Today’s stop on the Rooted and Winged blog tour by Poetic Book Tours is an interview of me by The Book Connection. The photos I am sharing here of my maternal grandparents (in Kalamazoo) are to complement the interview.
Dedicated to the memory of Kit Kat, the “Calico Queen”
This is my friend Holly Provance with her dear Kit Kat who just passed away at the age of 18.
Holly is a heroic cat rescuer in Temple, Texas. In fact, she volunteers a lot of her time in the cat and dog rescue field. I interviewed her to see exactly what she does to help the animals that most humans have forgotten.
Would you please tell us what you do for the animals?
I volunteer with several great organizations. Snip and Tip does primarily TNR (trap-neuter-return), but I recently worked with them to rescue 15 cats from a very unhealthy living situation. Normally these cats would have been returned after neutering, but the environment isn’t safe, so I took the kittens and cats in to foster so that hopefully they can have a better future and not have to go back to living at a drug house.
I also volunteer with Fixin’ Ferals TNR and Rescue. I foster community cats with mange, skin and eye issues, or other conditions that need some “extra” work, and then return them to Fixin’ Ferals for them to either be returned to the community or adopted out. I recently went and picked up a cat that was paralyzed, and was able to send her to an amazing foster home through Fixin’ Ferals. We found out someone shot her, so she will always be paralyzed, but she is doing great in her foster home. Such a different outcome for Dragon than when I found her dragging herself from under the porch of a mobile home begging for help.
I recently took in a trio of kittens through Journey Home Rescue, which is primarily a dog rescue, so they networked to find a foster for some sick kittens, and found me. My own organization is Ferals and Friendlies, where I manage my own colony, and do neighborhood TNR here in the beautiful Garden District of Temple, Texas.
In my spare time (ha ha) I am a volunteer for Texas Transport, helping transport dogs to new homes/rescues, and I am a scanner with Central Texas Lost and Found Pets. When someone finds a pet, we go and scan for a microchip to try and get the animal home. Sometimes, that leads to rescuing a pet. I recently went to scan a very old Chihuahua who someone had found wandering down the highway. The poor guy was covered in fleas, had ear mites, and horrible skin issues. The finder couldn’t keep him, and I didn’t want him to end up at the shelter as they are already overwhelmed. So he came home with me as a foster. And now, I’m the proud owner of a very old, still kind of scraggly looking Chihuahua who is heartworm positive, and wobbles when he walks, but is an absolute little rock star who quickly became a much-loved member of the pack. Welcome to the rescue life.
How did you get involved in volunteering in rescue?
I started doing TNR (trap/neuter/return) when I moved to my current house 3 years ago. There were a number of cats that just started showing up, so I put out food, water, and shelter, but I wanted to do more. I contacted a local TNR organization called Snip and Tip, and they lent me traps and helped me do my first big TNR. Through them, I connected to other organizations, and realized I could help by doing medical fostering. I joined different Facebook groups, and just offered to help when I felt I had the skills and resources that were needed. I connected with Fixin’ Ferals TNR, and I got my first mange cat from them. I had no idea what I was dealing with I took in Waco (so named for the city he came from.) But I found a treatment plan that worked, and so used it to help other cats with mange or other skin and eye infections. At some point, I agreed to foster a litter of kittens through Fixin’ Ferals, and I continue to foster for them.
What is your professional background and does it help in any way(s) with rescue?
I have spent most of career working in the nonprofit world, for organizations big (American Cancer Society and NAMI Texas) and small (Austin Steam Train Association.) But I never wanted to work in the animal welfare field because I felt like I would connect too much. Three years ago I made the leap to the for-profit world, where I serve as the business development director for an inpatient mental health facility. I love it because I get to help educate the community about mental health, provide resources and support to patients and families, and work as an advocate for better treatment options and access to care for individuals living with a mental health condition. Having a lot of community connections really helps, because you never know who may be a resource for the volunteer work I do. For example, I currently have fourteen foster kittens/cats needing homes. So I am partnering with the Hewitt VFW to host an adoption event at their post. I have that connection because of my job!
