In October, Berkeley Humane held a new fundraising event, Best In Show — Stories Beyond the Shelter. Michael Krasny of KQED Forum hosted the sold-out evening, which featured authors Julie Barton and Steven Winn whose dog-oriented books have earned high praise. Berkeley Humane simultaneously asked supporters to submit stories of how a rescued dog or cat had touched their lives. Bay Woof is sharing the cat stories. We shared the dog stories in February. —Judith M. Gallman, Editor
Love and Let Go
By Maddie Greene
Sometimes the way to love an animal is to let them go.
This isn’t about an animal passing away, I’m happy to say. This is about a different kind of l loss.
I’m proud to be a former foster volunteer for Berkeley Humane. Fostering cats enriched my life with a rainbow of personalities from 4-day-old babies that I fed every three hours to self-reliant adults. By donating my time and attention, I’ve helped Berkeley Humane find homes for 24 cats and kittens.
The act of adopting a foster animal is affectionately known as a “foster fail.” When I began fostering I wondered, “How can I do this without adopting them all?” But Berkeley Humane helped me experience a new kind of love for the first time. It’s love for a pet that isn’t your pet. You care so, so much — but ultimately, you help them toward their place in another home and in other hearts. Every time I dropped off a cat for their adoption weekend I’d cry, but I knew I was doing the right thing. Fostering helped me find and flex a new muscle in my heart: the ability to love completely and let go.
Felix was a wee little black-and-white kitten. He’d been hand-raised by volunteers and successfully introduced to a new litter for socialization. The runt of the litter, and the only one who knew humans were superb sources of food, he loved people. And I loved him.
I got ready to foster fail.
That’s when a cancer diagnosis hit my family. My future changed. Instead of a kitten, I saw travel, family demands, and uncertainty. In an airport, my husband and I held hands and decided Felix was the right cat, but this wasn’t the right time.
Felix was adopted into his new home. I know they love him, because they shared their story with Berkeley Humane’s blog.
To this day, I regret not adopting Felix. But loving often means letting go. My loss means another home has a beloved pet.
My family member passed away last year. Once again I was reminded that your heart can hurt in so many ways as it reminds you that you have loved fiercely. That’s what fostering helped teach me. And it is a comfort that I’ve helped bring joy to over 20 new households, because I learned how to love and let go.
A Kitty by My Side
By Katie Judson
Fiona came home with me from Berkeley Humane in March 2013. I was 25 and on the tailend of a breakup that left me with broken dreams, a broken heart, and a new apartment. I had known for years that I wanted to share my life with a cat, but the circumstances had never been right. So, I figured if I had to start my life over, I might as well do it with a kitty by my side.
Fiona was a former street cat, and as such, was not quick to trust or show affection — feelings that I knew well. After a week of frightened meows and finding places to hide, I realized something: Maybe if I build trust with her the way I needed from others, she might come around. I gave her a ton of space, fed her good food, and talked to her frequently to let her know she wasn’t alone. Within days, she started to follow me around the apartment, observing my every move. A few weeks after that, I woke up one night to find her snuggled behind my knees. She gave me a look that said, “I’m here because it’s cold in the rest of the apartment — don’t get used to it”
I ignored it. I knew with that cuddle, she had learned to trust me. From then on, she spent virtually every night next to me in bed.
In the beginning of our new life, thoughts of “I wonder what my ex is doing right now?” were replaced with “I wonder what Fiona is doing right now?” As years passed and memories of my ex faded, her favorite napping place atop folders full of work documents was replaced with textbooks as I started graduate school at Cal. Our established routine as a twosome has been altered twice in the last six years. The first with another rescue: a kitten that Fiona adopted as her own almost immediately. The second when I fell in love with my partner who Fiona is less fond of, but doesn’t mind as long as she still has a spot behind my knees in bed.
In many ways, Fiona and I started our lives over together — learning how to trust and be trusted, and even though it’s not just the two of us anymore, we are both better from what we have learned from each other.
To Honor Aja Katrina: The Creation of a Pet Loss Support Group
by Jill Goodfriend
“Please, Mom! Can we keep them?” my then 13-year-old daughter begged me, referring to a petite, polydactyl, muted Calico of gray, white, and tan who had taken up residence in our woodpile with her five kittens. Still grieving the death of our pure-bred, 10-year old Sheltie, F. Scott Underfoot (Scotty), I had no room in my broken heart for a family of cats. Without any qualms I told her, “No!” Besides, we were a dog family.
In a short while, however, I found myself feeding the thin, friendly mother who would climb into the woodpile with her catch dangling from her mouth to feed her brood. One chilly rainy day in October, succumbing to the continuous pleadings of my daughter, into the house came kit and caboodle, on the condition that my daughter find friends to adopt the feral kittens. No problem: We succeeded in locating five families. In a few more months, however, we had to locate five more friends to adopt her second litter. And then she was spayed.
I named her Aja, as her face resembled a map of Asia (and I like Steely Dan), with the middle name of Katrina, because she sat with such aristocratic dignity with one gigantic paw raised gracefully as if she was posing for a portrait. We were now a cat family.
Years passed, my daughter graduated from college, and married, while Aja and I grew closer and relocated to Berkeley. Aja, now 18, suddenly became gravely ill and needed to be euthanized.
I recall standing outside the clinic holding Aja’s empty carrier in shock. I didn’t want to go home, for home would never feel the same without my sweet kitty. Her toys were scattered around, food and water bowls untouched, wisps of her hair everywhere.
Needing to talk and cry with people who understood my close relationship with Aja, I looked for a nearby support group. Surprisingly, I found none in the entire East Bay. I decided that when the shock and grief dissipated, I would create such a group to honor Aja Katrina. And in 2004 the first monthly free drop-in Pet Loss Support Group began at the Berkeley Humane Society. It continues today.
Remembering Jenny and Spotty
By Bonnie Mitchell
They were meant to be fostered. But, Jenny and Spotty became part of my household, after being adopted from the Berkeley Humane Society.
They looked nothing like brother and sister, which they were. Jenny was a petite tabby cat. Spotty was a short-haired black-and-white feline of substantial size, with one very large black spot on a white background.
Once they became part of the family, Jenny would cuddle up to Livingston, my male tabby, and they became best of friends. Spotty would shadow my short-haired black cat, Stash. I can picture Spotty sitting next to Stash, patiently waiting in my kitchen for a bowl of food to be filled.
Spotty was a gentle and loving cat who lived to be petted and held, despite his size. Jenny proved to be rather skittish, despite her having been raised by me since she was only 5 or 6 weeks old. However, Jenny endeared herself to me by her evening activities. She had two stuffed dogs, one black and one white. Somehow, despite her small size, she would manage to carry up or down my stairs one or both of the stuffed dogs during the night. She would also follow Livingston by trying to sit on my head while I was sleeping.
They were wonderful companions throughout their lives. Both are gone, more than two years now, and they are sorely missed. I never regretted adopting them. However, I did stop fostering cats after they became part of my family, as I couldn’t continue adopting all my foster kitties.
Main article photo by: Photo by Murat Subatli / iStock