Finding Forever Homes
Scratching posts line the wall of the guesthouse. Catnip filled mice lay strewn about the tile floor, waiting to be batted by furry paws and carried in tiny mouths. Twin mattresses sit on the floor, detached from their frames so kittens can’t hide underneath. Ceramic bowls hold the wet food that satisfies the kittens’ hungry bellies. This is home ---- for now.
Judy Rayback, 71-years-old, has dedicated her free time to fostering cats and volunteers at Centre County PAWS. Rayback has fostered so many cats that she’s lost count.
“I’ve been doing it for almost ten years,” said Rayback, “so I can’t even tell you how many fosters I’ve had. Too many to remember.”
Rayback grew up in State College and worked for the Research Department within Penn State. She retired from the university in 2004.
“When I retired, I wanted to do a service activity and I’ve always loved cats all my life and saving cats was sort of dear to my heart,” said Rayback.
Her love for cats stems from a Christmas present she was given when she was seven-years-old.
“He was an orange cat and I named him Butter,” said Rayback. “He was lovely. He would walk across my desk, you know, and drool on my papers. So sweet.”
Rayback married her high school sweetheart, Mack, when she was 20-years-old and Butter passed away just before their wedding. After their first child was born, other cats were brought into the Rayback family.
Volunteering at PAWS requires time and each volunteer is given specific duties. Along with others, Rayback goes to the shelter on Wednesday mornings to make sure the litter boxes are clean, the cats are fed, watered, and any messes are cleaned up.
“You also interact with the cats that are there,” said Rayback. “You learn about them and get to know their personalities.”
Rayback currently fosters two young cats from a litter of five, named Bo Peep and Miss Muffet. The three other kittens from the litter have already been adopted.
“With the hundreds of cats that go through PAWS, we get some pretty silly names,” said Rayback.
Miss Muffet is white and brown with markings that spot her back. Stricken with a cold, Miss Muffet still finds a way to be affectionate and makes her presence known through the house. But Bo Peep is different. Shy as a lamb, she stays tucked away inside her cubby when visitors enter the room.
“Bo Peep was for whatever reason, incredibly shy and ran right into the cubby when she entered the room for the first time. She refused to come out for several days,” said Rayback.
But patience is a virtue that Rayback has.
“I’m very patient,” said Rayback. “I discovered that she did like to be pet around her head so as the days went by she began to stick her head out. Gradually, gradually she started to come out when I was here and it was such a big moment when she started to put her front paws on the mattress and let me pet her head.”
Rayback takes Miss Muffet and Bo Peep to the shelter every weekend on Saturday at 11 a.m. until she picks them back up at 4 p.m. on Sunday. This is when the public can meet the cats and hope for adoption.
Fostering animals requires a great deal of self-control and the ability to detach yourself emotionally at times.
“Many people will say I can’t foster because I fall in love with every cat that I foster and then I end up with oodles of cats,” said Rayback.
Through the years, it has become easier for Rayback to give up the cats she fosters.
“Although it’s kind of hard to understand, my feeling is that the quicker they go out of here, the more cats that I can help.”
Amongst her strong-willed tactics, Rayback did in fact fall in love with one of the cats she fostered in her early years and became his forever home.
“I love orange cats. This cat I had been asked to keep for an extended period of time because he had a heart murmur,” said Rayback. “I was keeping this cat for several months until he could be neutered and by that time I had fallen in love with him.”
While Rayback does not anticipate adopting any more fosters in the future, she has fallen in love with Miss Muffet and Bo Peep and knows that they will find their forever homes soon.Watching the cats grow from shy kittens to playful and affectionate adults makes Rayback feel like what she’s doing is worthwhile.
“People ask why I do it and I just say I have the desire,” said Rayback. “The desire to help out and give animals another chance.”
The Felines of PAWS
Miss Muffet and Bo Peep aren't the only cats who want to find their forever homes. PAWS houses many other frisky felines as well, each ready for adoption.