When Katie Smith first met JR, he was in bad shape. The handsome Siamese cat had been badly burned, most likely with hot water or a caustic chemical. His injuries mainly covered his face and neck, and his skin was red and raw where his fur had been seared away. He needed immediate veterinary attention.
Having been surrendered by his owner after returning home with his injuries, JR also needed someplace to go. Smith has fostered nearly 500 cats over the past decade, so she agreed to take him in until he was well enough to go home with his new forever family. She named him after J.R. Martinez, former U.S. soldier and fellow burn survivor, who won season 13 of Dancing with the Stars. According to JR the cat’s online bio, "Mama Katie said I needed a positive outlook to get through all of this, so she gave me a positive survivor’s name."
Smith fosters for the Virginia Siamese Cat Rescue Center, which was founded by Siri Zwemke more than 10 years ago. (The Siamese Cat Rescue Center is also on Facebook.) Dedicated specifically to rehabilitating and rehoming Siamese and Siamese-mixed cats, the rescue’s volunteers have found homes for more than 7,000 kitties in need. In addition to a central shelter location in Locust Dale, Virginia, the rescue also consists of a network of foster homes, as well as five affiliated Siamese Rescue centers and foster networks across the country. Smith, who lives in Indianapolis, is the regional coordinator for fosters in Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois.
"I felt I had a passion and love for animals that could be best fulfilled by rescuing," says Smith, a retired speech-language pathologist. "As I closed my private practice, I moved into rescuing in my retirement and do that work full-time now."
Despite the trauma JR endured ÔÇô- and the continued pain of his treatments, which involved pain medication, antibiotics, and heavy bandaging -ÔÇô Smith says that from the moment he arrived at the Siamese Rescue in April, JR has been sweet and loving. As a typical cat, though, he would not stand for it when Smith fitted him with booties to keep him from scratching his wounds, which itched horribly as he healed. Otherwise, he was the perfect kitty patient.
"He never lost his trust in people, and to me that is a totally amazing part of him," Smith says. "Even though I know I had to make him hurt worse when I was treating his wounds each day, he still looked at me with love in his big blue eyes.”
She says he would often jump right off the table after treatment “and into my arms for snuggles and cuddles.
“He often fell asleep in my arms, and trust me, I usually held him for a very long time before I ever thought about putting him back down."
Earlier this month, JR got the big payoff: He went home with his forever family, who found him on the Siamese Cat Rescue Center website and waited four months until he was well enough to come home.
"JR’s new family has been waiting so patiently for him," Smith says. "His new forever mom is a burn victim herself and immediately bonded with him as soon as she saw him on the website. She knew she needed to help him heal and also knew that he would help her as well. The full story truly makes you feel that this match was one made in heaven."
JR’s new family, which includes two young children, was willing to drive all the way from Maryland to bring him home. Instead, the Siamese Cat Rescue Center’s Meezer Express volunteers ÔÇô- named for the unique vocalizations of Siamese cats ÔÇô- were able to transport JR to his new home, as they frequently do when distance is a factor in an adoption.
According to Smith, meeting adopters mostly online can be difficult, but volunteers and fosters conduct extensive phone and email interviews and go through multiple levels of approval before they will adopt out a cat. Additionally, many foster parents keep in touch with adopters throughout the cats’ lives; Smith still gets updates about a cat she fostered nine years ago. Because of this detailed adoption process, only four percent of cats who were adopted in Smith’s region have been returned this year. They’ve placed approximately 95 cats in each of the last two years.
"The most rewarding part of fostering is seeing a cat come in underweight, in poor health, very sad, and missing its family terribly, and after whatever time is needed, we help them heal and go to fantastic homes for a full and happy life," Smith says. No cat deserves to die in a shelter or on the street …. Also, getting updates after the kitties go home makes what we do very rewarding. We call those updates our ‘paychecks.’"
Now that JR has gone home, Smith can look forward to many more “paychecks" in the future.
"JR’s forever family has been involved all the way along and is so excited to think that he is finally coming home," Smith says. "JR is one special boy who deserves nothing but the very best for the rest of his life, and that’s what he’ll have. I am so grateful that [Virginia Siamese Cat Rescue Center] took the chance on him and has been able to restore him to good health and a bright future."
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