NOTHING BIGGER THAN A GOAT!
The whole idea is reduced to one simple statement, “Nothing bigger than a goat!” It’s a mantra meant to keep this Canadian couple that rescues four-legged’s to strict adherence – small animal rescue only, specifically cats!
For Kerry Capello, cats are her passion. “No one wants cats. Everyone wants to rescue dogs!” which she admits is fantastic in it’s own right, but “what about the cats?”
There are numerous rescue organizations from Tulum to Playa Del Carmen that focus solely on the rescue, rehabilitation, and re-homing of dogs, and few that will even consider cats, let alone take them in. That task, it seems, is left to individuals like Kerry and her husband Kevin Stewart. They do it out of a deep seated sense of compassion and empathy for these innocent furry beings that are too often neglected, abandoned, and abused.
Currently, in addition to their own four adult cats, the couple has three kittens ruling their household, an attractive one bedroom condo just south of Akumal. Recently though, they had a total of twenty-five kittens, from multiple litters, that required a foster home. It seemed over the course of three months, known in the rescue world as “kitten season”, the phone kept ringing with WhatsApp messages saying, “Can you take more kittens?” Given the size of their hearts, which by-the-way is gigantic, Kerry and Kevin could not say no.
The stories of how these kittens were recovered is heartbreaking: three were found wondering in the jungle; three abandoned in a box found by Alma Animal Rescue in Tulum near the bookstore; three left in a cardboard box on the front step of Playa Animal Rescue (PAR – which only takes in dogs); three left alone in a box in the upscale Aldea Zama neighborhood of Tulum; a single kitten abandoned in a garbage can, left to die; and a single malnourished (nearly dead) skelton of a kitten found wandering by itself. This one I witnessed myself the day after its rescue, and it was heart wrenching. The “what and why” of how baby kittens can be left in these conditions is too numerous to think about and so terribly sad.
Sweet Gracie (pictured below) is a female ginger. Unusual, as gingers are typically male; she was originally adopted then returned when she didn’t warm up to the adopting family as fast as they wanted. Having been born wild, these cats take time, patience, and understanding given what they have been through. Imagine what it’s like going from abandonment and certain death to being suddenly welcomed into a warm, safe environment with food and fresh water available on demand, having toys to play with (something these kittens have never seen before), having a warm, dry bed to lay their neglected and battered little bodies on, then suddenly, to be yanked from this heavenly place to a forever home, which turns out to be anything but heavenly. Is it any wonder it takes time to come out of their shell? If it was me, I’d cave for a month and not come out! Some people want instant gratification with their new pet, and when that is not received, they choose to abandon these poor souls again, and move on to something else.
Kerry insists that if a adopter changes their mind about one of her cats, they must return it. The last thing she wants is one of her rescues, that she has put so much time, energy, and personal financial resources into, to end up thrown back on the streets or abandoned into the jungle to await any number of horrendous fates. Luckily, in Gracie’s case, the family called and went back to Kerry’s home, immediately Gracie settled in and lounged about the place. She just needed time and understanding – I am happy to say that just recently another family is giving Gracie a chance. We hope she has found her forever home, finally!
Danny (right), who has amazing light brown patches mixed in his tabby coat, was skittish when first rescued and spent a great deal of time under the couch. It’s taken time, but he is slowly coming around. A slow socialization process is a major requirement for these kittens, as most have never even seen a human before, let alone cats from another litter. Having to navigate through this new world can be overwhelming. Little Danny needs love, understanding, and patience – do you have room in your home (and your heart) to give him a chance?
One fabulous success story is Lily, or Lily-pad as she is affectionately called by this writer, as I had the great pleasure of meeting her the day after she was rescued (pictured below). She weighed only 300 grams and was literally a skeleton with a thin layer of fur, a tiny face and gigantic ears.
Veterinarians supposed she was two months old and half the normal size she should be. It was thought she wouldn’t survive the first night. Fed water every 20 minutes from a stopper and homemade kitten formula every two hours, she is watched 24-7, and held in Kerry’s arms wrapped in a small towel to keep her little body warm. She slept a lot during that first 24 hours, but the worry was – will she poop? And when she finlly does – on her own, might I add – it is an event for serious celebration! I imagine for an on-looker, the sight of grown adults cheering in celebration the delivery of a teensy little nugget in a litter box, might seem very strange, but in that moment it meant life or death for this tiny girl.
