In a neighborhood near San Francisco, a cloth bag was lying on the shoulder of the road in the rain. The bag was not on the sidewalk impeding anyone’s path, so most people passed by without a second thought. It had been there all day before someone in a nearby high rise noticed the bag was moving and called the police.
Inside the bag was a freezing, soaking wet Persian. Another hour in the rain might have been the cat’s last, but thankfully the police sergeant brought her to a local shelter. Volunteers were able to use heated blankets and hot water bottles to raise her body temperature, which had fallen dangerously low. Once she dried, they shaved her tangled, matted fur.
As soon as the Persian, named Millie, became eligible for transfer, she was grabbed up by Purebreds Plus Cat Rescue in Vacaville, California, a nonprofit rescue group that has been rescuing, fostering, rehabilitating, and adopting out purebred cats mainly along the West Coast since 2007. Millie went home with Harriet Butts, an experienced Purebreds Plus volunteer who has been fostering cats for more than five years.
Harriet’s first challenge: Getting the emaciated cat to eat. After several brands and varieties of food proved unappealing to Millie, Harriet finally found what the cat was looking for.
“On day three we gave her Evanger’s Mackerel wet cat food,” Millie’s online bio reads. “This is a fancy brand but a fairly disgusting food. Lots of juice that is literally brown black with little fish bodies in it. It is really nasty and unappealing. She loved it and ate every drop.”
Since that “disgusting” jump start, Millie’s health has improved, and she has started eating regular cat food again — though Harriet is still trying to find the cat’s favorite brand. Her weight has also returned to a healthy range. But more surprises awaited Harriet.
“Part of the challenge and fun of fostering is you have to be a detective in a number of ways to try to figure out the history your foster cat,” Harriet says. “What situations in his or her previous life caused problems for the cat?”
Despite the shocking circumstances of Millie’s rescue, Harriet was amazed to learn that the cat had a sweet, gentle temperament. She was clearly loved in her previous home — which made her abandonment in a bag in the rain even more puzzling and frustrating. Harriet learned the extent of Millie’s patience during a recent vet visit.
“We bathed her, and though she was clearly very surprised and certainly did NOT like it, she very carefully kept her claws pulled in,” Harriet says. “She is a very gentle kitty.”
Harriet also discovered that though they initially believed her to be several years older, Millie is only two — evidenced by her pearly white teeth. To help the young cat recover from her ordeal, Harriet has given her a room of her own and slowly introduced her to the other cats and kittens in the house.
“We have put her in the center of everything so she can be entertained by all that goes on,” Harriet says. “She has a high loft and a window to look out of. So we have let her feel safe and in control of her space so she can relax.”
According to Harriet, figuring out what each cat needs to thrive is the biggest challenge of fostering — and it is also the most fun.
“The kitty foster needs to be a problem solver and a creative thinker and a very attentive observer of the behavior of your foster,” she says. “The kitty comes with a whole history of behaviors and experiences, and you usually have no knowledge of any of that. How can you help that cat best and choose the right home?”
Harriet decided to start fostering after she unexpectedly lost her cream Himalayan, Sunshine, to a heart attack. She was looking for a way to assuage her grief and help other cats in the process.
“In my sorrow I thought I would find the most needy miserable cream Himi to adopt and care for to try to create a silver lining for his loss,” Harriet says. “Instead I found Purebreds Plus and became a foster mom.”
For Harriet, fostering has been “a challenging, exciting, and so very satisfying job,” and in five years she has helped find homes for more than 500 of the cats she calls “Sunshine’s cousins.” She is delighted that she’s gotten the chance to bring happy endings to so many cats’ stories and joy to the lives of so many humans.
“Kitties are so wonderful, and they forgive and forget and recover to go on to live happy kitty lives, if you give them a chance,” she says. “The joy and satisfaction of helping them is almost addictive. Not often in life can you do this much good so easily.”
Given Millie’s adorable, curly whiskers and sweet personality, Harriet has no doubt that the sweet Persian will soon meet the perfect family as well. Millie will be available for adoption via Purebreds Plus in a few weeks, and Harriet is thrilled to be a part of Millie’s journey to her forever home.
“Just look at Millie — she is an absolute treasure,” Harriet says. “What could be more fun than helping her — not to mention saving her life?”
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