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.
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!).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kitty Clubbers! One of you (Rose Marie W, thanks!) sent me the perfect picture of the Sisters Spooky and Venus:
I couldn’t resist. I had to post this video, one of my favorite songs, one my best friend and I used to sing together. From “White Christmas” I present Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen singing “Sisters.” Imagine Spooky and Venus in their places.
In a previous post I shared how a live cam on Ustream of a stray cat and her kittens rescued by a woman in Pittsburgh, PA had caught the attention of the world. Thousands followed the escapade of Noodles and her kittens and shed tears as they grew up and went on to their permanent homes.
This may seem like a story reserved for cat lovers but I couldn’t help but notice a universal theme.
To review the scenario:
A woman takes pity on a stray, pregnant cat and takes her into her home.
Five weeks later the cat bears seven kittens.
Care and love are lavished with tremendous generosity on the cat and kittens.
One kitten is a tiny runt with no hair. He is so small that the chat community is concerned for him.
The mother cat is especially solicitous towards the runt. The community takes notice and falls in love with the runt and roots for him.
The cat and kittens thrive under the care they’re receiving and blossom into beautiful young cats, perfectly socialized and affectionate with humans.
The runt especially blossoms, turning into a large, fluffy and sweet beauty.
The girls are gorgeous tortis, the boys lean and handsome gingers.
The adoptions go well and the kittens go home.
End of story. Or is it?
In the midst of a dark, chaotic and polarized world, a small international community grows around creatures given a home, love and care. The love is contagious and soon the community cares for the cat and kittens. And then people in community begin to care for each other.
It proves something I’ve suspected for a long time: love begets love.
We are created to seek goodness, love and beauty. We long for light, not darkness, but we get pulled off course.
We seek happiness from the outside: from the glitzy, glamorous, sexy, exciting, unwholesome and even dangerous when it fact, it dwells within, simply and quietly, waiting for us.
In an ugly world the site of a cat and her kittens being so generously cared for is attractive and touches the heart. And it drew people in like a moth to a flame.
This wasn’t just a story about cats: this is about us.
One person took a chance fostering these kittens. She accepted the risk, laid out her money, gave of her time, and poured out her heart. Although many in the chat community are sad at the departure of the family, this person must feel especially drained and heartbroken.
Happily ever after
The story, however, has a happy ending. No one in the community could deny the miracle of the blossoming of these kittens (most especially the runt); it was the product of selfless love. The weak were taken in and made strong.
And no one could deny the friendships that grew within the community. When the kittens were quietly sleeping and out of sight, the conversations continued. People began to get to know each other. Even though posts were in many different languages, all converged around a single, unifying event.
Love begets love
Love is oftentimes depicted in the scriptures as beginning small and growing big. The mustard seed grows into the huge tree. The five loaves and two fish feed 5000 people. The small bits of leaven make the bread rise.
And love given spontaneously to a stray cat and her kittens grows into an international community.
God, who is Love, is continuously at work in the world using any and all situations to communicate with us. Like so many of the mundane, everyday occurrences of our lives, these events teach us how to love and care for each other.
We just need the eyes to see.
Linked to stay in touch
So far, two Facebook pages have set up by the new owners:
The response to the sevenkittens post from the other day was overwhelming! Noodles and her brood are truly an international phenom.
This weekend, the seven kittens (Taco, Hank, Ramon, Cosmo, Spooky, Venus and Loki) go home with their forever families. Noodles will be accompanying one of the boys. Everyone in the community is bidding a fond, and sad, farewell.
Real people in a viral world
On the surface it seems ridiculous to be so vested in a live cam of total strangers on the internet. But I am quickly discovering real people behind handle names like “babysmama” and “minty929,” and sometimes poignant stories of loss and healing.
It’s been a pleasure meeting you all!
It seemed appropriate to offer a scrapbook of pictures of the cats that belong to these wonderful people whose company I have shared during long summer days at a deadly quiet office (which will pick up with gusto come September).
And we can remember Noodles and her lovely family, happy, healthy, safe and very much loved by their new families.
And the Kramer household can slowly get back to normal.
What began as a romp watching cute kittens on a live cam morphed into something
It was something the UStream chat community, the foster family and the eventual new owners of the kittens could have hardly anticipated.
Seven kittens and their mother taught us showed us what a perfect world could look like.
The story behind “sevenkittens”
According to the information on the Ustream site known as “sevenkittens,” the kittens were born on June 7. The mother cat, Noodles, under a year old, was a hungry, pregnant stray taken in and fostered by a kind Pittsburgh, PA family.
Here is a video of the litter, one day old:
All are spoken for
As the family already has four cats of their own, Noodles and her litter were put up for adoption. I am happy to report that each kitten and Noodles too, have been adopted (in fact, Noodles will be going to her new home with one of her ginger sons).
Breakdown of the family
There are five male gingers: three are orange, one is buff-colored and the fifth is nearly white. This kitten, dubbed “Runty” by the chat community, was, in fact, the runt of the litter.
The two females are tortis, one black and the other gray.
The best of care
The foster family has lavished great care on this litter, producing beautiful, healthy and socially adjusted kittens ready for their forever homes.
LiveCams of baby animals are popping up all over the place, from birds’ nests to litters of puppies and kittens.
Yet “sevenkittens” has managed an astonishing three million-plus views! This weekend those of us who have been following the litter with great interest will bid a fond farewell and shed more than few tears.
What was it about this litter of kittens that attracted over three million views?
A compelling storyline. “Runty” (now known as Loki) stole the hearts of everyone who visited. We all rooted for him as he grew from an alarmingly small newborn to a sweet, healthy and magnificent looking boy-cat.
Supermom! Noodles’ care of seven rambunctious kittens, especially considering her youth, was extraordinary. When she wasn’t with her kittens, she was calling to them. She’d even play with them.
Variety. There was something for everyone in this litter from gingers to tortis, from sweet-tempered to rambunctious, glamorous girls and handsome boys.
Beautiful, peaceful images. The pictures of Noodles nursing her kittens soothed many a viewer who would check in during a stressful work day.
A viable, and international, community. Kittens are universal. Members of the chat community literally came from all over the world, chatting in many foreign languages. We had a common interest in mind – love for this cat family – and we got to know each other in the process.
A happy ending. Animal lovers know how many strays suffer and die prematurely. We’ve seen those disturbing ads from the Humane Society. This foster family lavished their attention and resources on Noodles and her kittens, sacrificing time, money and a bedroom in their home for them. It was a generous gesture very much appreciated by the whole community. And every kitten (plus the mother) are going to forever homes.
The kindness of strangers. A community pulling together around a common purpose. Scenes of perfect bliss with a mother and her children. And lots of love.
Sounds like a glimpse of a perfect world.
Thank you to the foster family for your generosity, for opening your home and sharing your story, for capturing the best highlights for us to look at again and again, and for Noodles and her children: Taco, Cosmo, Ramon, Hank, Spooky, Venus and most especially Loki.
The live Ustream will be up at least through this Friday, August 17. Highlights are available at the site. There are also videos available on YouTube at kittensseven.
I leave you with a slideshow chronicling the lives of this extraordinary litter. Enjoy!
If you are a member of the chat community or are just interested, email me and I’ll send you all the pictures I’ve collected in a zip file.