The rich legacy of a deceased 4-day old kitten, and the foster dad who tried to save him

I never realized how powerful a virtual community can be. Thousands of strangers pulling together because of a single passion.

I never dreamed that one person’s willingness to be generous with his gifts could have such an impact. This weekend I was privy to something extraordinary which made me proud to be a part of this community.

Over a year ago I was introduced by a friend to kitten cams. Any time of the day or night I could indulge in my love of kittens. I’ve watched them being born, nursed, bathed by their mother (we regulars call it “baffing”) and snuggled. They race around the room (aka “zoomies”) and tumble over wrestling with each other. I’ve laughed out loud at their antics, fallen in love and gushed over them with fellow chatters. I’ve cried on adoption day because of all the wonderful people who take them to their hearts. Many of the new owners post Facebook pages with pictures, videos and updates so we can all keep in touch. All have large followings.

Happy parents of Critter Room kittens

There is nothing on television that beats it because this is real life, playing out uncensored. In the course of nine litters I have witnessed beautiful stories of generosity, healing and friendship, not just towards kittens but towards humans as well. I have witnessed an outpouring of stunning creative efforts from drawings, paintings, photography and anime to quilts to original stories and poetry (even some a la Dr. Seuss!).

It began with the 7kittens cam; when those kittens were adopted I was referred to The Critter Room by chatters on 7kittens (see previous post). It’s been a love affair ever since.

John Bartlett, aka “Foster Dad John” runs the Critter Room and is a volunteer for Purrfect Pals in Arlington, WA. He has fostered an extraordinary forty-one litters, adding some fun by having themes attached to litters (such as names of scientists, Mythbusters characters and now, the Ghostbusters in honor of the late Harold Ramis).

Various litters from the Critter Room from
Various litters from the Critter Room

It may all seem to be sweetness and light watching adorable kittens nurse, mew, wrestle, zoom around and play. But as I discovered this weekend (and as Foster Dad John has warned in the past), a 24/7 view is uncensored; you get the bad along with the good.

The Ghostbuster kittens were born on February 25 at the shelter after the mother, Janine, was rescued off the streets. Critter Room fans were delighted to see three creamy white siamese kittens dubbed Ray, Egon and Peter.

Peter in particular was very active for a newborn, taking trips around the kennel cage and being quite vocal about it. He immediately won the hearts of the over one thousand people who tuned in daily to the cam. There were concerns however that he was burning off all the calories he gained because of his constant motion. John was supplementing him with a bottle and created a box for the nest of kittens as a means of confining Peter and keeping him close to his mother.

Janine with her boys from
Janine with her boys

This past Saturday I tuned in for a peak and saw Peter escape from box. His cry was loud as he moved rapidly around the cage. At first it seemed funny, just another Peter antic and most of us did not suspect any trouble. Janine went to retrieve him and held him close; his cries subsided and we began to relax.

John had been monitoring the situation and came in to feed him. After he removed Peter from the nest he did something unusual: he reset the cam. This would, in effect, wipe out the last twenty four hours of footage. We would soon know the reason.

Several minutes passed and we assumed Peter was nursing from the bottle until John, in his steady quiet voice, announced some bad news: Peter passed away in his hand. The chat room went wild, comments flashing by. Was this a joke?  John’s subsequent reaction to Peter’s death confirmed that this was no joke. Normally calm and self-possessed, this man wept over the death of this little kitten that he tried so hard to save. He knew the little fellow was in trouble the minute he picked him up which was why he reset the cam. Peter’s romp around the cage and his cries had been because he had taken milk into his lungs and was dying.

640 ghostbusters cropped mom and peter
Janine cuddling Peter

John was fortunately not seen on the cam but he remained with Peter for a long time. We could hear him softly weeping, hoping against hope that Peter would move. He commented that Peter’s ears had started to darken. He eventually encouraged Janine to come out and sniff the body so that she would know the awful truth.

Over a thousand of us witnessed the episode and we were beside ourselves. I was sobbing, first over the death of this sweet and funny kitten, and then over John’s reaction. This was a man who has been totally professional from the get go. He has never bought into the adulation from his fans; he was there to do a job, saving cats and kittens and giving them good homes. His cam is meant not just to entertain but to educate. He rarely showed overt emotion or favoritism towards particular kittens. And now he was openly weeping.

