By Rich Polt
Published July 11, 2013
Rebecca Kerins always knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. But until recently, she didn’t know it would be in the lives of cats. In 2011, Rebecca learned how overcrowded animal shelters were regularly turning away, and in many cases, euthanizing animals due to lack of space. She soon began volunteering with the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS), providing temporary foster care for cats facing certain death otherwise.
Unlike many animal shelters, BARCS has an ‘open-admission’ policy, which means they cannot turn away animals from their facility. That’s good! Unfortunately, BARCS is very susceptible to overcrowding (particularly during these warmer months when cats and dogs are out there getting it on). The thought of healthy, friendly, adoptable animals being put to sleep led Rebecca to take action, offering up her home and TLC to cats in need.
To date, Rebecca has fostered 65 cats. She has bottle-fed, bathed, and nurtured felines that are in such critical health conditions, they would not have been able to survive or find homes without her. She’s even gone as far as crossing state borders to rescue cats from “high-kill” shelters. According to Rebecca, “anything is better than being put to sleep solely because of lack of space.” But if you think fostering cats is all sunshine and rainbows, just read one of Rebecca’s detailed reflections on a four-day-old “bottle baby” litter that she rescued last summer from BARCS. It’s gut-wrenching stuff!
Rebecca … on behalf of the families that have adopted the cats you’ve saved, the cats themselves (who lack the capacity to speak), and the rest of this community, THANK YOU for making a difference, for finding something that brings you joy, and for answering our ten questions!
The 10 questions
IN JUST ONE SENTENCE, WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE?
To make a difference in the lives of as many animals as I can—in this small way, I hope to help make up for all the ways in which humans have let animals down over the years.
WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING?
Helping animals in need feeds my soul in a way that nothing ever has before. All my life I’ve struggled to find meaning: I’ve had a tough time finding work that doesn’t feel empty; I’ve found personal relationships to be equally challenging. When I first started fostering, my motives were somewhat selfish: I wanted to “test drive” some kittens with my resident cat to see if I could add another member to my feline family. I didn’t anticipate getting hooked on fostering pets, but I did. Saving lives is habit-forming; once you fully comprehend the scope of the problem, it’s hard to turn away. Suddenly, without even realizing what happened, I looked around and discovered that finally I was doing something meaningful with my life.
HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR PHILANTHROPY WITH ALL OF LIFE’S OTHER STUFF?
I struggle with this a lot. It is very easy to get caught up and to keep wanting to do more and more; we (who foster cats) find ourselves wracking our brains trying to figure out how and where we can fit more cats in a house to save more lives. You start thinking things like, “My comfort and convenience are less important than making sure that cat (or those kittens) isn’t euthanized because the shelter is full,” but it’s a slippery slope. I have recently hit a bump in the road where I realized almost all I do besides work is take care of cats, and I now have to make more time for myself. This is so difficult because summer is the worst time of year for cats in shelters; there are too many needing homes and just not enough space. But I must achieve some kind of balance; if I burn out completely, then I won’t be able to help at all. And I want to be able to keep doing this for a very long time.
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE? WHY?
This question had me stumped the most. I’m not into pop culture and I don’t have a favorite actress. Emily Deschanel is an actress and animal rights activist, so I think she would be a good choice—although she’d have to dye her hair pink (ha!). She’s also vegan (abstains from any and all animal products), which I highly respect. I was vegetarian for a year but didn’t stick with it. A vegetarian or vegan diet is definitely something worth aspiring to.
WHAT WOULD THE TITLE OF YOUR BOOK BE?
How Many Cats Is Too Many? Confessions of a Kit Magnet. I have six cats. Five of the six are “foster fails” (fosters who I took on with the intention of adopting out, but ended up keeping), and the other is a neighborhood stray I rescued. When you foster as many cats and kittens as I do, you are bound to fall hopelessly in love with some of them. I struggled deeply with numbers 5 (Capone) and 6 (Rio). The question is always, “How many is too many?” There is such a huge stigma surrounding women with cats, especially single women; I find the “crazy cat lady” stereotype to be particularly offensive—and sexist. Have you ever heard of a “crazy dog guy”? I have this to say: With so many unwanted animals out there, with so many cats dying in shelters, I cannot afford to have just one or two.
WHO IS A LIVING HERO AND WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM IF GIVEN THE CHANCE?
More and more lately I’ve been feeling like the living heroes are the people who work in the high-intake, open-admission animal shelters like BARCS. These people work long hours and deal with incredible amounts of stress (for very low pay) because they truly love animals and are committed to helping as many as they can. This involves making many difficult decisions, and shelter workers often face criticism and are called names such as “dog killers.” Although BARCS is not a no-kill shelter, their euthanasia rate continues to go down thanks to caring staff members and a growing network of rescue partners and fosters alike. The people who stand on the sidelines and shout insults should do something like adopt, foster, volunteer, donate, or transport. Otherwise, they are just a part of the problem. I don’t have a question to ask the shelter workers who are my living heroes, but I do have something to say to them: Thank you. Thank you for all you do for the animals, and for all the personal sacrifices that you make. Your work is appreciated by many.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ASPIRE TO BE CITIZEN PHILANTHROPISTS?
Follow your heart and the rest will follow. That sounds cliché, but it’s true. I didn’t go into this thinking it would become such a huge part of my life and would fill a void in my soul. If you’ve been looking for a way to contribute and are frustrated because you haven’t found your “thing” yet, fear not: it will find you. This isn’t to say that you should sit around waiting for a big epiphany to fall into your lap, of course. Find things you enjoy that are important to you, and before you know it, you will be doing meaningful work that makes a difference.
WHAT IS A BURNING QUESTION THAT YOU HAVE FOR THIS COMMUNITY?
Are you an animal lover, and if so, what could you do—big or small—to help animals in need? Can you volunteer at your local shelter? Can you open up a spare bedroom to foster a cat, or even better, a mom cat and kittens to help provide a wonderful learning experience for your children? Can you make a donation or perhaps assist with transporting rescued animals from point A to point B? There are so many ways to help, and the need is so great!
TELL US SOMETHING YOU RARELY SHARE IN PUBLIC?
I had a pet ferret when I was a child; his name was Elliott (after the character in E.T.), and I got him when I was in fifth grade. I didn’t take very good care of him and ended up giving him away to a kid on my friend’s diving team. I think I wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a pet. He certainly wasn’t abused, was fed, and had shelter, but I didn’t give him enough attention and it affected his quality of life. I suffer a tremendous amount of guilt over this, even to this day. I think on some level I spoil my own cats rotten and foster as much as I can to make up for this. Elliott is long gone, but I hope his spirit has forgiven me. (Now I’m crying!)
WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH I HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
QUESTION: What is your most memorable fostering mishap?
ANSWER: I woke up one morning and heard a cat crying in another room and ignored it. I thought it was a mom cat in my office, because she was very vocal, but when I got up and went into my spare bedroom, where four other kittens were living, I discovered that one of my foster kittens, Capone, had gotten his head stuck in a homemade kitty condo that a friend donated. He had obviously been like that for hours. The condo was plywood and somehow he’d pushed his head through a hole that was intended for paws only. I had to have my then-boyfriend come over with a coworker, and they cut him out of the condo. We all laughed about it later, but in that moment it was terrifying. I ended up keeping Capone. He lives up to his name; he is a little gangster and is often causing and getting into trouble!