Please tell us about the cats. Are there special ones that you want to tell us about? What are the most difficult cases? What are the biggest joys?
Cats! I love cats!! My current crew consists of Kit Kat (RIP dear friend), Lucky, Moxie, Pixie, Strut, Charlie, and Poppet. We just lost Kit Kat the other day. She was the calico queen at age 18. She was picked up off the highway as a very small kitten.
Lucky is 14, and her name comes from the fact that she was the lucky one of her litter who survived being thrown out of a car. Moxie and Pixie were also found on the road kittens, and they are now 4. Pixie is a tortie, and boy does she let you know it. Strut and Poppet came in as medical fosters. Strut suffered some type of blunt force trauma to his face and leg, and was having seizures when we got him as a foster. He lost an eye, and one of his legs is crooked, and he’s a klutz, but he is the sweetest boy. He was up for adoption, but the right family never came along, so now he’s one of the crew. Poppet came in with horribly infected eyes, and we had to have both of them removed. She was also up for adoption, but as with Strut, the right family ended up being ours. Finally we have Charlie. who came up with one of the neighborhood cats as a kitten. We were able to trap him, and he bonded with Strut, who was also a kitten at the time, so he became a permanent member of the family. They live with Baxter, Bandit, and Dobby, our three rescue dogs.
There are the “permanent” colony cats – Bear, Jr., Jester, Jon Snow, Pirate, Shimmer, Waco (the infamous mange cat,) Goldeneye, and Jax (another mange cat from Waco.) While normally Waco and Jax would have returned to their colony after they recovered, but the colony they came from has lots of medical issues, so the decision was made to allow them to stay with my colony. There are also the neighborhood cats who are regulars – Curly Tail, Floof Tail, Swirl, Hissy, Gigi, Grayson, Blue Eyes. They come and go, although Curly Tail is working his way up to permanent colony member. That just means that he has moved from eating at the feeding station in the side yard, to eating and spending most of his time in Wacoville, which is a designated outdoor living space for the colony cats.
I don’t decide who becomes a permanent colony member – they just let me know at some point that they like living here. For the neighborhood cats, my rule is that if they come here to eat or to seek shelter, they get snipped and tipped. So I trap regularly. They are spayed/neutered, ear tipped, vaccinated, treated for fleas and mites, then released.
Click on the images below to open larger.
Finally, there are the current fosters – twelve kittens, two mom cats, a teenager, and an old man. Ten of the kittens (the motorcycle gang of Harley, Davidson, Throttle, Silly, Sprocket, Spark, Tank, Piper, Speed, and Racer,) and the two moms (Mom Cat and Not Mom Cat) came from the drug house rescue. Wynken and Nod came in with their brother Blynken, who didn’t make it. But the two remaining storybook boys are doing great, and will be going to Pet Connect Rescue to be adopted out through Petsmart. The teenager, Sam, came in very sick with all kinds of nasty parasites, and now is waiting to find the right furrever family. Then there is the old man – Carrot – who came from a hoarding situation. He was bad allergies, and he seems to have a flare up every time I think he is ready to be posted for adoption. It’s hard enough to find the right home for an older cat – but it’s pretty much impossible when their back end is bald! In the meantime, he has him own special spot in the crew here, and he is living a great, although noisy, life.
How do you handle the emotional toll of what you do? A lot of people say I would love to do that, but I can’t handle the sad stuff. If there are things that make you “keep coming back” and taking care of your own emotional health, what are they?
The emotional toll is sometimes overwhelming. I’m so fortunate that I have an incredibly supportive partner, who lets me cry when I need to, who digs very small graves for very small kittens who don’t make it, and who doesn’t bat an eye when I tell him that I am bringing home the body of a deceased puppy I went to scan (no microchip so no owner to notify) because I couldn’t just leave it on the side of the road. Our motto is no one crosses alone, even if that is only in spirit. Everyone gets a proper send off to the rainbow bridge. Believe it or not, that’s one of the things that keeps me coming back. That the sickest who don’t make it got to live out their final time, whatever that was, being cared for. They are warm, fed, bathed, loved for as long as we have them. And then there is the total joy of delivering a kitten to his new home! Or matching an older cat with an older woman who recently lost her cat, and was in need of a special companion.
