A year ago today the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society sent out a request to our rescue for anyone who could foster a 14-week-old kitten who was so frightened he couldn’t be examined, was held for assessment and considered unadoptable because of his behavior. The fate of kittens and cats like this one, considered unadoptable, at the end of August when the shelter receives as many as 100 animals each day and has been at capacity for months, is usually euthanasia. But WPHS had decided to work with rescues for all their animals and given them another option for life.
This kitten had until the end of the day for someone to speak up for him and give him a chance to socialize to humans, or if not, eventually find a place for him in a sanctuary or managed feral colony. At least that way, he would get to live. I had recently lost Kennedy and, happy with just my five wonderful black cats, was helping with transporting rescued cats wherever they needed to go, and holding feral cats overnight in my bathroom and releasing them to their colonies. I had no idea what the kitten looked or acted like, but trusted the person we worked with at WPHS that fostering was appropriate for him, and my inner voice said to take him in. Another rescuer who worked near the shelter brought him to me that evening.
The kitten was Basil the day he arrived with the name “Smokie” and the photo above is what he looked like that first day, and for the next day as well. He’d been picked up and surrendered by an individual as a stray with his brother at five weeks, gone into a foster home for the intervening nine weeks, and come back to be neutered, get his shots and be placed for adoption; his brother had no such issues, had been vetted and was up for adoption already. No one could determine his fear or trauma, but quite a bit of pheromone wipes and flower essences in the quiet of the bathroom, birds chirping and leaves rustling outside the open window, finally got him to eat inside his tiny carrier but only alone and with the carrier door closed, then open, then in a larger carrier, then finally he emerged one day after seeing the ninjas outside the bathroom door. The pheromones and flower essences and quiet atmosphere were joined by me spending time in the room with him, napping or just sitting on the floor until he found the courage to come over and smell the big monster, and then touch me, then interacting with toys, then touching with toys, and finally with my hand, soaked in all the same pheromones and essences that had helped him so far. By the time Bella joined us three weeks later he was still shy but curious and welcoming, comforting her inside her carrier and encouraging her to come out. The two were fast friends and went through the same socialization together.
Though I can still see echoes of that frightened kitten in those big round eyes of his, he’s come a long way since then, slowly, step by step, until today he’s come farther than I ever thought he would. I can’t tell you what a joy it’s been through the past year to watch his gentle and loving personality unfold and to see him today as a handsome adult cat, trusting and eager for affection, mingling naturally with all the other cats in the house, confident with visitors and even being handled for an exam and nail trimming. Those echoes in his eyes tell me that whatever trauma he suffered in those early weeks is still there to be reawakened in some rare circumstances and to always handle him gently, more gently than others, both physically and emotionally. But if that’s all it takes to keep him happily racing up and down the cat tree, watching birds and chipmunks at the windows and doors, chasing ping pong balls with crazy abandon up and down the steps, picking friendly wrestling matches with Bella and the ninjas, and rolling over on his back on my desk while I work—and lately doing his part in socializing other frightened kittens—it’s an easy thing to remember.
Not everyone has the time to socialize kittens like Basil. There are so many in need and they really have to keep moving through the system into new homes as other kittens and cats need foster homes. I have one room for fostering and it’s ideal for cats like Basil, and my wonderful family of Mimi, Giuseppe, Mr. Sunshine, Jelly Bean and Mewsette are all wonderful teachers.
And if anyone might wonder if it’s worthwhile to foster kittens and cats for a rescue or shelter, and to give a frightened, combative kitten a chance to socialize to life with humans, Basil would tell you otherwise. He found me in my studio, and is on my lap right now, happily kneading and purring, his amber eyes blinking slowly as he relaxes and looks at me and the other ninjas around us.
You can read about Basil from the very beginning and see lots of photos of him as he grew up to be the beautiful cat he is today in the archives Basil and Smokie. He has been adopted along with Bella, and someday he’ll go to his forever home, when the elderly kitty at that house stabilizes. In the meantime, I’m glad I’ve had the chance to see him grow even through the summer as he’s become taller and longer, his face and fur have matured and he truly looks like the adult he’ll be. Also, the currently little ninjas have some stories to hear from him.
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The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society is not a “no-kill” shelter but an open door shelter, charged by their mission to take any animal brought to their doors, yet through innovative programs, public outreach and lot of compassion they have saved most of the animals who’ve come to them, usually around 14,000 animals of all species each year.
Shelters rely on volunteer help from the general public to fulfill their mission and help the animals in their care, from working with animals to any professional services you can offer. You can easily support your local shelters and the animals they care for by fostering. Offer your services as a foster, and if they don’t have a program, suggest and help to develop one. The WPHS began working with the Homeless Cat Management Team to help rescue feral cats and with Pittsburgh C.A.T. after members of the organizations persistently offered fostering services. We foster cats and kittens who need to be socialized or who don’t do well in a shelter setting, who need a term of medications for upper respiratory infections, or whose life might be in danger when the shelter filled to capacity at any time. In the same way we’ve also been working with the Beaver County Humane Society, a very small shelter in a more rural area that’s just beginning its fostering program.
Reach out and ask, and keep after it. You can only help to save lives, as well as support those people who are already charged with sheltering these animals who were surrendered from homes and the streets.
Photos pulled “From the Archives” were taken by one or another digital camera of mine between 2002 and, well, yesterday, but usually they are older than that, and I had never had the chance to feature them. Vintage photos were taken on film at any time back to 1983 when I first got my Pentax K1000, and a few from before that from photos I found in my family’s house. They’re a fun way to “introduce” other members of my feline family who came and went before I began blogging, and to illustrate my feline family in general from days gone by.
All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
© 2015 | www.TheCreativeCat.net | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!