Herman used to parade around Ed’s jewelry shop in all of his 18-pound brown-tiger glory. The Maine Coon mix loved everybody, and everybody loved him.
Katka lived at my friend Linda’s shop, Forget-Me-Nots. She had chronic upper-respiratory issues that required daily medicating, so Linda eventually ended up bringing her home. The elderly cat — Katka was 24 when she died — spent her last couple of years living in style on the third floor of my friend’s house.
Another Option for Strays
Shop cats are nothing new. But what started out once upon a time as a purely practical arrangement from the human point of view — that is, needing a cat to keep down the rodent population at the general store — has become a viable option for cats in transition.
Writer Jenny Kalahar and her husband, Patrick, have always been in the book business, and they’ve always been cat people. When they lived in Ohio, they came up with the idea of fostering cats at their bookshop. During that time, they managed to place more than 50 cats.
“Home and shop were one and the same for us for a few years,” Kalahar explains. “When we did rent a house later, it never occurred to us to foster both in our bookshop and at home. We wanted our fosters to have the exposure that the shop offered.”
Keeping Them Safe
There were a number of factors that the Kalahars had to take into consideration, of course. They did not have kittens in the shop. And they made a point of taking in cats “who had been raised as indoor-only pets to minimize the likelihood that they would try to run out through the door.”
Forget-Me-Nots has also become a stop on the underground feline railroad. To those thinking about making their places a haven for more than a few strays in need, Linda offers the following advice:
- The cat is quicker than the eye. The surprisingly spry Katka was a great escape artist. Linda ended up having screen doors installed at her own expense to slow down her fosters trying to make a break for it.
- Change the store alarm setting. Until she did this, her current lodgers — Jimmy, a big-boned tiger cat, and Alexander, a yellow Norwegian Forest cat — were constantly tripping it.
- Put collars and identification tags on the cats. Okay, they’re not going to be your cats forever. But you stand a better chance of finding them again if they get out.
- Last, but not least, monitor any young children in the store. Some are too young to know how to behave around cats, and some haven’t been taught.
“I think each cat’s personality dictates socialization more than the differences between 2 caring environments,” observes Kalahar. She has written 2 novels based on her fostering experiences — Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats and The Find of a Lifetime.
“Most shy cats will transform into great companions. Some have had traumatic experiences that keep them withdrawn, but for the most part I believe that any home or business where there is stability and good care and attention can’t be the wrong place to foster a pet.”
Naturally, there’s greater exposure at a store. “We had our shop in the 1990s before the Internet was a common place to search for pets to adopt. But even with sites like Petfinder.com in play today, there’s nothing like sitting down to look over a book and be able to invite a cat to join you for those few minutes.”
Linda’s feelings on the subject are mixed. She had more time for her at-home fosters. “Here, it’s tough because I’m not really here all the time,” she remarked. “Jimmy and Alexander have each other. But poor Katka was all by herself, and I know she was lonely. Katka would hide till I came in the next day. Then she’d sit on the bench behind me and not move.”
Yes, there are drawbacks to this kind of fostering. But, as Kalahar says, “I wrote Shelve Under C as a way to show how wonderful, rewarding and fun it is to be a shelter satellite.”