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Out of the Cage! The Blog of the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals

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Author Jane Warshaw provided a foster home for two-year-old Charlie after he had been rescued from a hoarding situation. (Photo by Jane Warshaw)

Author Jane Warshaw provided a foster home for two-year-old Charlie after he had been rescued from a hoarding situation.

Photo by Jane Warshaw

Out of the Cage! (June 2010)

Hoarded, Then Boarded, Then Loved to Bits!

by Jane Warshaw

Editor's Note: The value of a foster home is immeasurable. How can you place a value on the miraculous change that can take place when a cat or dog acclimates to the love and attention of a nurturing household? Writer Jane Warshaw describes her moving experience with Charlie, a cat she fostered until the time came for him to move on to a permanent loving home.

Charlie had been hoarded, then boarded for so long by the time he came to me as a foster cat that he behaved more like a cave dweller than a companion animal.

Siobhan Healy, Coordinator of Animal Care & APO Oversight of the Mayor's Alliance, called me about him and said, "Can you help me? I've got this sweet cat who really needs to get out of where he is. He was rescued from a hoarder and he really needs to be in a home." Unhappily, I had to tell her no. I had two other foster cats then, one of whom was a real alpha cat, and with my own three cats and rescued Greyhound, I was all catted up.

But Siobhan called me again about ten days later. My fosters had been adopted the day before, and when she asked if I could take Charlie, although I'd wanted to give my cats some time to themselves, I couldn't say no. "Sure," I said, "I can stuff him in here somewhere." I have a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, so there's always someplace I can stash a cat.

"When do you want to bring him here?" I asked her.

"How about now?" she answered.

So within hours, Charlie was at my place. He was a grey and white domestic short-haired cat, and whatever he lacked living with the hoarder, it sure wasn't food. I wouldn't have called him fat but he was certainly "well-nourished." There was also a large area on his back where his fur had been shaved for some kind of surgery.

I kept Charlie isolated in my bathroom at first, separated from my cats. I would go in and sit on the floor beside him, and read Tom Friedman's and Frank Rich's columns to him from the New York Times. Also, I read him the "Critters" column from the NY Daily News. Sometimes I just stared into his exquisite green eyes and sang to him.

Charlie's records indicated that he was one of 35 cats rescued from a hoarder. At two years old, he was certainly "cat friendly," but a real "fraidy cat" when it came to people. But people didn't feel the same about him. There was just something about him.

Before Charlie came to stay with me, the Mayor's Alliance had boarded him with one of their boarding partners, a downtown facility that had comfortable space for the cats to wander around in. But Charlie began to spend more and more time in the back of his cage, avoiding being handled at all. A tumor was discovered on his back, so the Mayor's Alliance admitted him to Murray Hill Pet Hospital, where he had surgery to repair a hernia and remove a small growth from his side. Charlie's surgery was paid for by the Picasso Veterinary Fund.

It was there that he charmed Joan O'Brien, the hospital's Office Manager. "There was just something special about him," she said. "He was so shy and so scared, but he made real eye contact with me. I wanted to take him home but my older cat would've gone nuts."

Charlie had become timid while he was being boarded, but he regained his confidence with lots of love from Jane and TTouch therapy by Tavi & Friends. (Photo by Jane Warshaw)

Charlie had become timid while he was being boarded, but he regained his confidence with lots of love from Jane and TTouch therapy by Tavi & Friends.

Photo by Jane Warshaw

My cats didn't mind Charlie being there at all. They'd sniff and poke their paws under the bathroom door sometimes, but basically they stuck to their own routine of sleeping and bird-watching, sitting on my terrace. After a few days I let Charlie out of the bathroom and he walked gingerly into my bedroom and crawled under my bed.

Siobhan told me that when Charlie was boarded at the downtown facility, he'd received Tellington Touch (TTouch) therapy from Mary Bruce of Tavi & Friends, a great TTouch practitioner. Tavi & Friends, an Alliance Participating Organization (APO), partners with shelters and rescue organizations to provide TTouch to the animals in their care through their TTouch-in-Rescue™ program. Mary had also fallen in love with Charlie — who could help it? — and said she'd be happy to continue working with him after his surgery. So I called her to set up an appointment.

