Sunday, November 17, 2013

Kitten Camaraderie

The Internet has changed our world.  As soon as folks were able to post photographs online, the cats began showing up.  Cute cats, dramatic cats, pathetic cats.  Kittens.  Lots and lots of kittens.  According to Wikipedia, it was in 2005 that the first LOLcat appeared.  In 2006 I Can Has Cheezburger propelled cats into an even wider spotlight.  With the arrival of Facebook the floodgates opened and soon we were drowning in cats:  adorable sour puss Grumpy Cat, angst-ridden Henri, box-loving Maru, Roomba Cat, Venus the Amazing Chimera Cat amongst many other feline cyber stars.

Live video feeds soon added yet another dimension to this phenomena, but the first animals I found were not cats.   In 2008 millions were mesmerized watching the first famous Shiba Inu litter of puppies.  They were so cute, so klutzy, so endearing!  After this feed ended, I went in search of more live events.  I watched a wind-blown nest of eagles high in a tree in the Pacific Northwest.  I followed the adventures of Pale Male in his Central Park aerie.  I sat watching the sun rise and set over the pyramids at Giza.  I clicked into and out of many live cams, but nothing held the staying power of our little Shibas.  If there were any cats on a live cam back then, I never found them.

I continued to "Like" many cats and cat groups on Facebook.  Many of these cats had triumphed over horrible adversity - there were blind cats and three-legged cats, cats that had been abandoned, cats that had been abused - I read some truly horrifying stories.  I found dozens of rescue groups, each pleading for money, fosters, homes for their needy animals.  Their approach seemed to be, "See how awful this situation is?  Give us money now!"   After a time I grew weary of these sad stories.  How much empathy (and money) can one poor person muster?  

Just as I was becoming disheartened by the enormous need, along came the cat pages.  Hank the Cat ran for the Senate in 2012 (I heard he got 6,000 write-in votes).  Tuxedo Stan ran for the office of Mayor in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  He did not win but he managed to inspire many of the human candidates to sign his Pledge (promoting a low-cost spay/neuter solution to the feral cat problem) and the first one to sign was elected Mayor.  Humans with savvy social marketing skills and great graphics were behind both Hank and Stan.  Stan recently passed away from cancer but his littermate Earl Grey is following in his footsteps.  Awareness seems to be increasing and with awareness comes solutions. 

On November 18, 2012, the Tuxedo Party's Facebook page posted a link to a live cam which would indeed change my life.  It was a Livestream feed of Foster Dad John (FDJ) and his now world-famous Kitten Cam.  I honestly did not think that watching this cam would be any different from the previous ones I had watched.  But then I fell through the looking glass of my computer screen into the Wonderland of John Bartlett and his kittens.  I started watching when the Spice Kittens were six weeks old.  Mama cat Rosemary and her kittens Sage, Basil, Pepper and Mace.  Rosemary was such a beautiful and attentive mother and the kittens were so danged cute - running, tumbling, prancing, twitching in their sleep.  Only a year before I had rescued my own feral cat Mama Lucy and raised her six little boys, so watching these kittens brought back that experience in all its tumultuous glory.

In addition to the draw of watching the kittens another interesting feature of the Livestream feed was the chat.  At any given time of the day or night, hundreds of cat lovers from all over the world are chatting about the kittens and if the kittens are sleeping or off-camera, they exchange recipes, talk about world events, tell stories, quote movies, recommend music - the sky is the limit on this group.  The kittens can be gone to a vet appointment for hours and still nothing stops the chat except technical difficulties.  Chatters are united by the love of the kittens.  I read the chat, got to know the routines, and I was sad when the kittens were adopted and the live event ended.  But I kept checking back to see if there were any new kittens and one day I found the new litter.

Ripley's Kittens drew me in from day one.  All of John's litters have name themes - this litter was named after the characters in the Alien movie.  Mama was Ripley, and the kittens were Ash, Bishop, Newt, Parker and Dallas.  Ripley was a stunning cat - black with white trim and HUGE gold eyes, painfully thin and giving everything she had to her babies.  She was wary at first but soon grew to trust and then love FDJ.  He won her over with pure love and gentleness, and he won me over the same way.  I watched morning, noon and night.  At the shop, at home - I could not stop watching these precious little balls of fluff and their sleek mama.

And it was not just the cuteness that drew me in - there was the drama.  I'll never forget the day my favorite kitten changed gender.  "Ash is a boy!"  He was so floofy that he had originally been thought of as a girl.   By this time I had studied all of the written material on the Kitten Cam page - I learned the names and lore of all of the toys and cat furniture (named by chatters).  Chickenfish (Hail!) the most famous yellow fish/chicken cat toy, perfect for cradling the kittens when they are wee and wrestling with when they are larger.  Chickenfish has made it into the Urban Dictionary and there are several Facebook pages devoted to Chickenfish and many products offered for sale to benefit Purrfect Pals, FDJ's rescue organization.  The second most famous is Fishbed, which unless clipped to the enclosure wall has an alarming tendency to migrate about the room (propelled by tiny kittens).  The furniture includes the Tardis, The Mewniverse, The Ziggurat, The Enterprise, the Transpawter, the Hammock of Destiny (HOD), the Contact Rings (this group likes science fiction!). 

