Conjuring Compassion with Shelly Roche of TinyKittens
We recently caught up with Shelly Roche, the founder of TinyKittens, a rescue and advocacy non-profit that promotes fostering, adoption, TNR, and feral cat wellness. Founded in 2013, TinyKittens’ 24/7 livestream has 117K subscribers and hundreds of millions of views, and has spawned a global movement to educate and engage the public on behalf of the most vulnerable creatures.
Shelly is joining us at CatCon for a special seminar sponsored by ASPCAⓇ Saturday, June 29th.
You can learn more about TinyKittens’ good works at http://www.tinykittens.com/projects
CATCON: Tell us about what you’re going to be speaking about in your lecture at CatCon in June!
Shelly Roche: It’s called Conjuring Compassion: The Magic of TinyKittens, sponsored by ASPCA.
I’ll tell a little bit of my own story; about how being a foster mom changed my world and evolved into a tiny-but-mighty rescue organization called TinyKittens. I’m going to tell some of our most astonishing TinyKittens rescue stories, and talk about changing the narrative about feral cats in particular. And we’re going to look at how compassion works and why compassion will be the key to solving cat overpopulation.
How did you get involved with fostering?
A loooong time ago, I was living in Philadelphia and a co-worker kept getting emails from a local shelter about kittens who would be euthanized within 24 hours if no one could foster them. She started bringing litter after litter into her studio apartment and was quickly overwhelmed. I started helping her on our lunch breaks to bottle feed, clean up endless kitten poo and basically do an assembly-line kitten nursery. That was the first time I really understood how great the need is for foster parents, and how many lives one person can save by becoming a foster.
Tell us about your first cat, or the circumstances that turned you into a Cat Person
I’ve always had a special connection with animals. When I was four years old, my parents took me to our local persian cat breeder and told me to pick any kitten I wanted. There was one magnificent (in my opinion) teenager no one wanted because he had a huge underbite and his bottom canines stuck out all the time. I saw him and beelined past all the “perfect” little fluff balls and insisted HE was The One. And he totally was…
We love Grandpa Mason! Can you tell our readers his origin story, and his life after being a feral?
Grandpa Mason is the BEST!! He has shocked me so many times, just seeing what a feral / senior / terminally ill cat is capable of.
When we trapped him during a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) weekend, he was a skinny, fierce old fellow in a colony of 60+ ferals. We discovered he had kidney disease and would need medical care for the rest of his life. This meant we couldn’t return him to his colony in the wild, because he would suffer without medical treatment.
Our only options at that point were euthanasia, or to see if it would be possible to treat him and give him a good life in captivity. Since we only choose euthanasia when we are unable to alleviate suffering, and there was a chance we could alleviate his suffering, I brought him home with me to make sure he got the medical care he needed and to make sure he could have a good quality of life in general.
I was thrilled when he eventually settled in and we got a solid routine figured out for his food and meds twice a day. He actually seemed pretty content to snooze the days away on his tiny sofa in front of the fire, and I thought that was as good as it could get for him…
Boy was I wrong!
A few months later, he accidentally met a litter of tiny foster kittens… and he just melted! I was astonished as he began to style their hair, smoosh into their tiny bed with them, teach them manners and play like he himself was a kitten. It was one of the most amazing transformations I’ve ever seen!
At this point, he’s outlived his prognosis by more than two years and is still going strong! Dozens of kittens have graduated from Grandpa Mason’s Feline Finishing School of Excellence, and I’m sure he’ll get to teach his Important Grandpa Secrets to dozens more. We know we can’t predict how much time he has left, but we know every day will be full of joy and smothered in slobbery kitten kisses. He is teaching me so much, but more importantly, he is a striking example of what these remarkable and misunderstood cats are capable of when we give them the chance to show us.
How many cats are you currently sharing your home with, and what are their names?
My three seven-year-old littermates (my first foster wins): Pantsaroo, Bartlett and Bunny
Cassidy the two-legged #MiracleKitten (a.k.a. Puffs because of his glorious muzzle-puffs)
Stanley – An adorable but complicated 11-month-old feral kitten who has a rare combo of Juvenile Diabetes and Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency. He’s at my house temporarily because he needs intensive care and close monitoring while we try to get his treatment plan figured out. We hope to get him stabilized in the next month or two so we can find him the purrfect home!
Watch him on Livestream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbl_zj3remo
What’s a typical day like for you?
We never know what the rescue mewniverse has in store for us when we wake up each morning!
Super complicated cats tend to find their way to us, so we are always on our toes trying to figure out bizarre medical mysteries and then determine how we can provide whatever treatment is necessary to our ferals based on their individual needs and personalities.
Livestreaming our rescue activities 24/7 means there are always people watching, so no matter what our days and nights hold, we try hard to make sure we are giving it our very best at all times. It can be pretty exhausting at times, but it’s also really rewarding to know we’re having an impact worldwide.
What is something you wish more people knew about the feral cat and kitten population?
I wish every human on the planet could see what remarkable creatures they are; that they are capable of deep love, have relationships with each other, and that each one is an individual that matters.
I believe that we as rescuers need to start sending a clear message that feral cats and kittens have value, instead of promoting euthanasia policies that reinforce perceptions they are disposable. Telling their stories gives them a voice, dispels misconceptions and has the power to change apathy to compassion.
What would CatCon fans be surprised to know about you?
I’m a huge socially awkward introvert! And I’m allergic to cats.
What are you most looking forward to at CatCon?
I’m super excited to awkwardly meet the other speakers and learn about the awesome work they are doing!
I’m also looking forward to finding all sorts of ridiculously adorable items for future litters of kittens on our livestream. 😉
Do you have a favorite cat pun?
Example: TinyKittens currently has two feral catermelons waddling around in our maternity ward. 😉
View this post on Instagram
#Catermelon alert! Serenity is one of two feral catermelons in our maternity ward about to give birth for the last time. They are currently only on our VIP livestream ( https://vip.tinykittens.com ), but we will switch things around once the Gilmore Girls have gone home on Friday. 🙂 Serenity and Nelia were trapped as part of spring maintenance at our Happy Forest feral colony. We’ve gotten 12 additional Happy Forest ferals spayed and neutered in the last few weeks, plus 5 major dental surgeries. We have spayed and neutered more than 90% of the nearly 300 cats we’ve catalogued at our Happy Forest colony. Our awesome volunteers feed and care for the cats every single day, rain or shine, and bring in any cats that look like they need medical or dental care. 🙂
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