Monday, March 3, 2014

Interview with indie folk pop star and weblebrity Sarah Donner

Sarah Donner with a kitty. This would have been a fun photoshoot.

Sarah Donner is a self-described indie folk-pop star, web celebrity (especially after this clip of her singing to a sleepy kitten went viral) and, unlike many pop stars, spends much of her time hand rearing and saving cats.

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become an indie folk-pop star?

Honestly, I just wrote it down in my bio. People often want a label to define what you sound like before they have heard, and I feel like I am an amalgamation. Too bad cat lady isn't a musical genre!

Not many rock stars foster kittens between tours. How many kittens have you fostered and why do you keep coming back to it?

OY I stopped counting after 200 a few years ago. It was more like the kittens kept coming back to ME for many years. The feral population behind my apartment was out of control, only until this past year. My TNR efforts put a stop to population growth, and this was the first year I saw zero kittens coming to my stoop for food. I love being part of the transformation from a scared, angry, dirty kitten to a playful, friendly, fluffykins. I started fostering for a local rescue once I ran out of neighbourhood kittens. There is a never ending supply of kittens who need nurturing before they can be adopted, and I take great joy in being part of that. 

Kittens have a way of multiplying...
What are the challenges of kitten fostering?

People often thing the worst part is having to say goodbye when they are adopted, but that is absolutely not the case for me. The biggest heartache comes from the illnesses that sweep in and quickly cause kittens to take a turn for the worst. They are so delicate, and when one becomes ill I am in a constant state of stress, doing all that I can to bring them back. I've been doing this for many years, and last year I lost more kittens in my arms than all my previous years combined. It was a nightmare of heartache and tragedy. 

Can you tell us a little about the non-humans in your life?

I have five in my permanent collection. Dunkin, 10, fondly known as Douchecat, is a giant white and black male who enjoys lying on the bed and squishing between my husband and me at night. Shosha is 9, a grey/white gumdrop shaped tabby who likes peanut butter and hates all kittens. Rory, 8, is a beautiful brown tabby princess. She is very vocal, hates being held, and completely useless unless you have an infestation of cicadas. Puma Bean Jackson, 5, is my big black ninja boy. He followed me around in a parking lot at a rest stop in CT years ago, and I never let him go. Finally, Ni is my 1 year old baby. She's been climbing up my legs since she was a few ounces so that I would hold her. She clucks a bit like a chicken when she wants to play with the laser pointer. Believe it or not, they all get on fairly well! 

...and hogging the limelight.

Your first album was called Reluctant Cat Lady, yet you’ve embraced your inner cat lady. What changed?

That came out the first year I started caring for the locals. It was really out of control how many cats began to come when they heard the sound of kibble hitting the bowl. I knew a few stereotypical crazy cat people. I knew how they looked. I knew how they smelled. I did not want to go down that route. I think things changed when I was really successful at fostering and finding homes for the little ones. It seemed like people really responded when I began to share what I was doing, so I just went with it. Those critters have served me well, in spite of themselves. 

Do you ever cop any flak for this and how do you respond?

Nope, never. Sometimes people apologize for being dog people, but I don't begrudge anyone who cares for an animal. Cats just happened to be the ones in need outside my door. I'd be the crazy iguana lady if they were pulling out bagels from my trashcan! 

Sarah D is multitalented.
You’ve been a vocal proponent of Trap Neuter and Release. Why do you support this practice?

I saw firsthand how it can put a dent in the growth of a feral population. It is the most humane way to put the brakes on cats gone wild.

[NB SAT acknowledges that TNR is controversial, with advantages as well as disadvantages. It is a topic we will explore in a later post.]

How else do you advocate for animals?

I encourage potential pet owners to adopt from rescues. I don't eat meat or pork. Someday soon I will give up chicken and fish, but I need to learn how to cook better first! 

How have cats changed you as a person?

I have always had animals in my life, so I'm not sure they changed me. I do think they've formed me into a kinder, more empathetic human being. I am extremely sensitive towards animals. I can't watch a movie or TV show where an animal is being mistreated. My heart is on my sleeve so I easily sense pain and sadness, but the flip side is that I also easily sense joy and happiness. 

Any advice for veterinary students or future vets?

To me that seems like a difficult road, and I imagine you need a strong support network to get through it. I've been fortunate to have some great vets work help me out in hard times. I think it's important to be an advocate for the animal, but also be able to equip the owner with all the knowledge and tools so they don't feel helpless when a cat is very ill. It's been a great comfort to lean on the little things I can do when a life is ending. 

Its not every day that a world famous star donates their time to SAT. Thanks Sarah for sharing with us!