Journalist-turned-author Heather Green fostered a few lost kittens and found herself in the process. She documents her life-affirming journey in her new book, “To Catch A Cat: How Three Stray Kittens Rescued Me.” Along the way she learned to trust others, found love and realized that life was bigger than her job. Plus, she found her new calling: saving strays.
Saving cats and finding love and community in the process is the thru-line of her book. Green started her journey after discovering three, six-week-old kittens living in the abandoned land next to her boyfriend’s house. The couple initially wanted to catch the kittens to save them but then found out the litter was too young to be separated from their mother. After realizing that they had no idea how to “rescue” cats, they went on a fact-finding mission that turned into a mission of responsibility and eventually, a passion project.
They talked with vets to get tips, and met others in the cat community along the way. Green found herself thinking about the cats while she was at work (she used to be a reporter for BusinessWeek.) They named the cats – Oona (the mother) and Zero, Two Spot and Number Three. They discovered that each had a personality, and a look. Their care also encouraged Green to spend more time at her boyfriend’s house – something she’d been avoiding for quite some time. (Spoiler alert: Eventually, they married.)
Green, who now lives in Virginia, shares her thoughts on how, through her book, she hopes to redirect the rescue narrative. Here’s what else she had to say.
PawCulture:So, would you say the best way for a person to find a spouse is to rescue cats in New York or in Jersey?
Heather Green: Well, that’s what happened. I wasn’t looking. I didn’t think I needed to have a husband to make me happy. But rescuing the cats showed me that I can actually open up to somebody and commit to somebody and be vulnerable with somebody and that can be pretty great. That was kind of the moral of the story. Up until then I had my life going the way I had established it and it was work, work, work, work. I hadn’t really looked at anything outside of work for any kind of meaning. Lo and behold, there’s a pretty great life out there if you open yourself up to it.
Rescuing the cats showed me that I can actually open up to somebody and commit to somebody and be vulnerable with somebody and that can be pretty great.
PC:How do you learn how to rescue cats? Any tips for new rescuers?
HG: At the beginning, we made tons of mistakes. When we started it was ten years ago before you could look everything up online. What’s really changed a lot is how networked everybody is on Instagram or Pinterest or Facebook. You can find help or advice so much more quickly than you ever did before. You can also cross reference it and find out if it’s the right advice. For example, there are people online who are now showing people how you can take care of neo natal kittens. It’s something everybody can do. There’s been a push in making it much more supportive and possible for other people.
PC:How do you know if a feral cat is too wild? Can you still adopt it out?
HG: Some cats we found homes for and some we fixed and had to put back out because they were too wild. They were feral. The rule of thumb is up to three months old you can very easily and very quickly socialize them or tame them. After that, it becomes much harder and you have to look at them on a case-by-case basis. Ask [yourself]: does it hiss at you? Will it let you touch it? Those kinds of things will let you know whether it’s adoptable. Mostly with older cats it’s pretty clear that they are feral if they’ve been out all their lives. They’ll hiss at you, back up, won’t look at you or won’t get out of the cage.
PC:How many cats do you own?
HG: We’re down to two. The number of cats we had owned was five. The other three have unfortunately gotten old and died. Right now we’re renting a place so we can’t take in any more. Once we move to a new place we’re going back into fostering. We’ve rescued or fixed around 150. I have no idea how many I’ve trapped.
PC:How do you change the narrative of cat rescue?
HG: I wanted to write a really funny book. Cat rescue can be pretty dark. But I think that’s there a good movement in that rescues nowadays can focus on the good part of this rather than the Sarah McLachlan, big eyes part of it. It was important for me to find a lot of good friends who kept the focus on the good part of it. If you have a network of people you don’t feel overwhelmed.
PC:Is it hard to give them up after fostering?
HG: It was really hard at the very beginning because we were so attached to them. You think there’s never anybody who will be as good with these kittens as you are. But yes, there are other people who will love these cats more than you. You don’t have enough time for them because you’re focused on rescuing cats and these other people are going to be focused on loving the cats. You learn to trust other people with your cats. Over time it became so much easier.
PC:Any do’s and don’ts for cat rescue and fostering?
HG: If you see a litter of kittens, don’t automatically think that they are abandoned. Watch them and see if the mother shows up. Kittens shouldn’t be taken away from their mothers before they’re six weeks old. They need their mother’s milk and it’s really hard to take care of kitten before that. Also, you don’t have to rescue a cat for yourself. You can tell people about that cat if you see it in need.
Do try your hardest to find a home [for a cat] yourself because 40 percent of cats that end up in shelter are euthanized. And do get connected online on social media with other groups if you’re going to rescue. They’ll help you to no end. And, if you do rescue a cat or kitten, keep it in an enclosed space for the first few days until you figure out. The way to socialize a cat is to have it in an enclosed space and feed it and little by little it’ll get to like you.
PC:Any veterinary tips?
HG: If you rescue a cat, you have to take it in right away because it might have parasites and diseases and it should get shots right away. There are a lot more low cost services now. Frankly, if you have a good vet they’ll work with you on costs most of the time. Also, through social networking or your friends you can find a place that might be cheaper– especially when it comes to spaying or neutering, it will help you avoid certain behaviors you don’t like and help avoid unwanted pregnancies or animals having accidents and getting hurt outside. There are plenty of low cost places to find. It just takes a little digging but they’re out there.
Images: Courtesy Heather Green