Slowly, with constant care and nurturing, Lily flourished and at the time of her adoption (into a home with an experienced cat lover) she weighed a whopping 800 grams (pictured below right). Just before she was adopted, I saw this tiny bundle who, along with twelve other cats, was bopping about the place, playing, and acting like she was just as big as everyone else, oblivious to how small and fragile she was. It was a delight to see! Between the cost of vet visits, nutritional supplements, medicated products, and specialty food–all necessary to help her survive–Lily alone cost $3,000 MXN in personal out-of-pocket expenses. This cost is prior to any vaccinations and sterilization, which Kerry and Kevin typically pay for themselves, before releasing a kitten into a new home, but they don’t bat an eyelash – it has to be done, so they do it.
There is a regiment that gets put into place when fostering so many cats. The fosters arrive, go into quarantine for seven days to help them adjust and calm down, during which time they are given flea baths, checked for ticks, along with visits to the vet. Then they are let out into general population to see how they get along, and thus begins the socialization process. When asked how her own cats adjust to the newcomers, she says, “Our cats just learn to adapt. There’s always so many more bowls!” She rolls her eyes. “We always line up their bowls, that’s how we taught them … this is how you’re going to get along, you have to eat together.” Witnessing this first hand, I see an organized conveyor-belt of cans and dishes and listen to the discussion of which food goes into which dish and to which cat, and then watch Kevin balance multiple dishes on his forearms to place them on the floor for feeding. The ones needing special food are fed first, then the rest.
And if you think 13 cat dishes on your kitchen floor is a lot, take a look at the mountain of cat food needed to feed this horde, pictured left, which was taken after a single weekly shopping trip for wet cat food. We all know what shopping is like in Mexico; Kevin is forced to search in multiple stores just to find enough cans for one week – 72 cans! Yes, 72 cans is enough for only ONE week!
Lily’s was one of the happy stories. There are the sad stories of course, too many according to Kerry. We prefer not to dwell on this fact and instead talk about how this all started.
Kerry worked in Ottawa as an IT Project Manager/Contractor for the Canadian Government for 30 years. One morning before work, listening to the radio she hears an announcement that there has been an influx of cats and homes are needed. She eventually adopted at a local shelter where she also signed up to volunteer. Originally, she thought she would help re-design the shelter’s website given her IT background; instead, the shelter operator called her the very next day saying there was a cat that needed a foster home. Literally, one day she thinks “maybe I’ll get a cat” and the next day, she not only adopts a cat but also starts fostering as well.
As a full-time professional working woman at the time, she ended up spending a lot of evenings and weekends fulfilling her volunteer work. It involved picking up cats that had been humanely trapped, visiting homes of prospective adoptees to assess suitability, transporting cats to vet appointments and picking up medication for families that didn’t have cars, helping to cut cat’s nails for families that couldn’t manage the task on their own, and the list goes on. All of this on top of organizing donation fund-raisers like bake sales and community garage sales to raise funds to cover the most basic expenses for the shelter. All of this work was in addition to the fosters they saved and re-homed themselves. Over a period of four years, Kerry figures this numbers around 125 cats, with the most being fostered in their home at one time – 21. A truly impressive feat!
Re-homing is an art in itself! It’s always best to find out in advance, through a series of questions and, when possible, in-home visits, if a prospective family is suitable to adopt a cat. After all, these cats need a loving home for the next 15-18 years (on average). Not all homes have a suitable environment or the financial resources for regular veterinary visits and basic necessities. As for suitable environments, Kerry doesn’t want these cats to ever have free access to the outside again, so homes should have screens on their windows, locks on their doors, and owners that will be diligent in making sure the cat doesn’t escape. Unfortunately she has encountered families who have nefarious reasons for wanting to adopt a cat, such as one family who thought the shelter was going to give them money to foster; it becomes apparent they wanted the money for purposes other than taking care of the cat, which meant neglect and/or abandonment of the cat was sure to follow. Other prospective owners have crowded homes (too many people, too many pets), or in one case, someone thought having a large snake (think, boa constrictor) was a suitable home for a tiny kitten – a definite no-no when you have a cat! These types of people are denied adoption, thank goodness!
