I am a second-generation volunteer for 4Paws. 22 years ago, my mom and I found a litter of orphaned newborn kittens in the back of my girl scout friend’s boat (see top left picture below, as well as the bottom left picture of me reading a book to sweet Sebastian). My mom, Carol Long, called every rescue team in the northern Virginia radius, and Barbara Lipson was the only contact that called us back. She walked us through how to care for a litter of kittens with no mom and we’ve been fostering ever since (fast forward to our most recent foster litter in the middle of the top row of pictures above.)
Since then we have fostered hundreds of cats and helped out 4Paws in any way we can. I like to look at my life divided into chapters based on the cats in our life at the time. From 5 years old learning how to bottle feed formula to kittens, to adopting our foster fail, Daphne, who I swore you could see right into her soul through her beautiful green eyes, to writing my thesis in my senior capstone class at Virginia Tech about the southwest Virginia high-kill shelters, to getting engaged in the Dominican Republic and rescuing a kitten – bringing him back to the states to list for adoption, to having our engagement photos done at a winery and the winery cat crashing our session (see top right picture above), to buying our first house and getting a pregnant mama foster a week later (bottom middle picture above) – only to find Ollie born a few short days later, then fast forward to getting married and instead of a honeymoon, we stumbled upon an unmanaged cat colony nearby with 60 cats. We turned our unfinished basement into an operation temporarily holding these cats/kittens until we could book a vet appointment and get them into a foster home and then adopted. It was the most amount of cats we’ve ever fostered at one time and it was the most rewarding experience returning to that home to find just a few remaining ferals that had been neutered, ear tipped and released.
I love 4Paws’ mission. I also love all of the roles that I have been offered – from helping host their first yard sale years ago, to being a reliable foster home, to helping trap cats with our TNR program, to now processing applications and helping volunteers with the Petco store cages. I’ve seen 4Paws from many different angles and I’d have to say one of my favorite parts is the education aspect. I love calling a landlord listed on an application checking their pet policy, and then they ask our stance on declawing and I get to explain to them what the procedure actually is. I think I’ve worked Jackson Galaxy and the Kitten Lady into every conversation I have with cat lovers! But I’d have to say my FAVORITE part of volunteering with 4Paws is the home deliveries when our foster cat gets adopted. There is nothing better than arriving at their forever home, only to find their new family anxiously awaiting their new family member. It’s so touching to see all of the toys lined up, beds, cat trees and love ready for this animal. I adore keeping in touch with the fosters and seeing the cats grow up.
I can’t even begin to summarize what 4Paws volunteers have taught me. From learning from Flo how to run the most organized logistics transporting cats from high-kill shelters, to Lisa showing me how to trap and release fixed cats to their colony, to Barbara teaching me all about cats and medication while leading our organization, to Pam revamping our database and teaching me about vet work, to Julie always being upbeat and training me on how to process the applications, to learning how to take a great photo from Marty, to seeing long-time friends like Jen, Karen and Jennifer. There is less suffering in this world thanks to these incredible volunteers. I have seen generosity like no other with this organization.
A darker aspect to the organization that I think took me decades to realize is what our senior volunteers have to face on a daily basis. As a foster parent, I occasionally have to deal with a kitten needing fluids or rushing a cat to the ER – but then the cat pulls through, recovers and gets adopted and my anxiety is gone. But what our senior team members have been faced with has truly opened my eyes to the horrors of animal abuse and overpopulation this country faces. From people threatening to leave their rescued kittens outside in a snow storm, to finding an abused cat that needs its tail amputated, to having to make tough decisions about ER visits and medical costs – my job is so easy compared to what they face. They don’t get to take a break from the deluge of the constant emergencies – they have to pick up the pieces and move on to the next critical situation, whereas I get to calm down after my one annual scare. Our 4Paws leaders are sent pictures of cats in rural shelters that are about to be euthanized if a transporter doesn’t pick them up in the next 24 hours. But somehow our volunteers always keep it about the cats, despite what it must do to someone facing that on a weekly basis. The cavalier negligence I’ve seen in human’s treatment of animals is something I will never be able to get over.
On a happier note, my sweet husband was raised with dogs and didn’t know anything about cats until meeting me, yet now calls me upset outside a Pep Boys watching a cat hide behind bushes. We now travel with trapping supplies and canned food in our cars. Now, we have a beautiful tortoiseshell named Sadie and she is as perfect as a cat can be (see picture above – bottom right). His constant interest in learning more about cat body language and wanting to watch a My Cat From Hell TV show binge is so endearing, and all of our rescues in the past two years wouldn’t have been as successful if it wasn’t for his support. I am so proud of him and love him more every day!
Now, I’m pregnant with a little one on the way this November – a soon-to-be 4Paws volunteer…a 3rd generation!