Monday, December 19, 2011

A Warm Parka

Let the Christmas countdown begin!
The holidays have treated our cause well this year. Not only have we received very generous responses to our recent event and holiday mailings, we've also more than doubled our sales this year at the downtown Holiday Store (which, I might add, has been continually stocked with new merchandise--all donated!). We also had two instances this month of feral cat colony caretakers presenting humane investigator (and cat trapper) JoAnn with sizeable donations of appreciation following the TNRs. On top of all of this, 56 animals have found new homes this month alone! That's five smallies, six dogs, 18 cats, and 27 kittens who have traded a kennel or cage for a cozy living room this season--and for the rest of their lives.

Yes, we're feeling very positive about the future for animals at the moment. We're feeling especially good about the futures of the animals who were adopted last week!

Aussie-mix puppy Ariel was the sole dog to find a new home. But the kittens made up the numbers! Perseus, Hubbard, Munchkin, Justin, Maisie, Bunny, Pumpkin, Millie, Acorn, and Hopper are (hopefully not) climbing up curtains right now. (Only 14 kittens left who are still in foster care … a far saner number than 50.)

Regarding cats, Reese, Addacat and Tony are all outgoing, fellow-cat-lovers who met their perfect matches.

That leaves just one small cat who's not outgoing, and who's intimidated by other animals, who quite unexpectedly found her perfect match, too. The featured adoptee this week is … Parka!

Parka is an eight-year-old gray Tabby with a vanishing temperament--by which I mean she seems to wish she were invisible. Permanently glued inside a deep cat bed, it was typical to see only the tips of Parka's ears. She was, in fact, so immobile, that at one point we became worried she'd lost the strength to walk.

Parka was relinquished to us in August because she was having a bad reaction to the dog in the home. Apparently, Parka became either scared or jealous of the dog as it grew to adulthood, because she started defacting along its common paths through the house. As you can imagine, such a situation is hardly sustainable.

Parka's former owner had taken her in five years ago as a stray. And she was already quite shy at that point. But what was Parka's story before that? She came to us with the oddest behaviors: she loved petting and asked for it, but pinned her ears and flinched each time a hand came near. She seemed too embarrassed to ever lift her tail or rise up higher than a crouch, and she often performed somersaults of pleasure when stimulated--when most cats would be standing with everything raised high in proud delight.

It was almost as if Parka felt she didn't deserve to be loved. She wanted it so badly, but was inwardly restrained to the point of shrinking muteness, with nothing but a beseeching look in her green eyes to hint at her feelings.

Parka was overlooked again and again in her Tokyo cage. And the months went by … August, September, October.  At the beginning of November, feline supervisor Kayla decided to stage an intervention. She was moved to a staff office, where we hoped she'd get more exercise and come out of her shell. She did both to some degree. Staff discovered the full extent of her hidden cuddliness, and though she spent most of the days sleeping in a drawer, we did sometimes catch her cruising the floor after hours. There was progress. But not on the adoption front. And now that Parka was living back in the administrative area, it was even less likely that she'd be noticed.

Another intervention at the start of December: Parka was moved to volunteer coordinator Shayla's office, just off the lobby. She's get seen there … right?

Last Thursday, a 90-year-old woman named Edwena emerged from a shuttle in our parking lot, and made her way into the shelter with the help of a walker. She had lost her cat Hannah two months earlier to old age, and sworn at the time that she'd never have another one. But, as she told adoption staff Amanda, "I'm just so lonely." Edwena had to have another cat. And she had her mind set upfront on one of two, whom she asked to meet. Amanda introduced her to both of the cats, and then helped her fill out an adoption form for either one. Edwena just wasn't sure, though, who it should be. She paused at the front desk to consider. And then her eye caught a sign our shelter manager, Allie, had made to make our vanishing cat a little more visible. "Looking for warmth?" it read. "Try a Parka!" Something about the sign struck Edwena, because she immediately asked Amanda, "Where's this Parka kitty?" Amanda led her to Shayla's office, where, in a moment of affection, Parka had forgotten her shyness and was somesaulting with happiness on Shayla's lap. "That's the kitty," Edwena announced. "Write it up!"

