A brief but loving home for orphan cats

Sue Shannon has helped 56 cats find new homes
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Saukville native Sue Shannon is a lifelong animal lover and a longtime volunteer at the Wisconsin Humane Society, and challenges brought on by the pandemic gave her a new opportunity to serve both. Shannon fosters furry friends to find them loving forever homes — more than 50 since March 2020.

The Ozaukee campus in Saukville of the Wisconsin Humane Society closed to adoptions two and a half years ago. Volunteers weren’t allowed in the building and staff members were limited.

Angela Speed, the society’s vice president for communications, sent out a plea seeking foster parents, and Shannon answered.

The day the facility closed — March 17, 2020 — Shannon took in her first foster pet, a cat named Penelope. She has had 55 foster cats since then. A wall in her basement has sheets with bios and photos of each one.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” she said.

She loves getting to know the animals and receiving updates from their forever families.

Foster-facilitated adoptions weren’t prevalent before the pandemic, but necessity bred their popularity.

Recent developments triggered another need for foster families. The society’s Ozaukee campus has been closed for adoptions again, this time due to lack of workers.

Shannon said she is just one member of a larger group of families that have been giving foster care to animals. She just responded to the increased demand.

Shannon and her husband Tom altered their home accordingly. 

They turned their basement into a kitty play area, complete with beds, blankets, towers and toys, along with dining and restroom areas. Windows to the backyard woods are a draw for their foster cats, as is the elevated TV.

The current short-term tenant is Torvi, a 4-year-old long-haired tortoiseshell cat who cuddled with Shannon while a TV channel played smooth jazz on Monday.

Cats’ personalities are as different as their colors and hair lengths. Some are affectionate — like Torvi, who greets visitors seeking petting while she purrs — and some always want to play. Most walk around the perimeter of the basement to familiarize themselves with their new space.

A cat named Rizzo took three days to come out of hiding and didn’t interact with his adopter, so Shannon sent videos.

“With cats, it’s all about feeling safe and secure,” Shannon said.

Shannon’s husband has the morning shift, emptying the litter boxes and checking on their cat. Shannon goes downstairs a few times per day and spends time with her resident guests after dinner. She brushes the cats and clips their claws, if they let her.

“I call them all Sweetie,” she said. “I hardly ever use their names.”

Shannon writes the bios of her cats for the society’s website. She provides whatever information she can gather on their personalities so they go to a home that fits them best.

Adopters interested in Shannon’s cats contact her directly via the society’s website. She has final say on where her foster cats go.

Shannon first talks on the phone with potential adopters to see if their families and lifestyles match her foster cat. By the time they’re ready to visit the Shannons’ home, they often leave with their new pet.

“If it’s not the right fit, I’m not afraid to say ‘This isn’t the right cat for you,’” she said.

After an adoption, Shannon washes all the blankets and bleaches the litter box in preparation for her next foster cat.

“I usually get a new one the next day,” she said.

She keeps those recovering from medical conditions longer. One cat with an upper respiratory infection stayed for six weeks. She saw tuxedo-colored Copperfield go through a transformation. He spent several days at Shannon’s house before going to the shelter to be treated for a skin condition. When Copperfield came back, “He became this really great cat,” Shannon said.

Copperfield went to one of Shannon’s friends in Belgium who recently lost his cat that looked just like Copperfield.

Seeing the cats off isn’t easy, but Shannon knows it’s for the best.

“Sometimes it’s a little difficult,” she said.

The Shannons have a border terrier who lives upstairs and might not get along with cats. A series of doors and gates separate the permanent and short-term residents.

It’s rewarding, she said, to send a cat home with a family, especially seeing the children love it. “It’s usually love at first sight.”

Adopted foster cats come with a bag of food, an adoption book and a medical sheet. They receive a free physical exam, are spayed or neutered, microchipped and given medication for fleas and worms.

She usually hears from the adopters after a few days. If not, Shannon checks in after a week. Only one cat has been returned to the shelter. It was because the resident cat didn’t get along with the new arrival.

Shannon recommends setting up a barrier between resident and new cats.

“They don’t often get along at first sight,” she said. “Try to be patient. A lot of people tend to rush it.”

Even without resident pets, bringing a cat into a new home is a process, she said, and plenty of counseling and information is available.

Keeping the cat in one room to start is a good idea.

“The cat will typically tell you when they’re ready to come out,” Shannon said.

The society has training resources on its website and a phone number to call with behavioral questions — 414-431-6173.

Shannon has volunteered at the society’s Ozaukee campus since 2010 — she saw the move from the concession stand of the old drive-in theater in Grafton to the society’s five-times larger Saukville facility — and said the foster program has recently expanded, both in popularity and protocol.

Training videos, the adoption process and the website have all been enhanced.

“It has come a long way. Maybe that’s one of the silver linings of Covid,” Shannon said.

For information on adopting, volunteering or donating, visit the society’s website at www.wihumane.org.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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