Ripley's kittens grew and grew.  They moved from the little cage to a bigger area and then an ever bigger room.  I watched them until the fateful Adoption Day.  All of the kittens had adopters lined up; the adopters just had to show up, pay the fee, sign their names and voila - the kittens had new homes!  But not one single person had put in an application for the Most Wonderful Mother Cat in the Universe - Mama Ripley!  How could that be???  Chatters around the world were mortified and miserable.  I could not stop crying (and I was watching this drama unfold at my shop on a busy Saturday afternoon).  One by one the kittens went home and there was Ripley, alone and seemingly unloved.  Oh!  The horror!

Suddenly the word spread like wildfire that a lady had phoned and was on her way to adopt her.  Joy filled my heart.  Then another announcement was made that  there was yet another person who was also interested in her.  Was there about to be a fist fight in the aisle at Petsmart?  Our fears were alleviated when the full story emerged - it was a husband and wife who were coming for our dear girl and they had each phoned and thus the mix-up.  But would they be good enough for this special gal?  We could only hope.  By the time this photo was posted I, for one, was a basket case.  It still makes me weep.  Ripley had found her forever home.

The "English Gentleman" and Ripley.

After this chaotic Adoption Day, I discovered that not only did FDJ have a Facebook page (The Critter Room) but many of the adopters had made pages for their cats.  I began what has turned out to be an ever-growing collection of FDJ related cat pages.   I joined several Kitten Cam related groups on Facebook and began getting to know the chatters on a more personal level.  As I have never participated in the chat, they did not know me at all but I can now say with confidence that I have made friends for life and they are scattered all over the world.  If I were a traveler I would go visit some of them and hug them in person.

The next litter for FDJ was named after Russian astronauts - The Cosmo Fosters.  Mama was Laika, the kittens were fierce torti Valentina, mischievous orange Yuri, and the black twins Boris and Pavel, often referred to as the Borvels since they were identical.  I followed their progress from their arrival to their departure and I am still following most of them on Facebook.  Laika (now renamed Mimi) is gorgeous and content and Boris is simply glowing with happiness and mischief.

Along came The Mythbusters:  Mama Kari, Siamese colored Adam (who later turned into a girl - Addie), Tory, Jamie and Grant.  Grant touched our hearts when he began sleeping on his back and we noticed his breathing was rapid and shallow.  Turns out he was diagnosed with a rare congenital malformation of his ribcage so his respiration was labored and used up a lot of the calories he was getting at Mama's milkbar.  John began supplementing his mother's milk with special formula.  Kittens mostly outgrow this defect if they can be kept healthy.  Watching John doing these feedings further endeared him to me.  So dedicated - so gentle!  Oh, be still my heart!

Foster Dad John feeding Grant.
By the time Adoption Day rolled around for this litter everyone had been spoken for except Grant and Tory.  Could it be that Grant's medical history had scared off a potential adopter?  We watched, clutching our tissues, while all of the kittens and mama went to their new homes and both Grant and Tory were still there!  Oh no!  This meant that they had to remain in the Petsmart store until someone wanted them.  Those poor little dears - at least they had each other!  Fortunately, a young couple showed up and adopted them the very next day and everything has turned out for the best.  We receive constant updates and photos on their Facebook page and these clever humans even came up with a way to raise money for Purrfect Pals - anyone who made donations to PP would receive (on FB) a personalized greeting from the cat of their choice.  I chose Grant (since he looks so much like my very own Mister Fletcher) and you can see from this photo how healthy he is now.

Mythbuster Grant and a personal greeting for me!
John is a techie guy, always upgrading his cameras and tweaking the lighting and fussing with the placement of the cat furniture for best viewing and also for best kitten growth experiences.  One night I stayed up way past bedtime watching him install a new light in the cage and he kept having to crawl in and out because he needed tools and drill bits and he reminded me of myself when I attempt a project.  He installed blue towels when the Borvels were not showing up on the white towels (camera had trouble focusing with the sharp contrast).  Then there was the night he decided to repair one of the fuzzy planets on the Mewniverse.   He brought in what looked like a dollar store sewing kit and between fiddling with what he called the "cheap ass scissors" and fumbling with trying to thread the needle, I had tears running down my cheeks from laughing so much.   By the time he managed to complete this job I was ready to mail him a proper sewing kit.

John has fostered over three dozen litters and never once been a "foster failure."  (I am a foster failure - I have fostered 9 cats and adopted 5 of them!)  He has eight cats of his own (sometimes heard outside the door to the kitten room).  Unbelievably, he is allergic to cats, but he does not let this interfere with any of his feline activities.  He is a man with a mission.

