Monday, November 2, 2009

Compassion is on the menu

I'm not the only restaurant patron who's inquired about cat sisters Kentucky and West Virginia. They preen themselves while on display, right in front of the bar's windows that look onto the alley.

Just like the mining states they are named after, Kentucky and West Virginia know what it’s like to hit the mother lode.

Rather than finding an ore vein, these cats have struck gold of another sort: a steady food source. Four years ago, the cat sisters were born underneath a Greek restaurant in downtown Bellingham.

“I thought they’re kind of like coal miners, living underground most of the time,” said Café Akroteri’s prep cook Jim Clift, the cats’ primary caregiver. “You have to respect coal miners. It’s one of the toughest jobs.”

People patronize restaurants because they’re famished. Hungry cats are no different. It’s common to find stray cats eking out an existence behind restaurant and hotel kitchens, scrounging for discarded food scraps that go out the back door as garbage.

But what’s not nearly so common is finding restaurant staffers willing to take responsibility for these feral cats. Many are too wild to be petted and cuddled. Yet they aren't wild enough to survive without human kindness.

Jim, who has worked at Café Akroteri for 16 years, couldn’t turn away from these creatures in need. He took the lead and started feeding the cats first, but his example has been followed by other Akroteri staff, a resident living upstairs, even the restaurant’s patrons, who bring food for the cats.

“They're pretty spoiled,” said 38-year-old Jim. “They’ve got a lot of fans.”

Jim knows the cats don’t lead an ideal existence. But he also realizes feral cats don’t have many options. Because they are closer to wild animals than domesticated pets, shelters usually have no option but to euthanize them.

“I’m kind of prepared for something to happen to them. I know they live a hard life. People go racing down this alley sometimes.”

Letting the cats stay isn’t just a humane decision. It’s a smart one, too. They ensure mice and rats stay away. And removing these ones from the premises just leaves space for more to come in. There’s an abundance of stray cats trying to survive life on the streets, so where there’s food, there will be cats.

The cats got their names because Jim respects miners risking their lives. But he cares for the cats because he respects life.

And that makes it a kindness all around. I’m sure Kentucky and West Virginia would agree.

* * *

Stay with me on the kitty trail, because this story isn’t over…
Jim’s been a responsible guardian. A rescue group helped him trap and spay Kentucky and West Virginia. Now that a third cat’s joined the group, he wants to fix that one too. The other rescue group isn’t operating anymore, so I’ve agreed to help. Early tomorrow, I’ll bring my traps to Akroteri and attempt to snag the orange tabby. Then I’ll drive him to Ferndale to be fixed on the WeSnip van. I’ve been wanting to cover the important work being done on WeSnip by Patricia Maas and her crew for ages now, so this will be the perfect opportunity to do that. Story to follow.

Jim Clift has both two-legged and four-legged clientele showing up for his meals.

Fresh water is always on the menu at the Akroteri Kitty Cafe.

Alley cats need a hand from humans to survive life on the streets.


Anonymous said...

This is one restaurant I would be sure to patronise. Anyone who realises the cats need our intervention and then looks out for them as Jim is doing, deserves to have people pouring in to support him. Kudos to you, Jim, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

The story above truly summed up the lives of stray cats living precariously. It is so spirit-filled reading this article, knowing good people like Jim Clift and his followers doing the right thing for cats living closeby. The gray cats are referred to as "blue", as in "Somali Blue", or "British Blue".

Carreen, it is the call of God for you to be doing and persevere in your work for the cat community.

Belinda x