By this point, Edwena's shuttle had returned for her. I ran outside to ask the driver if he could wait ten minutes while Edwena had her exit interview. He graciously agreed. I sat with Edwena for a few minutes while Amanda drew up her paperwork. She told me about how much she loved cats, and how empty and quiet her home had been since Hannah left. She told me that Parka will love her apartment, because there's never any noise--except when the fire alarms were tested. "But I already know what I'll do," Edwena said. "I'll take her to Cats Vermont for the afternoon, and I'll go to the hospital and read. And then, at the end of the day, I'll bring my kitty home." Edwena's eyes welled up a bit. I could see that it felt good--right--for her to make plans involving a cat.

Parka's adoption fee was covered by Purina Pets for Seniors, which is an excellent program run by Purina that subsizes pet adoptions for the elderly. From Purina's website:
"Companionship offers a multitude of benefits. For senior citizens, it can contribute to a healthier outlook on life, promote a feeling of safety, and improve health, including lowering stress and blood pressure"
We are given $2000 a year by Purina to cover adoption fees for people like Edwena.

So we packed Parka up and set the box on Edwena's carrier, just between the handlebars. A perfect fit! The driver helped cat and woman aboard, and off they drove to their new life together. And so Parka--the vanishing kitty--was adopted to fill up a home. And Edwena found her conviction ... and her cat.

That's the good news this week.

Happy, happy holidays everyone!


Director, Development & Outreach

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Matter of Timing

This week's report: twenty-two animals adopted from our shelter in one week. With about fifty animals finding new homes just this month, we've had a whirlwind December thus far!

This tremendous success was dominated by the feline faction. Only one dog--Border collie mix Piper--found a forever home last week.

Even the smallie sector has the dogs beat! Gerbils Peanut & Pumpernickel went home together, as did hamsters Cayenne & Paprika. And we must acknowledge Fiona the bunny, who was fortunate enough to be a failed foster case (staff member Susie DiDonato took this bunny home the first day she arrived, named her Fiona, and refused to return her).

But the felines … You know, when we've got a lobby full of adorable kittens tumbling over each other and mewing piteously, it's truly remarkable that we adopted out an equal number of adult cats.

Fortunately, we found new homes for all but one of our nine kittens last week! Congrats to Magic (one of the ferals I wrote about last week), Helo, Nora, Orion, Athena, Moxy, Chief, and Starbuck! We've now got plenty of room for this week's deluge of cuteness.

And the adult cats? Gabby, Katie, Lucy, Chopper, Kenadie, Bailey, and Salem all went home.

That's only seven. The eighth cat is our featureed adoptee this week: Sammy!

Sammy arrived in mid-September, relinquished because his owner had to move to a new home that didn't allow pets. A three-year-old, long-haired, solid black, fiesty guy, Sammy is the type of kitty who's not reserved about his feelings. He let us know right away that he prefered not to socialize with his own kind … but he didn't feel much better about having to live by himself in a Tokyo cage, either.

                                                                              (Tokyo cage)
Sammy also did not like to be picked up. He wanted to come out of the cage during play time, but as soon as the solicited person lifted him out, he promptly protested with his teeth.

He's a kitty who knows what he likes (and doesn't). And there's nothing wrong with that, by us--because Sammy's preferences were always clear and consistent, allowing us to understand and predict his behavior (it's only when an animal's reactions seem totally inconsistent and unpredictable that we start to feel less safe around them).

Though discriminating, Sammy was also ever charming. He was always perky in his cage and engaged visitors, and when out of the cage, he loved meeting new people, running right up to them with fluffy tail lifted like a high-flying banner. (Unfortunately, this often encouraged said people to stoop and sweep him up--which they soon regretted).

As our Halloween black cat promotion came and went, and Sammy was one of the few remaining sable felines in our care, it started to look like he was going to be a tough adoption case. Especially when November had passed, too. What's more, his disapproval of Tokyo life was only increasing, and feline supervisor Kayla sent out a special call to staff and volunteers asking them to give Sammy extra time out of his cage. The last thing a fiesty guy needs is to become irritable on top of it.

Ironically (serendipitously?), his new companion person was spending time with him all along.

Claudia Walsh has volunteered at HSCC for five or so years now. An expert in morning animal care--cleaning, feeding, socializing, and tastefully refurbishing the living spaces of our available cats--Claudia shows up every single week to (above all) give the kitties moral support. She is an excellent interpreter of feline communication, has a special fondness for the "hairy" cats, and is adept at choosing the perfect color of blanket to best show off a kitty's coat. Because after all, the cats must be "ready for showtime"!