One of John's stated missions is to inspire others to do as he does - foster cats and kittens.  He has inspired many followers to do just that and some have also set up cams.  More and more felines are finding forever homes thanks to John's lead.  But not everyone can make room in their lives for this endeavor, so other creative avenues have been pioneered.  I have read some heartwarming and beautifully written fiction and poetry, motivated by the lives of "our" kittens and their mamas. Thousands of images have been screen capped so there is a vast digital vault of material from which many images and videos have been produced to commemorate each litter and each stage of their lives with John and beyond.  A world wide variety of artists have been influenced to create in many mediums:  digital, anime, watercolor, collage, fabric, and sculpture.  Katja, an artist in Finland, has been inspired to begin making little felted miniatures of each kitten and mama.  She auctions them on Ebay with part of the proceeds going to Purrfect Pals.  I bought a T-shirt with the Mythbusters on it, designed by my cyber-friend Hanna Fate.  She has designed wallpaper, wrapping paper, all kinds of products offered for sale through Zazzle, also with a portion of the sale to benefit Purrfect Pals.

Mythbusters by Hanna Fate
Awareness is spreading and kittens are becoming famous on camera; then they are adopted and some become even more famous.  Donations are being made - money, catfood, litter, toys, furniture.  All Purrfect Pals has to do is post their Amazon wish list and the catfood rolls in.  Chatters are also helping each other, all around the world.  This whole thing has turned into an amazing community.   Many other rescue groups are also being inspired by Purrfect Pals and Foster Dad John.  He probably never dreamed when he tossed that first little pebble into the pond what a ripple effect he would create.  He has helped cats he will never even see. 

The next litter that came along after Mythbusters was The Looney Tunes Fosters.  Stunning Mama Hazel, and her kittens Taz, Sylvester, Marvin and Penelope. Honey, a plucky and fuzzy solo kitten, was briefly introduced to Hazel and her kittens  She was only in the crate for a couple of hours when she was returned to her first foster human mom as she had been sick and it was hoped she would rejoin the group for kitten socialization when she became well.   There was not a dry eye in the Kitten Cam world when word came that Honey had passed away from congestive heart failure.  It was just not meant to be.  I like to think that all felines on the Kitten Cam now have the presence of a very special little guardian angel.  All of the Mythbusters found forever homes and ended up with Facebook Pages after adoption.  

FDJ and the Looney Tunes Fosters - on their Last Day in his care.
The most recent litter was the AI Fosters  - all named after artificial intelligence entities in various science fiction productions.  Mama was GlaDOS, slender, jet-black yet somehow silvery, huge Ripley eyes, constantly mrrring to her babies.  She gave birth to one kitten, Hal, but later adopted as her own three little guys from another litter - Eddie, Holly and Jarvis.  Their successful Adoption Day was yesterday and she and Holly went home together.  Jarvis has had a name change, too.  Now he is to be called Bartlett, a fitting tribute to the man who raised him.

Cats all over the world also watch the Kitten Cam.  My Leto will watch for an hour or so, falling asleep on my laptop and Mama Lucy was quite puzzled the first time she heard kittens squeaking on camera.  She jumped up on my workbench and searched for them behind the laptop.

Leto watching and reaching out to Laika.
Mama Lucy wondering "Where are those kittens?"
For many months I viewed all of the artwork pouring from the hearts and hands of the kitten cam people and wished I had something I could make for a contribution.  Without practice, my drawing skills have evaporated  and my digital skills are severely lacking.  What could I do?  I decided to dust off my miniature skills and began making small versions of the cat furniture and toys I saw on John's cam.  My eventual goal is to create an entire miniature roombox of his Kitten Cam.  If I ever figure out how to complete this, I will then auction it off and offer a portion of the proceeds to Purrfect Pals and also my local rescue groups.  The box itself is proving tricky, I am still trying to figure it out.  The mama and kittens (maybe the next litter?) ought to be a snap as I am pretty good with polymer clay.  I keep plugging along.  Having a real Chickenfish (Hail!) and a real Fishbed are invaluable, but working in 1:8.5 scale is fun to say the least.

Fishbed, Chickenfish and their little friends.
I have tried and tried to explain to anyone within earshot why I watch the Kitten Cam.  Next time I feel the urge to preach I will just steer them to this blog entry.  I daresay I will probably be writing about them again some day.

Thank you dear Tuxedo Stan for sharing the Kitten Cam link with your readers.  Thank you Purrfect Pals for finding such a wonderful man, and thank you Kitten Cam followers and my new friends from all over the world.  But most of all, thank you John Bartlett.  You are an inspiration to so many and a mighty hero to those little fuzzy creatures that you so take such great care to socialize and send out into their forever homes. 

I will end this as FDJ ends each visit with his small charges:  "Have a nice day.  Enjoy the kittens."