After four years of rescuing in Canada, Kerry and Kevin purchased ten acres of land between Tulum town and Tulum beach road with the plan of opening a rescue for cats and dogs, called “Nothing Bigger Than A Goat”. When they retired to the Akumal area a year ago, and as time went on, volunteering at Help Tulum Dogs took on its own life – the plan for the rescue fell by the way-side. There was enough to do without opening their own shelter: raising funds, sterilization clinics, finding donations of food and money, and encouraging others to volunteer their time.
It was at one of these sterilization clinics only three months after moving here, that their first Mexico foster came into being. Kerry saw Sammy in the line-up of recovering kittens (see the orange and white kitten in the photo, left) and called up her husband. “Listen, there’s a kitten, he’s really cute and he has no place to go …” She recalls Kevin’s only response was, “Just one?” And that was the beginning of fostering in Mexico! Sammy, one of the lucky ones, became a permanent member of the Capello clan.
The financial burden of a rescuer is astonishing. Back in Ottawa, Kerry and Kevin would often go to the vet associated with the rescue group and dump a bundle of cash, to a tune of thousands of dollars at a time, to cover expenses so the vet would continue working with the shelter. Here in Mexico, in addition to paying for food and medication, and on top of vet bills, the expenses pile up quickly. This type of generosity cannot go on indefinitely – anyone who is retired can relate to this. In order to keep doing this type of selfless work, there needs to be a helping hand in the form of donations – cash or, at the very least, cat food and/or supplies.
One foster kitten requires:
– money for three rounds of vaccinations ($350 MXN each = $1,050 pesos)
– rabies shots ($350 MXN)
– sterilization ($500 MXN)
This totals $1,900 MXN pesos PER KITTEN, paid for by the foster parent, before it is adopted to a new home. At the time of writing this, on today’s exchange rate, it works out to $85 USD or $115 CAD per kitten. Multiply that by 13 kittens fostered to date = $1,105 USD or $1,495 CAD out of pocket, and that DOES NOT include cat food (remember the 72 cans of wet food per week?), medicine (diarrhea, flea/tick/deworming), vet visits ($19,700 pesos in the past 3 months alone), supplements, cat trees, bedding, toys, gas for their vehicle to pick up rescues and make vet trips, or the “starter kit” they include with each new adoptee full of kibble and canned food (hoped to be an incentive for the new family to keep the kitten on the same food). All of this on their own dime, with only the rare donation of food, discount at a vet clinic, and once, a new adoptive family gave them $1,000 pesos.
And this is what it comes down to – Can you help? Are you willing to help?
It’s understandable to feel unsure whether or not to donate when the people are not directly connected with a vet clinic or shelter organization, but I can tell you, having experienced and seen first hand the amount of work, care, and supplies needed to save these kittens – this is a legitimate cause and these are legitimate rescuers!
What can you do to help if you live far away – give cash money donations. Go to paypal.com and login (or create an account) > Go to section that says “Send” “Request” “More” and select “More” > tap “Send A Gift” > type in email [email protected] > select currency and amount then follow the prompts.
If you live near Akumal and can donate supplies, here is a list (email Kerry or Kevin at [email protected] for delivery/pick-up options):
– food – kibble and canned wet food
– cat treats
– linens – towels, pillow cases
– cat litter
– cat toys
– volunteer to work at sterilization clinics – contact Help Tulum Dogs at https://www.facebook.com/helptulumdogs/
Vacationing in Akumal in an upcoming month? Feel free to make cash donations or contribute needed supplies by bringing items down in your suitcase. Be sure to check your airline for accepted items. See the included email address to connect with Kerry and Kevin.
Near the end of our interview I ask Kerry, “Do you still enjoy it?” She responds without hesitation, “Who doesn’t want ten kittens in their bed?”
Then I ask, “Why do you do it?” Kerry responds, “It’s joy!” And then after a moment of thought, “It’s beautiful having little kittens around … it’s joy. I love sitting in the morning after they’ve had their breakfast and I’m having a coffee and I just watch them play … it’s joy.”
We then talk about Sunny (pictured left), one of the kittens she still has available for adoption, Kerry tells me she would crawl into her husband’s garment bag, curling up in the bottom where she’d be cradled and felt secure. “Then suddenly one day she’s sitting on the highest level of the cat tree in the middle of the kitchen.” Watching the progress of coming out of their shells when they used to be the one that hid in the back of the closet, is a miracle, and it’s a process of baby steps. “It’s beautiful to see … and it’s joy!”
Sunny and Danny are all still available for adoption. Contact Kerry or Kevin at [email protected]
Written by Brenda Calnan