“We’re the cat people,” said Kim Kirkman.
She is a volunteer with Tiny Tigers Rescue, the Mount Airy animal rescue organization that works exclusively with cats.
“We’ve had a particularly difficult summer. Animal overpopulation is heartbreaking,” said Kirkman. There are more cats than owners. But if there’s a cat that needs help, we’re going to help.”
Lydia Hall, who works as a veterinary technician at Animal Medical Services on West Lebanon Street, founded the non-profit organization Tiny Tigers Rescue two years ago, though she has been working to provide care and homes for unwanted cats for much longer than that.
“Lydia’s good at taking cats other rescues wouldn’t take,” said Cat Snow, who has adopted two cats from Tiny Tigers. “We take on the weird ones, the misfits. Lydia calls it a ‘silver lining for the forgotten.’”
Recently, when four cats went into the animal shelter, another rescue organization took the two they considered adoptable, leaving the two more challenging cats behind. Tiny Tigers took those two on.
“There are limited resources,” said Snow. “Other rescues aren’t always willing to put those resources into a cat that may not be very adoptable. That’s what I love about Tiny Tigers. They do a good job of giving these kittens a chance when other rescues wouldn’t.”
Snow’s two Tiny Tigers alumni are Rocko and Emily. Emily came from a feral colony and survived pigeon fever, said Snow, but she still needed lots of medicine and care. “She fought through it. She had multiple surgeries, and her wrists and knees were fused.”
“She looks a little wonky,” admitted Snow. “But she doesn’t know that. She always had a good attitude. She’s always a good sport.”
Hall said of Emily’s long fight to good health, “She was fighting. So I was going to fight with her.”
Emily is now recovered and enjoying her life with Snow’s family.
“I thought having a cat with fused joints would mean she couldn’t get on the counter,” laughs Snow. “Now, she steals food off the counter.”
Snow’s other cat, Rocko, was born with hydrocephalus and some cognitive issues and has endured multiple surgeries to get to where he is.
“He was the kind of cat who wouldn’t leave a shelter alive,” said Hall.
“His care was too expensive,” explained Snow, saying an ordinary rescue wouldn’t have taken Rocko on. “It would have been a drain on the rescue.”
But Tiny Tigers took him on. Rocko still drags his front legs a bit, but it doesn’t stop him from getting to where he wants to go. He has a very receptive, loving personality and happily goes from person to person, accepting affection wherever he finds it. Snow plans for Rocko to become a therapy cat and is working on the six-month procedure to get him certified to do therapy work.
“We’re going to be going to hospitals and nursing homes,” said Snow. “He’s going to enjoy that.”
Kim Kirkman, who self-identifies as a failed foster caretaker, said, “Some of our fosters fail and become part of our family.”
Kirkman defined a “foster fail” as when a person such as herself takes on a cat as a foster, working to get that cat adopted, only to realize somewhere down the line that the particular cat belongs in your home on a permanent basis. She declined to say how many cats she has adopted or how many she is currently fostering, only saying it wouldn’t be unfair to call her a crazy cat lady.
“We need foster homes,” said Kirkman. “Living in a cage is not the same as being in a house. Rocko had a horrible time in a cage, but as soon as he was out, he was a great cat. Fostering makes them more adoptable. They get to be around and socialize with other cats and other people. They learn they’re not going to starve.”
The Tiny Tigers volunteers take issue with the cat people/dog people stereotypes.
“Not all cats are aloof,” said Snow. “All cats have their own personality. None of them are the same. Sometimes, cats take a little longer to warm up to you than a dog, and people take offense at that.”
Pam Moore adopted her cat Suzie from Tiny Tigers. Suzie was found under a dumpster and made her way to Moore via Tiny Tigers.
“She loves the dogs,” said Moore. “She walks under their feet. She’s the sweetest little cat. Most people who don’t like cats haven’t found the right cat.”
In addition to fostering and adopting cats, Hall has been working with feral colonies in and around the city. Currently, she deals with eight colonies, engaging in what she calls TNR, or Trap, Neuter, Release, which is exactly what it sounds like. The feral cats are trapped, neutered by a veterinarian, wormed, given a rabies vaccination and released back into the colony. While each cat is unconscious for surgery, the vet “tips” its ear, or cuts off the tip of the left ear. It’s painless to the cat, and serves as a visual clue that the cat has been altered.
Properly done, the process decreases the feral cat population. For example, Hall said one of the feral colonies she monitors has gone from 32 cats down to seven over a period of years.
Hall feeds each of the colonies every day, no matter the weather or conditions, rain, sleet, snow or hail.
“When they’re cared for, they’re less likely to be a nuisance to people,” said Hall.
What you can do
“Take care of your own pet,” said Kirkman. “Spay and neuter. Overpopulation leads to inbreeding which causes congenital defects. We do everything in our power to take care of cats born with deformities, but the hope is that it doesn’t happen in the first place.”
Tiny Tigers has weekly adoption fairs at Pet Sense in Mount Airy and monthly ones at PetSmart in Winston-Salem where people meet the cats, and hopefully adopt them. The organization needs volunteers at those events and also to help with caring for the cats in their care. Fosters are always needed. Fostering a cat makes them more presentable at the fairs and more likely to be adopted.
“We could also use people who have grantwriting skills, can organize fundraisers, have computer skills or can make flyers. Even with a cat allergy, you can help,” said Kirkman.
“Share posts from our Tiny Tigers Rescue Facebook page,” said Snow. “That’s how I found Emily.”
Tiny Tigers adoption fee is $100. To people who think $100 is a bit much for a rescue cat, Pam Moore, who adopted Suzie from Tiny Tigers, said one needs to consider the cat is already spayed or neutered (which itself costs more than $100) and has received all vaccinations and veterinary treatments, including worming and all boosters. The cats have been microchipped. According to Moore, all that would cost $469 if paid a la carte at a vet’s office.
Donations are always welcome. Call (336) 673-3009 for a volunteer application.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.