AFTER DEVOTING 16 YEARS TO RESCUING HELPLESS ANIMALS, INGE SADLER TAKES SOME TIME FOR HERSELF

Pizza platters slowly pile up, and banners, napkins, and place settings emblazoned with “happy retirement” are strewn about Freeman’s Little New York in Lower Sackville. It’s Inge Sadler’s retirement party.

Not from her part-time administrative role at Vetcetera Animal Hospital in Bedford, but from her role as the president and principle volunteer of the Pick of the Litter Society, a rescue organization Sadler started 16 years ago dedicated to nursing yet-unweaned orphan kittens.

Sadler’s boss, vet Emma Raghavan, hosts the party. She recalls her first encounter with Sadler. “I was doing some banking business at the bank she worked at, and I hear kittens,” she says. “I thought maybe I was losing my mind.” The teller pointed out Sadler at the customer-service table. “Inge had little kittens in a carrier.”

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That was 14 years ago. Sadler has since come to partner with Vetcetera to offer free exams, and eventually, discounted spays and neuters to Pick of the Litter adoptees.

Sadler has nursed some 6,000 orphaned kittens, alongside a few puppies and the occasional squirrel. Many have gone to the people turning up at the party on this day.

“We adopted one, Quillan,” says Coralee Loudry, who’s with her 16-year-old daughter Olivia. “As a kitten, he was bald. He had lost some of his fur but I kept saying that he was going to grow up to be handsome.”

“I have two of her kittens, myself,” says Raghavan.

Almost everyone here has a story like this. That any of the animals are alive today, enjoying life with a loving family, testifies to Sadler’s dedication. Rearing bottle babies is not for the faint of heart.

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Sadler hand-reared over 6,000 orphaned bottle-baby kittens.

Sadler has acquired several incubators over the years, which she uses to keep newborns warm at an age when mom would normally help regulate their body temperature. “It’s not a nine-to-five job,” says Raghavan. “She would be up through the night feeding these kittens, for 16 years. It was a huge commitment.”

“When they’re that young, you can’t leave them, because they need to be fed every three hours,” says Olivia. “They don’t even pee on their own, so you have to stimulate them to pee,” Coralee adds.

They speak from experience. The Musquoboit Harbour family have done a lot of fostering for Pick of the Litter in recent years. Olivia was just 10 when she decided to give Sadler a hand. “I think she was kind of overrun by bottle babies, so we offered to take some,” Olivia recalls.

Finding people able to rear bottle babies was hard for years, which is one reason Pick of the Litter was something of a one-woman show for so long. But over time, a support network developed, made up of foster families, spay and neuter advocates, donators, and even drivers.

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Dr. Emma Raghavan (bottom right) and the staff of Vetcetera threw a party to celebrate Sadler’s (bottom left) work.

“She would have posts on Facebook, ‘for urgent drive from Yarmouth,’” says Raghavan. “Her impact has been province-wide.”

Even with a wide net of support, Sadler attempted to retire before without success. She wasn’t confident there were enough bottle-feeders who could fill her shoes if she tried. Today, Sadler—fashionably late to her own soiree—is happy to say that this has changed for the better. “The SPCA has stepped up and agreed to take on all the newborns,” says Sadler.

“We’re all … trained in bottle baby fostering,” says Heather Woodin, administrative and programs coordinator for the SPCA province-wide. “Each one of our shelters has an incubator on-site now, across the province. Many of those incubators we got from Inge.”

Sadler rearing the province’s newborns let other rescue organizations focus on raising awareness for population control. “The population’s starting to come down, people’s views are changing on the importance of spay and neuter,” says Woodin.

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A room in Sadler’s basement was converted into a kitten nursery, with holding pens and incubators lining the walls.

Fewer births mean fewer orphans (Sadler figures she only had three or four kittens from the Halifax area last year), which allowed the SPCA to take on Sadler’s slack. “This is going to be the first year without having Inge to fully rely on,” says Woodin. But it’s still going to take a lot of volunteers willing to foster bottle babies going forward. “The SPCA is a huge organization that’s developed about 50 different people we’re thinking, at least, to fill those shoes.”

Freeman’s is soon packed with friends, well-wishers, fellow cat advocates, and bottle-baby adopters eager to wish Sadler well. The Spay Day Society and the Tuxedo Party of Canada were on-hand to present Sadler with certificates of excellence and tokens of appreciation, while others were just there to tell her how she made a difference in their lives.

“Inge’s my hero,” says Judith Giles, who says her Pick of the Litter adoptee Lady would have died of exposure, starvation, or any number of feline maladies if not for Sadler. “She’s a freakin’ saint. Somebody like Inge becomes my reminder that there’s good-natured, good-hearted, generous people in this world.”

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Pick of the Litter will continue on, with Sadler specializing in special needs cases like Abby, who was born with a cleft palate.

Though anyone who knows Sadler knows that for her, “retirement” only goes so far. The other guest of honour, Abby, acts as a reminder that Pick of the Litter isn’t going anywhere, it’s just evolving.

“She’s three months old, she’s a boxer,” says Sadler. “She has a cleft palette and a cleft lip, and she’s deaf. So she needs tube feeding.”

Sadler will continue to take on special needs cases like Abby, but that will still afford her plenty of time for herself. “For my 60th birthday, I’m going to go to Germany,” says Sadler. “I’m going to be in the same room in the same house that I was born in on the day that I turn 60.”

Retirement is “going to be different, but in a good way,” Sadler continues. “I’ll get to sleep at night.” 

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