Do you love kittens? If you don’t, you’re on the wrong site. (Side note: What’s wrong with you?)
If you’re a rational, sane person, however, your love for kittens can’t be contained. We’ve got a treat for you: A chat with Sue Hayes, the founder of Pitter Pats of Baby Cats, a blog that chronicles the adventures of the rotating roster of foster kittens in her Northwest home, which has gained immense popularity for being the most adorable site on the entire Internet. Yes, the same Internet that contains sites dedicated to teeny monkeys riding capybaras and puppies eating cupcakes.
We sat down with Sue to learn all about how she got into fostering, find out the tricks of the trade, and, mainly, to stare at pictures of her irresistible kitten crew.
Catster: Tell us a little bit about how you got started in fostering and founded the Pitter Pats. How long have you worked with the Humane Society?
Sue: In early 2006 I wanted to give back by volunteering in some capacity. Animals, specifically cats, have always been close to my heart, so volunteering in the cattery was a no-brainer.
I started fostering a few months later after watching a beautiful dilute tortie mama give birth to three little lovelies. They needed a foster home right away and it was time for me to step up. I’ve rarely been without kittens since, though I’ve decided that kittens without their mamas work best for me because I have five adult cats at home.
The blog started as a way to showcase the babies prior to their being available for adoption, so that ideally they would have homes already lined up. This way they wouldn’t need to be returned to the shelter and I could prescreen potential families.
I was hired as a part-time vet assistant at the Humane Society in June of 2010 and discovered my post-retirement dream job. Everything has fallen into place.
How long does a typical litter stay with you? What’s the best thing about fostering? The hardest thing?
If they’re really tiny when they arrive, it might take a couple of months for them to reach the two-pound weight requirement for spay/neuter surgery. And since these are virtually all stray babies, I can never be sure that they won’t come down with this or that during their stay. Each situation is different.
By far the best thing about fostering is the certainty of having made a difference for each and every kitty who is provided with a temporary home. There simply isn’t adequate space in shelters, so until we’re able to further reduce cat overpopulation, providing a place for them is virtually expanding the available space.
The hardest thing, of course, is the rare occasion when a little one fails to thrive and, despite all our efforts, becomes an angel. I’ve had this happen a few times, and I know you can imagine the heartbreak. So I cry and mourn and move on, acknowledging the reality that sometimes they’re just not meant to be with us, and that I’ve given them a place of love for the short time that they’re here.
Do you have any resident cats or dogs who help with the foster process?
I do! My regular readers are familiar with Rosie and Minnie. These two sister girls just love to nurture the babies and waste no time taking them under their kitty wings.
You give all the kittens sweetly old-fashioned real-people names like Malcolm Peabody and Wanda Golightly. What’s your inspiration for those?
You’ve mentioned two of my favorites! I do like the old-timey names, it’s true. If I hear or see something that sounds like a kitten name, I jot it down. Eventually they all go into a little notebook, so when it’s time to name a kitten there are several at hand to choose from. Sometimes they just pop into my head out of the clear blue, like Verlene. It was just so perfect.
It’s hard to photograph one cat, let alone a batch of wriggly kittens. How do you persuade them to sit still?
Oh, I don’t. And they don’t. There are lots and lots of deleted photos, and sometimes I just get lucky if they decide to cooperate. You might also notice that very often they’re sound asleep in their photos. It’s so much easier that way.
How much playtime and socialization do you give to each set of fosters?
I started fostering about the same time that I retired, so I have scads of time to spend with the babies. Even with my part-time job at the Humane Society, I still spend far more time interacting with kitties than virtually anything else. I consider myself pretty darn lucky.
Do you ever overdose on kitten adorableness and have to detox by watching true-crime dramas or listening to heavy metal?
Hmm … I do like the occasional marathon of true-crime stuff. But television watching is so conducive to cats-on-laps, it really doesn’t cut into my duties as a foster mom. In all honesty, there are times when it can be exhausting. Particularly during the height of kitten season or when dealing with sickly ones. But I have yet to resort to heavy metal.
What’s the best thing about saying goodbye to a successful litter?
Hands down, it’s the confidence that they’ve had a good start on a happy, healthy life that they might not otherwise have had. And getting the occasional update and photo from the adopting families is the icing on the cake.
What advice do you have for other potential foster parents?
If you’re at all inclined to give it a try, please do it. You needn’t be retired or work from home. You simply need to have space to keep them safe and warm, time to spend socializing them with love and kisses for a while each day, the willingness to accept that the tears you sh
ed when they leave mean that you’ve prepared them for a good life with new loving families, and the love of animals, which I know anyone reading this already has in spades.
Those who care deeply for the welfare of animals that may have no other options, and can see past the temporary sadness when they leave, are to my way of thinking the best possible candidates for successful fostering careers. The sense of reward you get in return is boundless — and you can always get more!
How do you manage to resist adopting one or more of the kittens? Have you adopted any of your fosters?
Oh. Ahem. Well, yes. I have been guilty of what is known as "foster failure." Four times. Rosie, Minnie, Frances Jellybean, and Iris were all previous fosters. My sole boy kitty, Tiny Man, was abandoned as a kitten at a pet store where I happened to be.
Do you get through a lot of lint rollers?
Actually, I don’t. It’s not something I have a huge issue with. I do break one out when I spiff myself up, but that’s rare.
Do you fund-raise? How can Catster readers who aren’t in the Seattle-Tacoma area help the Pitter Pats and other foster groups?
No, I don’t. The focus of Pitter Pats is strictly to find homes for the little ones I bring home. I love to have people spread the word whenever possible and am grateful for this opportunity to reach other cat lovers. If a few of them are in my area, all the better.
Of course, shelters everywhere need volunteers and donations, both monetary and otherwise. I encourage everyone to find one in their area and offer whatever you can. There is a lot of progress being made in the care of shelter animals and they need you to keep the ball rolling!
And finally … can cute kitties save the world?
Yes, of course they can. I don’t put anything past them.