Perfection: our younger son, a philosophy major, insists there is no such thing. I disagree, because nature provided kittens.
True, kittens don’t stay kittens for as long as I’d like. Our house is too small to continually add more. So until we can retire to a cat ranch, my husband and I enjoy perpetual kittens as part of a five-county foster-home network. The payoff is twofold: along with contributing to an orphan’s bright future, we get the playtime fun a pet naturally inspires.
In 26 years we have helped many cats and kittens on their way to adoption.
So Many Creatures
Many Ways to Help
To pass laws to protects animals, you can sign up (at no cost) as a supporter of Maryland Votes for Animals: VoteAnimals.org. The Animal Legal Defense Fund rates Maryland near the bottom — number 39 of 50 states — in animal protection.
1040 Prince Frederick Blvd., Prince Frederick: 410-535-9300; www.cawlrescue.org
P.O. Box 325, Port Republic: 410-414-2122 www.friends-of-felines.com
The numbers of homeless animals are staggering. County agencies resort to euthanasia to manage the unwanted animal problem. In Maryland, over 45,000 cats and dogs are killed each year, at an estimated cost of $8 to 9 million. In Anne Arundel County, 3,549 were euthanized in 2012. Tri-County Animal Shelter in Hughesville euthanized 6,023.
That’s way too many, don’t you think?
Rescue groups have evolved because individuals see the need and feel compelled to help. Calvert County has five organizations focusing on cats and dogs, with others devoted to horses, ferrets and even hedgehogs.
My husband Michael and I volunteer with Friends of Felines, founded in 2000. Foster families are caretakers while Friends pays medical bills, provides supplies and seeks permanent homes.
Economic upheaval has complicated rescue efforts. Fewer pets are being adopted, and a significant number of previously adopted animals are being abandoned or returned to shelters. Some are jetsam of divorce or relocation; others are given up for financial reasons.
At Home with Kitties
We’ve fostered many kittens, but none so young as the bottle babies found by a worker at Calvert County’s Industrial Park last July. All experienced hands were full, so it was up to us to save two six-ounce kittens, one gold and white, the other entirely white except for a charcoal brush mark on top of her head.
Each litter of kittens is assigned a letter of the alphabet. These were V kitties, on 2012’s second go-round. Vincent took milk from a syringe reluctantly at first, then quickly graduated to a doll-sized bottle. Vesper wouldn’t suckle, so I dribbled one teaspoon of formula into her at a time. I crocheted a little wool basket for her bed. A visit to the vet and specialized medical care followed, but Vesper died. Many young kittens do not survive, often because they lack the immunities only a nursing mother can provide. I buried Vesper under a hydrangea where the wrens gather.
To keep Vincent company came two gold-and-white brothers, Hemi and Henry. Vincent learned to eat out of a dish after wading in and spluttering out many times. His wobbly hop became a graceful stride.
In late August, Vincent and his new brothers moved to another family so that we could help a foster mother caring for seven at-risk kittens. The oldest litter, three black kittens abandoned four weeks earlier, had been left on a hot day inside a rural route mailbox. Ten days old, severely underweight, they were saved by frequent bottle-feedings and constant love.
These were Cs in yet a third alphabet. Affectionate and energetic, Clementine, Carma and Carmello gained weight steadily. Their sparse fur filled in, Clementine black with white toes, her siblings a lighter sable shade. Clementine learned to scramble over the baby gate to greet us in the kitchen and enjoyed checking e-mail, watching sports on TV and eating supper with the big cats. Carma and Carmello were more cautious, watching from their side of the gate but never venturing over.
Meeting the Challenge
As we are having fun watching youngsters, many more people are working in other ways to improve animals’ lives.
Calvert Well Pet Clinic in Huntingtown, for example, offers spay/neuter services and preventive healthcare. SPOT thrift store in St. Leonard devotes all proceeds to animal rescue. In 2012, it provided spay/neuter grants for 696 cats and dogs. No-kill shelters promote spay/neuter education and sponsor community events.
Friends of Felines has a special mission. Volunteers act as liaisons in communities and commercial areas where feral-cat colonies exist. To stabilize feral populations, Friends follows the Trap-Neuter-Return-Maintain program pioneered by the national organization Alley Cat Allies.
Feral and abandoned cats are trapped for testing, neutering and vaccinations. Young kittens and adoptable cats are fostered, then adopted into homes. Adults are ideally returned to their established territories so that other cats cannot move in and multiply. Friends rescues about 500 cats every year, operating entirely on donations. “We are saving lives,” says Colleen Pellagatti, “and taxpayer dollars.”
A task force appointed by Governor O’Malley estimated that the alternative — trapping, transporting, housing and euthanizing a cat or dog — costs $175 to $200 per animal.
Animal advocates and rescuers are boundless in their devotion. For many, the reward is an inherent one. Carol Hall and Mary Baldwin, longtime rescue advocates, dispense advice and undiminished optimism, burnished by hard-won wisdom. “All of us are a little crazy,” says Mary, “but we love the work.”
Sheila Dempsey of Huntingtown, representing the Hedgehog Welfare Society, braved blizzard and ice storm to rescue 140 of the 800 hedgehogs being held illegally in a Texas importer’s warehouse. She located homes for each one.
In Deale, a restaurant patron returned every day for months to feed a colony of cats and befriended those young enough to be domesticated. “I came for the margaritas,” explains PAWS volunteer Cathy Terril, “and stayed for the cats.”
Marion Beth Hosmer of Crownsville works throughout Maryland to keep families and cats together. She uses a drop trap to capture cats wary of traditional entry-triggered crates, and finds resources to provide spay/neuter services. She is passionate about community outreach and ending overpopulation. “I see cats established where people live, and both the cats and the people need a little help to cope. I want to bridge that gap.”
Dr. Michelle Quigley has founded the Bottle Baby Project, supported by Last Chance Animal Rescue. She recruits volunteers to transport and bottle-feed very young kittens and gives workshops to teach the techniques to volunteers.
“Countless unweaned kittens are being euthanized at shelters. I knew I could organize a group and coordinate getting these kittens into foster care and forever homes. It’s exhausting sometimes, but worth it,” she said.
Our foster kittens have been fortunate. Vincent was adopted in September by a young woman who saw his picture on the Petfinder.com website. He has been renamed Pickle. I feel he deserves a more-dignified name but am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s theory: Whatever we call a cat is irrelevant, because every kitten is born knowing its one true name. Still, I’m pretty sure that would never be Pickle.
Michael and Cathryn Freeburger provide foster homes to kittens waiting to be adopted from shelters.
Henry and Hemi spent a few days at Prince Frederick Petco, where space is donated to show adoption candidates. Each has found a loving home. The Mailbox Kittens have been adopted as well, Carmello by a young family with a tradition of naming pets for candy, so he will keep his name. Carma was adopted by a woman suffering with fybromyalgia, who will find comfort in the kitty’s gentle nature. Clementine has been welcomed into a three-generation household, which may be just enough to keep up with her.
If you have a place in your heart and home for a cat or kitten, dog or rabbit or hedgehog, you will be saving two lives — that of your new companion as well as that of the lucky one taking its place in foster care.