Like so many others, my dog Sprocket was a rescue — he was found along a desolate highway and taken to a local kill shelter. His rescuer, Sandra Stealey of Canineworks Rescue in Coolville, Ohio, was there to save another dog and didn’t have the funds to get him that day, but she knew he had to be saved. She enlisted the help of a group of school students to hold a bake sale and raise his bail money, then took him home to recuperate and adopt out. Sprocket has repaid the kindness shown to him and then some. He’s not just any normal dog; my dog rescues kittens.
Weighing about 40 pounds soaking wet, Sprocket is a lurcher: a cross between a working dog and a sighthound. As best as we can tell, he’s a Whippet and Collie mix. Goofy-looking, with a long snout and that broad Whippet chest and narrow waist, coupled with the fluffiness of a Collie, he’s nicknamed “banana dog” at our home. Ever eager to please, he sometimes borders on anxious and neurotic. But these traits served him well when he found his “job” in our household.
My work with feral and stray cats started when the vice president of our local Humane Society asked me to foster a particularly scared feral mama cat, dubbed Jolene or Jo-Jo. Typical of feral cats, she was afraid of everyone and everything. It would take a full year of work to rehabilitate her to the point of being a house cat. Not an easy task, by any means.
Before Jo-Jo would come to me or trust me, she gravitated toward Sprocket. Whenever she would need something, he’d alert me with a whine or whimper. If she got stuck hiding under the bed, he’d call me to come get her. If she got into a spat with our resident cats, he’d place himself in the middle and break it up. Jo-Jo felt comfortable enough to sleep curled up with Sprocket on the couch, and that was our first inclination that Sprocket was a nurturing soul.
My work with feral, stray and dumped kittens and cats continued. I fostered them in-home and at times had as many as seven cats living with me at one time. We took in a litter of kittens who were too young to be away from their mother but had been used as chew toys by a particularly unkind rottweiler. Sprocket performed all the functions a mama cat would: he kept their body temperatures up by keeping them cuddled in his furry reach, licked their anuses to stimulate bowel movements, and every time they needed to be bottle fed, he’d call for me. He taught them how to play and again, broke up spats between the siblings.
At one point, we took in an obese cat we dubbed Butterball. Butterball weighed 24 pounds when she came to us, and only moved to get to her food dish and litter box. After doing her business in the litterbox, she’d just lay there, unwilling to move. She was the only cat I knew who had no desire to play or even live. She couldn’t even be tempted with a laser pointer.
Sprocket, as eager as ever to help out with a tough case, groomed the parts of her chubby body she herself could not reach. He taught her to groom herself again, too. He got her moving by nipping her heels and herding her up and down the stairs. He taught her how to play again by luring her with his fluffy tail as a makeshift toy. If she tried to poach the other cats’ food, he would chase her off and get her moving some more. Day by day, you could see the life returning to this sad cat’s eyes. She could move and play with the kittens, and she no longer just laid there wishing her life was over. By the time Butterball left us for her forever home almost two years later, she had lost over half her body weight and, while still fat, was no worse off than your average pampered house cat.
The thing about Sprocket is that I didn’t teach him to do any of this. I didn’t train him to assist with the foster cats, I didn’t encourage interaction. He took it upon himself to repay the kindness that was shown to him by his initial rescuer. Some days he puts me to shame with how on top of things he is. If I forget a feeding or get caught up in my work day, he whines and tugs at me until I go pay attention to the cats. If something needs my attention, he calls out to me.
Unfortunately, Sprocket is camera-shy. When I pull out the camera, he hides or runs away. I never knew I’d be documenting his work as a kitten rescuer, so very few photos exist of him with his success stories. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want any recognition for his work. Nevertheless, if there’s a kitten or cat in need on our daily walk, Sprocket has no qualms about dragging me over to check out the situation. My dog rescues cats, and I love him all the more for it. I just wish I had a bigger home so I could take in the strays he keeps adopting!
About Caitlin Seida: Owned by three cats and two dogs, she never met an animal she didn’t like. A Jill-of-All-Trades, she splits her workday as a writer, humane society advocate and on-call vet tech. What little free time she has goes into pinup modeling, advocating for self-acceptance, knitting and trying to maintain her haunted house (really!).