During Mary's first visit, Charlie first ran under the bed, but when Mary went in and called to him, he came right over to her and put his head in her hand. "He remembers me," she said happily, "and I am positive he remembers — and wants more of — his favorite TTouches! He loved our sessions downtown and would just stare into my eyes purring all the while. He would grab for my hand if I dared stop!"

TTouch is a gentle method used in training, rehabilitation, and wellness therapy for animals. It was originally developed for horses, and is now used for other animals and humans, with proven benefits. "TTouch is especially important for shelter animals," said Mary. "It's very effective in reducing the stress, tension, and fears many animals may unfortunately experience upon entering the shelter environment. It also just feels really good to them!"

After a week and two stress-relieving sessions with Mary, Charlie began to come out from under the bed more often, and he actually seemed to enjoy being petted. I admit there was a direct correlation between the amount of Whiska's Chicken Temptations he was offered and how long I could pet him.

Then one evening when he was catnapping under my bed, his new favorite spot, my girl cat, Darling, crept under there and stayed for a while. Then she came out and trotted back to her favorite spot on my living room sofa. Minutes later, Charlie poked his head out, walked over to me, and pressed his head against my hand, asking to be petted.

I didn't know what happened between them, but obviously something unusual had occurred. I called my best friend Bonnie and told her about it. "If I didn't know better, I'd say Darling said something to Charlie that made him act differently."

"She probably told him to put on his big boy pants and deal with it," Bonnie said.

And so he did. Wearing his big boy pants and being treated by Mary Bruce for three or four more weekly visits turned Charlie into a confident new cat. He would jump in bed with me, climb under the covers, and curl up next to me. Even my own cats don't do that. I could also grab him and squeeze him to bits, and although he may not have loved it, he was certainly able to "deal with it," as Bonnie said.

Besides, I told him, "Charlie, there's no such thing as a free lunch. These hugs and squeezes are a small price to pay for everything else you like here."

I took pictures of him lying on the sofa, sprawled on the central air conditioner/heater, and zoning out on my cat tree.

I was fearful (ha ha) that if nobody adopted Charlie I would have to keep him myself. But I knew that doing that would limit my ability to help other cats.

TTouch practitioners Mary Bruce (right) and Peggy Marks (left) of Tavi & Friends helped to ease Charlie's transition to his wonderful new home with Danielle Kaufman (center). (Photo by Jane Warshaw)

TTouch practitioners Mary Bruce (right) and Peggy Marks (left) of Tavi & Friends helped to ease Charlie's transition to his wonderful new home with Danielle Kaufman (center).

Photo by Jane Warshaw

Not long after that, Siobhan called me and told me that a young woman named Danielle Kaufman had seen Charlie's pictures on Petfinder and wanted to meet him. She came to my apartment and, with strategic offerings of Chicken Temptations, got Charlie to let her pet him as he nuzzled his head against her hand.

A few days later Charlie was off to a new home and to meet his new best friend, Danielle's cat, Gypsy (although Gypsy didn't know it yet). He's a happy cat now, in a great new home. But I can't say for sure that she doesn't grab him and squeeze him to bits, too.

Letting go of all the animals I've fostered means every now and then I get a call or an e-mail from someone thanking me for their pet and telling me how much they love them and how happy they've made them and/or their whole family. So fostering means you don't just make that one cat or dog happier; that cat or dog goes on to make a lot of people you don't even know a lot happier.

I miss Charlie like crazy, but another cat who was injured in a fall and is desperate for a safe, calm home and some TLC will arrive tomorrow to begin his foster stint. And the day after that, a gorgeous Maine Coon mix kitten who was a stray and tested FIV-positive will arrive and take up private residence in my extra bathroom. We're hoping that his FIV status reverts to negative, which often happens with kittens.

Keep your fingers crossed.

If you are interested in becoming a pet foster caretaker, please contact a rescue group or shelter in your area, or fill out a Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals Volunteer Application.


Jane WarshawAbout the Author

Jane Warshaw is a former advertising copywriter who is now a freelance writer specializing in animal rights, animal welfare, and human health and rights issues. Her work has appeared in Time Out New York, The Villager,,,, and the TimesLedger and Manhattan Media newspapers. A graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she now lives in New York City with three cats, a rescued racing Greyhound, and a rotating cast of foster cats and kittens who she cares for until they're healthy and happy enough to be adopted into permanent homes.