Please let us know how people can donate to your project of helping the cats who have been let down by other humans.
The best way to follow the many adventures, and sometimes misadventures, is on my Facebook page, Ferals and Friendlies. I keep an Amazon wish list posted, which is a great way to support the colony and the fosters. I also post when I have large vet bills, in case someone wants to support a specific foster cat. But what I need most is to find furrever homes for the fosters, so that I can continue to bring in new fosters! So please like our page and share our posts. And if you see a kitten – or two – you know would be the purrfect addition to your family, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You would be surprised at the number of places that the volunteer transports go!
Thanks to Holly for sharing about her life as an animal rescuer. It’s good to know that we don’t have to live in Temple to donate or even to adopt your animals. I love how you mention “or two” about kittens. I learned over the years that it’s by far best to adopt two at a time when adopting kittens. So much better for their upbringing—and easier on the humans, too. My daughter just did that this spring, adopting two little female tabbies—and their bonded cuteness is so adorable. When I babysat them I noticed how much easier it was to take care of two than if one little kitten had been here on her own.
You might remember my poem “Scrap” that was published last month at Anti-Heroin Chic. Poet and blogger Chris Rice Cooper has published an interview where I discuss the making of the poem–the backstory–on her blog over at blogspot.
I could not put down Suanne Schafer’s new novel Hunting the Devil until I ran out of pages to read. You might recall that I wrote about her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, and loved it. The new story is entirely different from the first one, but another literary success. Furthermore, Hunting the Devil seems a very important book.
Here is my review, which is also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.
Suanne Schafer demonstrates once again that she knows how to write novels that defy genre boundaries and engage on many levels. Hunting the Devil, her most recent publication, is a historical war story that takes place in Rwanda, but also holds elements of a medical thriller and an unconventional romance complete with love triangle. The cinematic experience of reading this important book is still with me weeks after reading the last page.
Dr. Jessica Hemings, an American medical doctor, is in Rwanda to establish a clinic to treat poor Rwandans when civil war breaks out. With her biracial American features, Hutu paramilitary identify her with the Tutsi population they are committing atrocities upon, so her life is in danger. After her twin babies are killed, Jessica escapes across the country while planning revenge upon the murderer of her children.
The short chapters with initial place names and dates make a complex book easy to follow. Schafer’s descriptions are apt and illuminating, but never drag down the pace of the story. An ex-physician, she knows how to write about medical issues in a way that is believable and comprehensible to the layperson. The interpersonal relationships and inner landscapes of the main characters are well drawn. Unlike a lot of writers, Schafer even writes sex scenes well.
I knew so little of the Rwandan Civil War when I began this book. Since finishing it, I’ve done some more reading. Schafer has cast this devastating and enthralling story upon a well-researched setting. In doing so, she introduces her readers to an event in history that needs a prominent place in our understanding of world history. She does this through an action-packed can’t-put-it-down storytelling style. I have been recommending the book to family and friends. When anyone asks me how I could read about the atrocities, I explain that as a reader one becomes so caught up in Jessica’s experience that one is compelled to keep going. There is no going back. And for that I am so grateful. The book changed me forever.
When I attended the Stanford online writing program, I met fellow writers with whom I’ve developed a lasting bond. One of my favorites was not even in my nonfiction program, but rather a fiction specialist, Suanne Schafer. Before her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, was hot off the presses and in my waiting hands, I knew it would be a good read. I just didn’t know how wonderful a book it would turn out to be! When I finished reading this historical (women’s, LGBTQ, art, Texas) novel, I begged Suanne to write about the book for my blog, and she kindly agreed.
MEET SUANNE SCHAFER, AUTHOR OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE
A Different Kind of Fire began as an homage to my grandparents. According to family legend, my grandfather had vowed he would never marry unless he married his childhood sweetheart. My grandmother, though, had other ideas. She traipsed off to the Chicago Art Institute with the goal of becoming an artist. Several years later, she returned to West Texas—one child in tow, pregnant with another, and abandoned by a fellow artist, a European nobleman she’d had to marry. Steadfast Bismarck waited seven years for her husband to be declared dead before Bismarck could finally achieve his goal.