The outpouring from the community of over 35,000 followers of The Critter Room was immediate and overwhelming. Posts on Facebook appeared in record numbers offering sympathy to John and gratitude for everything he had done. Donations to Purrfect Pals in the memory of Peter poured in. We consoled each other, sharing memories of little Peter and stories of special cats in our lives. Many of the creative people in the community contributed original stories, poetry and paintings.

Later in the day John came back on the cam to explain what had happened to Peter. He and the Purrfect Pals staff had known Peter was at risk, possibly because he was born prematurely and did not have mature lungs (explaining why he aspirated on his mother’s milk). His frantic behavior most likely was a demonstration of his trouble (although John commented that Peter was one of the most vibrant and energetic kittens he had ever seen, making his passing all the more inexplicable). John went on to say that he and the staff don’t always share their concerns with the viewers to prevent needless worry and speculation. Out of forty-one litters, Peter was the first kitten John ever lost.

His calm voice and clear explanations were like a balm on the community. We knew he was okay. Nature had to take her course but not before Peter left his indelible mark on the hearts of thousands around the world. As did his foster dad.

I mourned with this community, haunted by what I had seen. I also shared in the comfort provided by the foster dad who, although he was hurting the most, maintained the courage to share his grief with strangers. The time he gave in explaining Peter’s passing and the risks of fostering gave me great solace as I am sure it did for many others.

Foster Dad John Bartlett from
Foster Dad John Bartlett

John is a wonderful example of generosity. People balk at the idea of spending so much time saving animals, thinking that perhaps the efforts and monies raised should go towards people. I have witnessed the effects of John’s gifts of time, wisdom and love on members who are sick, homebound, out of work, or who have lost loved ones. Many have lost their own beloved cats and find comfort in the antics of growing kittens, and in the caring community. Members comment that their faith in people has been restored through being a part of the kitten cams.

The chatters’ humorous reactions to the kittens and their antics have brought much needed laughter into my life. I start each morning at the crack of dawn checking Facebook updates, smiling at the posts from owners of Critter Room alumnae. I sneak peaks at the cam during my work day. I think of a volunteer out in Arlington, WA who because he dared to share his gift with the world, has brought joy, solace, profoundly moving moments and a slice of real life to the virtual world.

We should all be that daring. Think of the world would be like if we were.

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33 thoughts on “The rich legacy of a deceased 4-day old kitten, and the foster dad who tried to save him

  1. What a beautifully written article. I couldn’t have expressed my sorrow at virtually losing Peter or my admiration of John any more eloquently. Bless you.

  2. I was gone over the weekend and looked forward to watching John’s kitten cam with the new mother and babies when I got home. I was saddened and shocked to see that the kitty, Peter, had passed on. I know Peter kitten would have had a good life because of John and Purrfect Pals.
    I thank you, Susan Baily, for writing what all of us feel……… put into words of how appreciative we all are of John’s foster home and letting all of us into it to view the fascinating world of cats.

    Judy C
    Blaine, Wa.

  3. That was sad when that kitten died. I learned of kitten cams when the cupcake kittens were born. Oh my gosh am I addicted. They are adorable. It will be fun to see John’s kittens continue to grow. When he said he had never had one die before out of 40 litters, I was amazed. These fosters are sweet people.

  4. I tuned in moments before the reset, so I missed Peter’s frantic movements. After I figured out what was going on, I was blown away by the thought of over 1000 of us there with FDJ, hoping to hear a ‘mew’. And not hearing it. It’s real life, not just a diversion. And we are a community, not just a bunch of computer nerds.

  5. This is a beautifully written article, considered and restrained but perfectly explaining the really meaningful part of what FJD is doing and the effect he is having on the wider world. Thank you.

  6. I also witnessed the sad passing of little Peter. The night before, John was at work until morning trying to help Peter. A more dedicated kitten foster dad will never be found. I really enjoyed your article as it truly captured our emotions.