Claudia has volunteered in other ways, too. For example, last year, we decided it was about time to replace the lumpy, wrinkled, mismatched sheets we draped each Tokyo cage with (to give the cats privacy and a barrier from sneezed germs) with something fitted. Not only did the old system look sloppy and unprofessional, it was a pain in the neck to have to constantly clip and reclip the sheets in place as they inevitably slid off the cages. Claudia took the matter into her own hands. She raided our enormous store of shelter sheets, and came in the next week with a prototype that was simple and effective.


The following week, she organized a group of volunteers to help her cut sheets into "kits" to make construction of each cover more efficient. After that, week by week, she brought in more and more perfectly constructed, attractive, and FREE (aside from her time) cage covers. Not only has staff time been drastically reduced in awkward cage draping, our lobby now looks a lot more neat and tidy, and our cats have better health and privacy with perfectly-fitted covers.

Claudia is also a master quilter, and generously agreed to donate one of her creations to our recent Black Cat Soiree fundraising auction. Claudia made an absolutely beautiful piece for us--fittingly, a quilt with a cat pattern!--and her quilt attracted the most bids in the Soiree silent auction of any other item. In fact, it was the only item to go for MORE than its retail price!

Last Monday, Claudia arrived for morning animal care in tears. Her beloved Miss Lydia, faithful feline companion, had succumbed to chronic ailments over the weekend. We all felt like we knew Miss Lydia personally, as Claudia had aptly described her antics in colorful detail each week. It was easy to see that the thought of returning to an empty house was more than Claudia could bear.

Some people need time after a pet's death to decompress before adopting a new companion. Not Claudia. Where she recognized an opportunity to reach out to another animal in need, she took it immediately. That very day, Claudia scooped up Sammy (very carefully) and brought him home.

We've since heard about Sammy's transition in his new home. True to his discriminating nature, Sammy held his bladder for nearly 24 hours because he refused to use the type of litter Claudia prefers. (Obviously, this relationship will not be about what Claudia prefers!) Claudia, in fact, was forced to race out early the next morning to find exactly the same kind of litter Sammy had used here (plus a new litter box, of course). As soon as she poured the new litter, didn't Sammy run right in and relieve himself! Crisis averted. She also reported an initial snobbiness about food selection, but fortunately, that seems to be wearing off.

Thus we have a case of person and animal mutually meeting each others' needs. It's so often like that, isn't it? In the long two and a half months he was here, waiting optimistically in a little cage, Sammy's answer was right there all along, feeding, cleaning, and brushing him every Monday morning, practicing a bestowal of love that neither party yet realized was destined for a lifetime. It was simply a matter of timing. It's comforting to extend that concept to those animals who are still patiently waiting in small cages, glancing hopefully at those who pass by. It's just a matter of timing.

                                                    (Lucky waiting for her new home.)


Monday, December 5, 2011

From Shadow into Light

December already!

And the spirit of giving is well underway. Want proof? Nineteen more animals were given a second chance at happiness last week here at the shelter! That's about 1/5 of our entire population, and nearly 1/2 of the animals available for adoption! We'll take it.

Let's start with dogs: Smoochy, the Pom who was on WCAX last week, went home with a volunteer family. Seven-year-old Lab Jill is stray no longer, and another of the fuzzy pitties, Paige, has begun the adoption process with a Vet Tech who helped with her spay surgery. Finally, remember Payton--the Border Collie mix who found her confidence through tiny Beagle Copper (see last week's post)? She was adopted just a few days after Copper left by a sweet family who is head-over-heels for her.

Moving on to kittens, we moved lots of kittens! In fact, nine tiny mewers found new homes last week: Saffron & Sesame together; Chai, Oolong, Ceylon, Jasmine, Earl, Scooter, and Sneakers. Good thing, too: these were just the first nine of fifty kittens scheduled to return from foster care in the next week. We could use some help spreading the word about our kitten frenzy!

Finally, five cats are lounging in new living rooms as I type: Abby, Watson, Barnum, Lulu, and Buddha.

The sixth cat is not indoors. Shadow spent three and half weeks at the shelter, and was returned to his caretaker last week--to go live back outdoors. Shadow is a feral cat.

You may have seen our Facebook posts about the three feral kittens we've been socializing in staff offices. Tom (CEO) has one; Allison (shelter manager) has one; and I have one. They're all solid black, just like their father, Shadow.

