTEL: My current duties are scheduling and organizing Cat Love Therapy visits. When I first started, I cleaned rooms.

ALLISON: How did you set up contacts in the community?

SHAWNTEL: When I first started, I contacted places and asked the activity directors if they’d be interested in us visiting. Most visits in the past few years have been scheduled by people contacting The Cat House with an interest in us visiting them.

ALLISON: What kind of TCH cats have been good candidates?

SHAWNTEL: Finding cats that do well on therapy visits is a hit or miss. Over the past six years, I’ve learned a few things that let me know if a cat may do well on a visit or not. Cats with an easy-going temperament that enjoy being held and will tolerate a harness, tend to do best on visits. Before taking a cat, I’ll walk the cat around outside their room on a harness and leash to see how they do. If they do well in that scenario, it lets me know there’s a good chance they may do well on a pet therapy visit.

You don’t truly know though how well a cat will do until it goes on a visit. For example, we’ve taken cats you’d think would do well, but they don’t. Usually they end up being too scared, or don’t want to sit still even for a minute!

ALLISON: What are the most typical places therapy cats are taken? What are the most unusual places therapy cats have gone?

SHAWNTEL: The most typical places therapy cats have gone are Assisted Living and Rehabilitation/Care Centers. The most different place we’ve gone is to The Children’s Museum.

ALLISON: How often do therapy visits happen? How long is each visit? What do visits consist of?

SHAWNTEL: On average we go on one to two visits a month, with each visit lasting about an hour. Most visits, residents will gather in a commons area. If resident wants to hold a cat, a volunteer will place a cat on their lap to hold and pet. People who don’t want to hold a cat usually would rather just pet or observe the cats interacting with others.

ALLISON: What are some of your memorable cat therapy moments?

SHAWNTEL: My most memorable moments are those in which people get super excited to see the cats. The expression of joy on their face as they interact is priceless. It’s great too when a cat really enjoys going on visits. We used to take a cat named Cuddles who loved sitting on laps. She would purr, knead the air, and occasionally even give kisses.

ALLISON: How many volunteers on average do you have?

SHAWNTEL: Usually there are anywhere from one to four volunteers per visit in addition to myself.

ALLISON: Why should someone volunteer with Cat Love Therapy?

SHAWNTEL: It’s a great way to share cats with cat lovers who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to interact with them.

ALLISON: Why should someone volunteer with The Cat House?

SHAWNTEL: It’s a good way to provide care and support for these greats cats that are waiting to find a forever home.

ALLISON: Give a tip to prospective The Cat House volunteers.

SHAWNTEL: Generally when you start volunteering, you’ll do cleaning. Getting involved in other areas as well is also great! Fostering, TNR, fundraising, craft events, Cat Love Therapy, and helping out during open hours are a few examples of additional activities one could get involved with.

The Cat House provides a safe no-kill shelter and adoption facility for cats in the Lincoln, Nebraska area. There are many volunteer opportunities available, which you can find at its Volunteer page. To learn more about cat therapy, follow my adventures with Rainy this January as I attempt to get certified and/or join I-CAT.