A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kindness to Kittens

(Above: Tamerack and Roxana, one of her kittens)

When Sarah Kidder adopted a 12-year-old female Siberian husky named Tamerack last year, she knew she was getting a loving, friendly, playful dog. But she never suspected that Tamerack had a hidden talent: as a foster kitten raiser.
It all started three weeks ago, when Kidder, who lives in the Grand Lake area, was taking Tamerack for a walk.
"About a block away, I saw this beautiful, blue-eyed, chocolate point Siamese adult and two little black kittens playing in a driveway," she says. "I was like, 'Why would those little kittens be there?'"
After talking with the neighbors, Kidder found out that that the family who lived there had moved away and abandoned the Siamese - who she assumed was the mom - and the two kittens. So she decided to take them home with her.
"It wasn't safe for them to be out there. And we don't need any more feral cats in the neighborhood because they would keep on breeding. Plus, they were just ridiculously cute."
That's when Tamerack unveiled her hidden talent.
"She was like, 'Oooh! Kittens!' I was a little concerned at first because she was so excited, but then I realized she was excited because she wanted to mother them. She would follow them around and lick their heads and make sure they were OK. After 24 hours, they started following her around. Whenever she sat down, they sat down, too."
By the next day, Tamerack was sharing her food with her little feline friends.
"Even when she was gnawing on a bone, she'd let them munch on it, too! I just sat there, slack-jawed, for a week."
Now Tamerack and her kittens are inseparable. They sleep together, eat together and play together.
"She understands that she's a lot bigger than they are, so she's very gentle with them. If they're gone too long, she searches for them and hangs out wherever they are. If I'm looking for them, I just look for her because I know she'll be where they are."
She named the mommy cat Choco Kitty and the kittens Roxana and Stetaria, after Alexander the Great's wives. (Kidder is the product of a classical education.)
The next order of business was to get Choco Kitty and the kittens fixed, so Kidder called Island Cat Resources and Adoption, who arranged and paid for the surgeries.
That's when Kidder got another surprise: Choco Kitty isn't the kittens' mother. He's their father!
"It's not unusual for adult male cats to be a great guardian for kittens," says ICRA's Gail Churchill. "When his owners moved away, he must have realized the kittens were helpless and took it upon himself to be their guardian."
It's also not unusual for large dogs like Tamerack to be kind to kittens, as Churchill can attest. Her golden retriever, Rosie, was in the news last June for fostering homeless kittens, too.
"Gentle, sweet dogs will take to anyone," says Churchill, "especially young ones."
Now that they've been spayed or neutered, all three cats are available for adoption.
"They're all incredibly sweet and friendly, says Kidder. "I'd love to adopt them myself, but I can't. It wouldn't be fair to my cat, Enkidu."
But what will Tamerack do when her kittens are finally adopted?
"I'm going to take her up to the snow as a reward," says Kidder. "If she's still missing them after that, I'll guess I'll have to start fostering more kittens."
To adopt these cats, either singly or in combination, call ICRA at 510-869-2584 or visit www.icraeastbay.org.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Glamour girl

(Above: Lily on the Capitol steps. Photo by Tina Raheem/Orphan Foundation of America)

Good news for Lily Dorman-Colby fans, and that includes Berkeley school board President Nancy Riddle, state Senator Loni Hancock, everyone who went to Berkeley High from 2000 to 2004, and me.
Lily, who is now a senior at Yale, has just been named one of the top 10 college women of 2009 by Glamour magazine.
It's a very big honor. Martha Stewart was one of the winners back in 1961.
I first met Lily during her senior year at Berkeley High, when her fellow students elected her to be their representative on the Berkeley school board.
It's usually a nominal position, sort of a glorified civics lesson. But Lily turned it into something substantive, successfully lobbying the board on a wide range of issues affecting students.
"State law forbids us from counting her vote," Riddle told me. "But we have such respect for Lily's judgment, we always pay very careful attention to everything she says."
Lily was also getting great grades, despite suffering from dyslexia, and starring on the wrestling team. But she was so down-to-earth and unpretentious, her fellow students weren't jealous. They rooted for her, instead.
Even more impressively, she accomplished all these things despite a truly horrific childhood. She was in the foster car system since she was 12 because her parents were unable to care for her due to drug use and mental illness.
She bounced from one foster home after another. Some were good, but others were right out of Dickens. But she never felt sorry for herself. Instead, she latched onto education as her ticket out.
But she never forgot where she came from. As one of the lucky survivors of the foster care system - only 2 percent of foster children graduate from college - Lily has made it her life's mission to reform foster care so other kids won't have to go through what she did.
Between high school and college she interned in Hancock's office, where her suggestions helped Hancock draft a law that made it easier for kids to find foster homes.
"While the official title was 'Child Welfare Services: Resource Family Pilot Program,' I always referred to this bill as 'Lily's Bill,'" Hancock says.
Every time I run into Hancock, her first words to me are always "Have you heard from Lily? How's she doing?"
Answer: Very nicely, thanks. She spent last summer interning in Washington D.C. with the American Bar Association, doing legal research on laws affecting foster children.
She was back in Washington again this summer, interning with both the Child Welfare League of America and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Her next step: law school.
She has also written a how-to guidebook, based on her own experiences, to teach foster kids how to get into college.
For Lily, the best part of the Glamour award was hanging out with the other winners, including a chanteuse from USC, Stanford basketball star Jayne Appel, the inventor of a folding wheelchair from MIT, and a future doctor who is first in her class at West Point.
"They’re awesome!" she says. "We're hoping to stay in touch with each other and work with each other on projects."
The issue is on the stands now; Gwen Stefani is on the cover. The article about Lily is on page 240.