It’s a lot of work to raise a house full of young children, regardless of whether they’re human or feline. Luckily for one Tulsa family, they have some help bringing up their foster felines.
Janet Rials and James Love open their home to some of the neediest of Tulsa’s needy cats — those with disabilities or special situations that make them difficult to care for in a shelter setting or challenging to place in forever homes, as well as the neonates — kittens a month old or younger often requiring round-the-clock care.
But Rials — a neonatal nurse for humans who volunteers with T-Town TNR, a feral-cat rescue organization — and Love, an allergist and immunologist, are well-suited for the often medically intensive care these felines require.
Still, a big part of learning to be a cat happens by instinct. How can humans teach a kitten to be a cat? They can, but there’s no denying that the best teacher is another cat.
That’s where Jack and Peeps come in. The two male cats were “foster fails,” Rials said. Originally intended to stay with the couple only until their forever homes were found, the frisky felines instead made a forever home out of Rials’ and Love’s Tulsa house.
Perhaps believing, though, that their good fortune required them to pay it forward, Jack and Peeps aren’t content to lie around basking in the sunlight batting at toys. They’ve become foster parents themselves.
At 1½ years old, Jack seems to be the “older and wiser” of the two, having been “amazing from the get-go,” Rials said.
“Jack is very laid-back,” she said. “He would — and still will — let you hold him like a baby and scratch his belly.”
Peeps, who is not much more than a baby himself at 6 months old, takes a different approach, Rials said.
“He can seem not nice to the fosters at first,” she said, describing how Peeps will bop the youngsters on their heads to show them who’s boss.
But before long, Peeps is as loving as Jack, and both cats share in the chore of grooming the kittens — whether it’s welcome or not — and teaching them the rules of the house, such as litterbox etiquette, scratching post use and deference to Alice, the home’s alpha cat.
Alice was a family pet before Rials and Love got into fostering, and, frankly, she wants nothing to do with the kitties that parade through the house.
That doesn’t stop the feline visitors from wanting to get to know her, though. And that’s where Jack and Peeps step up, teaching the youngsters to stay out of Alice’s way.
“There’s a pecking order, for sure,” Rials said, “and they learn it quick.”
Jack’s and Peeps’ current charge is a 6-month-old male cat named Stitch, who has cerebellar hypoplasia. Stitch loses his balance and sometimes bumps into walls. He walks similarly to how some dogs walk when wearing booties.
There’s no treatment, but cats with cerebellar hypoplasia should have a normal life span. They just need a little extra care and attention.
Stitch gets that from Rials and Love, for sure, but also from Jack and Peeps.
It might seem strange that the fellas have taken to the task so fully, but Rials isn’t surprised.
“Since we’ve had boys in the house, they just seem to be like dudes — real guys,” she said. “They are so much more laid back, anyway. They seem to accept change better.”