The dog whisperer: She can talk to the animals
Kelly Hartman, her loyal dog, Suzie, and their cat sidekicks are foster mums to needy kittens…
Sitting beside the closed door to my spare room, where our five week-old foster kittens were resting, my boxer dog, Suzie, whimpered at me with sad eyes. ‘I want to meet the kittens! Are they OK?’ I knew she was saying.
As usual, Suzie was worrying about the welfare of our new recruits and was desperate to help me look after them. As a kitten fosterer, I take animals from a shelter into my home in New York, until they’re ready to be placed in their forever homes. And I couldn’t do it without Suzie…
From the minute we met in 2009, Suzie showed she was gentle, nurturing and loving. I’d always wanted a canine companion and, when a neighbour announced their boxer dog had puppies, I went to see them. One clambered all over me, licking me affectionately – Suzie.
From that moment on, we were inseparable. We especially loved going for long hikes along the lakes near our home. Then, four years ago, I decided we should foster some dogs in need, so I approached the Liberty Humane Society, a local animal shelter.
They didn’t have any dogs that needed fostering but asked how I felt about cats. I wasn’t much of a cat person then but, when I learned that kittens – many pregnant or just a few hours old – were often found in a sorry state on the streets, I felt desperately sad.
The shelter had five fourweek-old kittens who needed somewhere to grow bigger and stronger. Then and there, I decided to take them home, trying not to worry about how Suzie might react.
When I got home, I set the cats – who I’d named William, Molly, Andy, Jessica and Ashley – down in their crate in the living room and shut Suzie in the spare bedroom, even though it broke my heart. But she started making concerned whining noises, looking at me with her big, expressive eyes.
After a few days, I realised that it wasn’t fair to exclude Suzie and she needed to meet the kittens. I watched in awe as she gently approached, then sat down near them, letting them decide if they wanted to come to her.
Curious, they climbed all over her and licked her. Suzie lay covered in kittens, a beacon of calm – such a beautiful moment.
After the five kittens had been adopted, I kept fostering, but I no longer needed to keep Suzie in a different room. She’d shown what an asset she was to the fostering process, making feral, neglected kittens adoptable, just by being her gentle self.
Whenever I was up all night with extremely young kittens who required round-the-clock feeding and care, Suzie was by my side, making them feel calm, happy and settled.
In the summer of 2015, Kushi came to stay. He had one enlarged eyeball, which, the shelter warned, might rupture. He was a hit with the other kittens we were looking after, and became so attached to Suzie that he followed her everywhere.
Soon, Kushi was old enough to be adopted and went back to the shelter. But, three months later, no one had chosen to take him home. He needed to have his eye removed, and his imperfection was putting people off.
So, in January 2016, I adopted Kushi. I was a foster mum, not an adopter, but I had to make an exception. I wasn’t sure how Suzie would react when Kushi came back, but I needn’t have worried. As soon as Kushi arrived, he started licking Suzie’s face, like they’d never been apart.
In time, Kushi proved just as helpful as Suzie with foster kittens. He’d lick them all clean, and sleep beside them protectively. He was so sad when they left that I decided Kushi needed a permanent feline friend.
I told the shelter I wanted to adopt one more cat, but it had to be a ‘special needs’ cat like Kushi. They suggested Sunny, who was completely blind. She’d been found behind a bin, with an eye infection that had been left untreated.
‘She’s perfect,’ I told the shelter. In July 2016, Sunny joined our little family.
Like most families, we have our daily routine. Suzie and I go walking every day, but she’s getting older now and prefers curling up on the sofa, kittens scampering all over her.
I work from home as a freelance engineer and, when I go out for meetings, I return to the sight of Suzie, Kushi, Sunny and a pile of kittens fast asleep in a friendly heap.
Suzie is the protector and climbing frame. The kittens sit by her when they are nervous. Kushi is the resident licker. Sunny is bold and cheeky and gets around just fine without her sight.
Now, at 31, I’m starting to introduce any new kittens to Suzie, Kushi and Sunny, who join Suzie outside the spare-room door, whining and whimpering to meet them. When I gently place a kitten down beside the trio, they’re patient and calm, letting the kittens discover them in their own time.
I love taking photos of the bond between Suzie, Kushi, Sunny and the kittens, and posting them on our Instagram page. We’ve looked after over 50 kittens and, thanks to Suzie’s online popularity, I hope we’ve raised awareness of the need for foster parents for cats and dogs all over the world. It’s a rewarding and wonderful thing to do, and I’m so proud to do it – with Suzie by my side.
Kelly’s faithful friend, Suzie, is a vital part of her animal fostering
The foster kittens love to play with gentle Suzie
Suzie is a climbing frame for little visitors One- eyed cat Kushi joined the family As a kitten, Kushi followed Suzie everywhere Kushi, Suzie and Sunny – permanent fixtures!