Twenty-one-year-old Amanda Whitman made the news recently when a newspaper in West Virginia featured the University of Charleston junior and her remarkable year of cat rescue.
Since February 2015 the pre-veterinary student has rescued more than 500 cats, many of whom were to be euthanized at shelters in her area. Catster reached out to Amanda to ask her to share more about her year-long journey.
Catster: Tell us about that life-changing moment when you rescued your first cats from death row.
Amanda Whitman: A local group on Facebook rescued dogs and sometimes cats from the local kill shelter. I followed this group for several months, never knowing exactly what I could do to help. The rescue’s primary focus was saving dogs, so hardly any cats made it out of the pound alive.
In January 2015 this rescue posted photos of eight cats scheduled to be euthanized in two days. One of the cats in the pictures looked so much like one of my own cats. That was the point I knew I had to try something.
I contacted two rescue groups on Facebook. I had no idea what I was doing. I expected both the rescues to tell me “no.” However, they both agreed to take in four cats each. The next day I went to that high-kill shelter — for the first time in my life — and I pulled all eight cats.
By fate, another cat had been brought in that morning. There was no way I was ‘leaving a man behind,’ so I begged the rescues that were taking the eight to add one more, and they did. My first rescue, I saved nine precious lives. From that day, I haven’t stopped.
What happened next? Did you actively begin searching for ways to help cats?
Yes, I immediately started to foster cats. Luckily, at this point I had worked at Logan Animal Hospital for close to a year. With my animal medical experience, I knew I had to be smart about fostering, so I built a homemade kennel in my basement.
The kennel-type setting would ensure little to no disease outbreak, no risk of accidental pregnancies, and no chance of fighting among fosters. The point of fostering, for me, was to get these cats out of the pound and under my supervision.
When people open their homes to foster animals, in a sense, it’s like a holding area. The animal is safe, and is awaiting rescue. For me the process goes like this: I pull several cats from the pound at once, bring them home and put them in their kennels.
They are usually in my foster care for a few weeks, and in this time I get their vetting needs done by donations.
How quickly did it escalate? Was there ever a time when you began to think, “omigosh, what have I gotten into”?
Yes, once I dove right into fostering, it escalated quickly. I had a lot to learn, and I was learning everything as I went along. As the seasons changed from winter to spring, my first kitten season was upon me. I ended up with 21 foster cats in my kennels at one time! This was mostly because I had three mothers and nursing babies.
I learned from that experience I needed limits. Everyone needs limits. That’s why I only have space for ten now in my kennels.
How much did you know about cat care before you began this year-long journey?
I had no previous volunteer experience with any animal rescue groups, just the skills I learned working at Logan Animal Hospital. I know it was really random, to just jump right in; however, I think sometimes in life that’s what you have to do.
Before rescuing, I had some basic knowledge about cat health and behavior. After a year of working closely with cats, both studying them and observing them, I feel like I have learned so much. I have a close relationship with my boss, and he is always ready to answer my questions regarding cat care, health, or behavior.
What would you tell cat lovers about fostering?
Fostering isn’t black and white. There are several successful ways a person can foster an animal, this “kennel” setup works best for me due to the high volume of cats I send out monthly. Fostering saves lives, and anyone can do it! All it takes is someone who cares.
Another important part to rescue, and even fostering, is networking. When I started fostering, I began building a network of cat rescues that were wiling to work with me. There I was, a new rescuer that no one had ever heard of, and yet I found some really amazingly helpful people.
Of course there were some who wanted nothing to do with me, but in rescue, “no” is a word you must get used to. Do not take offense, just move on to the next rescue.
Has this been life-changing for you?
People tell me, “You haven’t even made a dent in the cat population. Why bother continuing?” I always respond the same exact way. I might not have changed the world, but for those 500+ cats, I changed their world forever. That is what matters.
One of my favorite quotes is, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.”
Sure I get overwhelmed, sometimes I think to myself that I can’t do this any more. I have gone through so many heartbreaks and tests of faith with these cats, but I wouldn’t change anything about this journey.
What advice would you give to cat lovers?
Spoil and cherish your cat. There are so many sweet cats in bad situations that’ll never get the life your cat has. If you have only one cat, I highly recommend adopting another. Cats are social creatures; they need a friend of the same species in their home.
And have your cat spayed or neutered!
One of the biggest problems I have with animal rescue is dogs are more valued than cats. Cats are an afterthought many times in shelters across America. There are significantly more rescue resources for dogs than there are for cats. Cat lovers need to be the voice for these cats.
There is such a tremendous overpopulation problem everywhere you look in America. If more cat lovers would foster, that would mean more cat lives saved.
The past year has changed my life. I see things so differently now. I see how much help animals need, and how little help they have.
Get active and be involved. Anyone can do it! It’s so worth it to save a life.