Be wary of the charms of kittens.
Inge Sadler, a busy banker, wife and mother of a girl and a boy, simply walked into her local vet’s office 10 years ago on a routine visit for one of her cats. Someone else walked in with a box of two kittens and abandoned them at the front desk, and then walked out wordlessly.
On the spot, she decided to take one and named it Zeus—a godly name to give the kitten divine strength. “That kitten did not survive, but I was bound and determined that I would make some survive,” she says. “I was going to make that one count for something.”
Sadler tells the story from her Bedford home, effortlessly lifting her voice over a din of whimpering puppies and ringing doorbells. After Zeus, she went deeper into her cat love. She switched to Vetcetera, as it was nearer home, and became a regular. “I spent so much time there with my kittens I figured I may as well work here.”
Weighing a stack of cash against a stack of kittens made the choice obvious. She quit the bank and became a vet’s assistant, which let her “do the kitten thing full time.” She knew nothing about kitten care, but learned how to do such things as bottle-feeding, incubating and “stimulating” kittens to make them poop. (That’s what mother cats are doing when they lick their babies’ undersides. “I love them, but not that much,” Sadler explains. “And we go through an awful lot of Kleenex.”)
Word of the kitten savior spread and soon, abandoned kittens (through their human surrogates) rang her doorbell several times a week. Vets and the SPCA herded baby cats her way and today, rescues arrive from Cape Breton Island to the Yarmouth Shore. Some are abandoned, others birthed in sheds by feral mothers, who are then frightened away.
“I’ve tried to retire a couple of times,” Sadler says. “Here I am. I think this is my second year of ‘retirement’ and this is my highest number of kittens ever.” At this point Sadler breaks our conversation as the doorbell rings. She calls back apologetically 10 minutes later: “Pardon the noise in the background. I’m in the middle of feeding puppies.”
Recently, someone tossed five puppies into a garbage bag and dumped it in swampy Sydney ditch. Two teenagers rescued the little dogs and they wound up at Pick of the Litter, one of its rare forays outside the cat world. (Sadler has also rescued skinny pigs, a dove, mice, bunnies and squirrels).
As the kittens mewed into her life in increasing numbers, she built a network of helpers. Five foster homes stand ready to nurture kittens into weaned cats, which are then adopted by people on Sadler’s waiting list. The hand-raised “Velcro cats” enjoy great demand.
If you rescue a kitten and wonder if it’s the right size for Pick of the Litter, the society has one clause: put it in a teacup. If it fits, it’s still a “bottle baby” and will find a home with Sadler.
So far, she’s rescued 350 kittens in 2014. Since she registered her society 10 years ago, some 2,200 kittens have found safety in her home.
The squeaky ruckus of hungry puppies briefly overwhelms her voice before she settles them. The whole thing is quite expensive, she adds. “We’ve learned to beg. We are not funded in any way,” she says. “And at night when I have nothing else to do, I crochet little cat toys and we sell them at cat shows.” This year, they’re hoping for a funding boost from a sexy calendar called His ‘n Purrs, which features dreamy cats snuggling with hunky men. (You can purchase copies via their Facebook page).
Sadler’s two human children are adults, and she works long hours for her kittens (including the three she has as permanent pets). “I’ve learned to go on little sleep and cat naps,” she says, showing great restraint in not cracking her first cat pun until the 15-minute mark of the interview. When she’s tired, she takes about a week off each year, most recently returning to her native Germany to visit family.
Pick of the Litter offers education, too, hoping that people will eventually automatically spay and neuter, and the feral cat population will decline. “The thing that irritates me is that I’ve had 350 kittens this year, and a couple of litters of puppies,” she says. “The puppies make the news. Nobody’s ever asked me about the 350 kittens.”
She hopes the education will anchor into the collective psyche and Pick of the Litter can retreat to a fundraising organization, as so few kittens will be abandoned. “I can dream, right? It’s not going to happen, but that would be the ultimate goal.”