  7. Amazing article, powerfull and emotional. It was a pleasure to read it. John is a wonderfull person and Peter left a mark for sure and was loved the best he could have. Thank you for writing something so beautifull

  8. I loved your article so much. It explains so well why we all love the Kitten Cam and why we are so thankful for everything John does. I lost my dad when I was 22 (I’m 23) and Peter’s death was the occasion to remember every person or animal, that made my life special and joyful, especially my dad. That’s important to tell to the people who say: “it’s just a pet”. I think every living thing can bring joy into our lives and we all should be thankful for these moments. So, thank you John, thanks to every person and pet we love, and thank you, you wrote a beautiful article that summed up every of my thoughts on the community of the kitten cam. You seem to be a great person, I will read your website carefully. Thanks again! (sorry for my english I’m french!)

  9. Brought tears to my eyes again. I watch the kittens a lot. I used to show them to the children I taught in breaks. We all fell in love with them. John is a wonderful man who does an amazing job. Losing Peter was so sad but his legacy will live on to help other rescues.

  10. What a beautiful post, amazingly written and spoke of everything I felt watching this unfold. I’ve followed John and his Kitt-ens for over a year now, never posted or commented on anything, just admired in the background, like many.

    John’s professionalism, heart and caring soul compelled me to donate in memory of little Peter and in admiration of what John and all foster’s do … this is his power, well done that man. X

  11. Ein sehr schöner Artikel . Leider kann ich kein Englisch. Bin schon Oma und aus einer Generation die noch kein Englisch gelernt hat. Aber trotzdem verfolge ich den Chat (den mir Google übersetzt), auch wenn ich nichts dazu sagen kann. Und erlebe wie die Babys aufwachsen. Auch wenn ich nicht verstehe was John sagt beeindruckt mich die fürsorgliche und ruhige Art von Foster Dad John und ich war auch von seiner Trauer um Peter ergriffen. Da viele Chatter im Chat immer wieder erklären, was John gesagt hat, bekomme ich doch sehr viel mit. Denn die geschriebenen Worte übersetzt ja Google. Vielen Dank an alle.

  12. Total now is up to $4,000 in cash and $6000 in Wish List Donations – total of $10,000 in memory of Peter

  13. You wrote this beautifully. My laptop had crashed and by the time i was back up and running Peter had already passed. I didn’t want to ask anyone exactly what had happen,for the comments were so sorrowful i didn’t want to add to the pain of rehashing it all over again.I cried and felt so bad but didn’t know Peter passed right in John’s hands,how beautiful,and painful that had to have been.Feeling helpless not being able to save his life.I am gutted,hysterical crying and it doesn’t help that i lost my Sagan just recently which is making it all the more painful.

    I’m so glad i came across you and this article,thank you.

  14. “People balk at the idea of spending so much time saving animals, thinking that perhaps the efforts and monies raised should go towards people.”
    Well personally, I agree that as shepherds of our flocks, we owe a responsibility to the animals of the world. But why not all animals? Would you be unmoved by the same story playing out with a baby goat, or calf, or piglet? They all want to live and thrive. Why is our love reserved for dogs and cats? We love them and wouldn’t consider mistreating them and we certainly wouldn’t eat them. Why the double standard?

    1. Not so much a double standard I think. Different people favor different animals. Dogs and cats rank high because they are pets whereas other animals are no so much kept as pets. But I agree that we do owe a responsibility to animals to do the best we can by them.

  15. I was watching too, when little Peter went, and this article brings the tears in my eyes back. So well written.
    Thanks to you Susan for expressing what we all feel and felt.

  16. For those who think fosters should be spending time on people and not cats, I must say that the cats John raises go to live with people. They enrich their lives as much as food or medicine in their own way. They are a therapy for many of us that is unsurpassed. As I often say about my 3 leg cat, I am a better person because of him. God bless John and all the fosters who so generously open their hearts so that their kittens can provide love and happiness.

    1. I was one of those people who “balked;” this has been the greatest lesson I’ve learned from the kitten cams. I love your line, “cats go to live people.”

  17. That is a wonderful piece, which sums up how we all feel, why we all keep watching the kitten cam and supporting John with what he does. I’ve been watching since the Spice Kittens and it has changed my life too.

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