Shadow's family lives on the streets of the Old North End. It consists of four kittens and the mom and dad--all completely black. Their coloring means that on the feral scale, they're about as far from domesticated as it gets. As cats in the wild reproduce, subsequent litters are born increasingly darker in color with each generation, as the population returns to its most camoflaged state.

We have a Trap-Neuter-Return program here at the shelter, led by our Humane Investigator, JoAnn Nichols. For feral cat colonies who have a caretaker (someone who feeds them regularly), JoAnn will trap as many cats as possible, have them spayed or neutered, and return them to their territory. This keeps population numbers down, and sustains the health of the colony. But JoAnn wasn't responsible for trapping Shadow and the kittens.

 In fact, there's a little old lady in the Old North End who frequently traps stray and feral cats and brings them to us. Somehow, she managed to coax Shadow and three of the four kittens into carriers--without even using traps! We'd have guessed that Shadow would be so feral, he'd have to simply be neutered and returned. But we found out that he and his family did belong to a caretaker--a younger woman who lives down the street from the little old lady--and this woman had developed a positive relationship with Shadow. So we decided to test his sociability by housing him in our Feline Supervisor's office.

As aforementioned, the three kittens were each assigned other staff offices. And staff was asked to spend as much time as possible with the kittens: petting them, holding them, talking to them. At five months old, these kittens were already well on the cusp of being too old to tame. But we wanted to try. And if we couldn't succeed, they could simply go back to their caretaker's property.

The kitten in my office, Grover, proved the hardest to convince. He spent the first few days huddled in his litterbox (or elsewhere in the office), not daring to move.

I didn't want to push him, but as Jen (Med Supervisor) and Kayla (Feline Supervisor) half-jokingly pointed out, we have to "fast track" feral kittens at the shelter. They each made a point of visiting my office at least once a day, removing the quaking Grover from his litter box, and hugging him to their chests. He never struggled to get away, even the first few times. And after just a couple of days, he began to emit a stingy purr.

Halfway through that first week, I was able to hand-feed Grover his breakfast, which was a huge step forward, as he was terrified of hands.

And by the end of the week, he was so relaxed in Jen's arms that he'd do a complete backbend over her forearm just so she could scratch his chin!

By the second week, all three kittens were happily cavorting in their respective offices even while people (and dogs!) were around.

Tom's kitten was totally in love with people already. Allison's kitten was mostly convinced. And Grover--though scared and hissy when anyone reached for him--turned miraculously affectionate when clasped to a chest. The decision was made that these three were adoptable. They were spayed and neutered and made available.

And so, Grover, Magic, and Raisin are waiting for new homes. Grover increasingly reveals his inner lovebug. Now, he delights in licking one's face and chewing on one's hair when held. He's ready to take on the big wide world of people outside of my little office.

Shadow, however, did not make the cut. In her assessment, Kayla wrote that Shadow loves to be pet, and gives vigorous cheek rubs. But he quickly becomes overstimulated and then confused … at which point, his behavior deteriorates into hissing, biting, and swatting. So Shadow went back to live out his days as a street cat--but a well tended-to street cat. When the caretaker came to pick Shadow up, she stopped by the administrative area to witness the progress the kittens had made. As you might imagine, she was delighted by the transformation.  

JoAnn (Humane Investigator) returned to the property today to set traps for Mama and the fourth kitten. She couldn't catch Mama, but the fourth kitten is now in our care, awaiting his turn at socializing. He's already been neutered and had his ear tipped, just in case we can't tame him. In TNRs, feral cats who are altered have the tips of their ears cut off, so they won't have to return to the vet in the case of future TNRs. JoAnn will try again to trap Mama. It's imperative Mama be spayed, because in just seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce nearly 400,000 kittens. Yes, you read that right.

Shadow is no doubt happier today in his old stomping grounds. That's the difference between strays and ferals: stray cats are domesticated but homeless; ferals are wild, and their home is the outdoors. Grover, Magic, and Raisin have left the feral life behind. But we count their father as a success story, too. One less intact cat on the street is hundreds of thousands of fewer kittens being born into the feral life. Add to that up-to-date vaccinations and a committed caretaker, and we can rest easy about Shadow's future.

That's the good news this week. Take care, and please do stop by our Holiday Store at 198 College Street if you haven't visited yet!


Megan Stearns
Director, Development & Outreach