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…

Best - - CON­TENTS - l Fol­low Kelly and Suzie on In­sta­gram: @suzie_ and_kushi l Find out more about an­i­mal fos­ter­ing at rspca.org.uk/find­apet/ fos­ter, cats.org.uk and bat­tersea.org.uk/dogs/ fos­ter­ing-dogs

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!

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