To disguise the fact that I was writing a family history, I set A Different Kind of Fire some twenty years before my grandmother went off to art school. Originally, I adopted the contemporary romance format of alternating points of view to reveal a love story. Eventually I realized I didn’t really want to write a family history—I wanted my story to be larger than that. The more I researched the Gilded Age, the less interesting Bismarck became. Back on the ranch doing the same thing day after day, he wasn’t as intriguing as a young woman suddenly on her own in a big city, encountering suffragettes, bohemian artists, misogynist professors, and handsome European nobles. I wanted to write herstory not history.
I chose a very close third-person point of view for A Different Kind of Fire because I wanted readers to feel as though they were Ruby. To accomplish that, I had to become Ruby, to see only through her eyes, to experience only those things she could directly experience. Showing Ruby’s world through an artist’s eyes proved to be a two-part task. As a teenager, I painted well enough to be expected to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps. In an act of defiance, I became a photographer instead. Both art forms required an eye for line and color as well as a sense of composition, so I already saw the exterior world as an artist would. Thus, translating Ruby’s love for her West Texas home was relatively easy. For her, the drab landscape carried colors most folks never saw: “clouds turned scarlet and yellow against the cobalt sky” and “moonlight silver-plated puffy clouds … and gave an argent shimmer to the grasses below.” She sketched a bleached cow skull and “lightly penciled a copperhead wandering through the eyeless sockets, an insolent S snaked” over paper washed with a “venomous green.”
What proved more challenging was revealing how art permeated every aspect of Ruby’s existence. When she first saw Bismarck nude, her immediate desire was to draw him—she created precisely-detailed anatomic sketches guaranteed to shock viewers of the era. Art influenced even Ruby’s subconscious. I pulled an experience from my own life to illustrate this. I always knew when my grandmother occupied my dreams—I woke to the smell of turpentine. So, when talking to her friend Willow, Ruby confided that she “dreamed of art in the same way she dreamed of making love, awakening with the smell of turpentine and linseed oil in her nostrils, as rich and intoxicating as a lover’s scent.”
Line, color, and composition also informed Ruby’s emotions. When her third child was stillborn, she tailored his christening gown to fit his premature body, then “cradled his skull and, with her hand, fixed its geometry in her brain. Her thumb inscribed the arc of his brow in her memory. Her nose imprinted the scent from the crook of his neck on her dreams. The pad of a finger applied the burnished new-penny color of his hair to her mind’s palette. Her arms held him, awed by how his tiny body made her soul feel so heavy. Finally, she sketched her son so she would never forget his innocent face.”
Years later, when Bismarck became paralyzed by being thrown from a horse, Ruby saw him in terms of color: “His eyes, the new-denim blue now turned to faded chambray … By kerosene light, his skin looked yellow. The color of life giving way to death.” The intimacy of working with his frail body gave Ruby new insight into the Biblical scene of Christ in the Selpulcher as she painted “the blue-gray of lips no longer warmed by blood, the greenish cast to the face, the way white flesh hung slackly from bone when unsupported by functioning muscle.”
Ruby experienced the births of five children, the loss of three of them and her beloved Bismarck. At age fifty-four as she pursued another love in New Mexico, she still viewed the world through the filter of art, seeing the world’s highlights and shadows as if on a canvas, “With little atmosphere to filter the sun, New Mexican light blazed intense and harsh, blinding her. The effect was strangely unsettling. Brilliant daylight bleached important details. Dense shade obscured others. Salient information got lost in those extremes. The narrow range of mid-tones didn’t tell the full story.”
Through a close third-person point of view, I hope I captured not only the tastes, smells, and other sensations that made up Ruby’s life, but the sentiments that bound her to her family, her lovers, her home; the innate disposition and moral code that overlay her actions; and most of all the colors, lines, and composition that guided her art.
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