South Orange's Kitten Tamer
When asked to give a rough estimate, Kristen Tyler says she has fostered 50 kittens.
South Orange’s Kristen Tyler is on a mission. For the past four summers, she has caught, tamed, and then found homes for dozens of kittens born to stray cats in her neighborhood. “My philosophy,” she explains, “is think globally, act locally. I start at home, then in the neighborhood, then our community.”
When Tyler first became aware of the “countless” kittens in her neighborhood, she realized that those kittens would soon become cats, able to reproduce. She worried about the fate of the kittens and decided to do something about the problem.
“Adult cats are much harder to catch,” she explains. “When I get them, I can have them neutered, and most of the local strays have been taken care of now. But each cat can have two litters in a summer, so that’s a lot of kittens in the neighborhood.” While Tyler tries to solve the problem long-term by finding all of the adult cats, she's also solving the problem short-term, one weeks-old kitten at a time.
“At this point,” she admits, “I’m good at catching kittens.” This is no idle boast; kittens that have been born outdoors, in garages, under porches and even in cars, don’t expect kindness from humans. Tyler has chased young cats through yards and into sheds until she is able to catch them. Then the taming begins.
“These kittens’ mothers don’t take of them,” says Tyler. “So I need to wash them. They get very dirty.” She also needs to get the animals acclimated to humans so they can eventually find homes. She hastens the process by separating the kittens, putting one in a bathroom, another in the kitchen and so on. “Then I talk to them, pick them up in a towel and just spend time near them,” she explains.
Tyler keeps “colonies” of kittens separate. She has become familiar with the markings and colorings of the most local kittens; those from a few blocks away have different characteristics. “It can be hard to keep them straight,” she says, “especially the kittens who look the same.”
Tyler’s family, which includes her husband, Gary, and two children, name the kittens to help distinguish them. A current litter includes Alice and Edward, named for the popular “Twilight” books.
Once the kittens are used to humans, usually around eight weeks, Tyler begins to search for permanent homes. “I use the Internet, I put up flyers at the vet’s office, and word of mouth is successful, too,” she explains. Tyler, who has a dog and cats of her own, admits that the family is often tempted to keep their favorite kittens. “But there are always more out there,” she notes.
Indeed, Tyler is familiar with the local adult cats and notices when one looks pregnant. “Then I know that a few weeks later I need to go looking,” she laughs. She can’t count the number of kittens she has caught and fostered. “Maybe 50?” she guesses. “More?” She has shared the mission with friends, as well. “Sometimes other people help foster them once I catch them,” says Tyler. “That works really well.”
South Orange’s “kitten tamer” returns to her mission, improving her community, one kitten at a time.