Meet Joe Black
By Chris Shin
I foster orphan kittens with the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA: http://www.orphankittenrescue.com/home/) and have been for about seven years. As my lifestyle is not conducive to adopting an animal companion (I travel regularly), fostering is the perfect opportunity for me to balance the responsibility and the enjoyment of having a purring creature. Plus, I see my role as a connector, a facilitator, a middle person: I socialize and raise kittens that need a home and when they are ready, I match them to the right home. And there is always a right home for each of the kittens.
Throughout the years, I have fostered feral kittens that I have socialized from scared little kittens to beautiful and friendly kittens who think they are human, a litter of seven tabby kittens that I named after the Von Trapp family (needless to say Little Gretl was my favourite), bottle-fed four kittens whose mama was hit by a car and many other kittens in between.
One litter I fostered last fall was a threesome: two female tabbies and a male black cat. If the kittens don’t have a name, the foster gets to pick. I usually spend some time with them, get a feel for their personalities and then a name will come to me. In this instance, I named one tabby Dora (the Explorer) as she was fearless and always willing to explore, no matter the challenges. When I introduced the kittens to my friend’s 120 pound Rottweiler, Dora simply walked up to him, touched her nose to him, then went off exploring, completely indifferent to the 120 pounds of potential menace. The other tabby was the runt of the litter and mama’s little girl – she was always tucked away behind the mama cat, protective of her little runt. I called her Jade as she had the most beautiful green eyes. She was sweet and friendly but shy. If you held her, she would cower into your arms and purr.
Then there was Joe Black. I’m not sure why that name came to me. I kept calling him Mr. Black and one day, ‘Joe Black’ came to mind and it was mysteriously fitting. He was the sweetest of them all. He was beautiful with a shiny black coat and looked like a wolf, rather than a cat interestingly. When the girls were busy playing, chasing each other, running into mirrors and unravelling the toilet paper, Joe Black wanted nothing more than to curl up on your lap and purr. His favourite thing was to cradle himself right on your neck and stick his face right in your face. He would practically breathe on you; if you turned your face to one side, he would mirror you and turn his head. It became a game for us. He loved human touch and was as friendly with strangers. He also liked to climb onto your shoulder and sit there, as if being closer to your face gave him reassurance that we were connected.
All was well for several weeks. I enjoyed the cool fall days, playing and cuddling with the kittens. One morning, I noticed that Joe Black’s breathing was a little laboured. It was unusual but I didn’t worry about it at first. As the day went on, I noticed that it got worse. Finally, I called Karen, President of VOKRA, and explained the situation. She picked him up to take him to the vet the next day.
The next day, I checked in with Karen and she said that he wasn’t doing so well; it was likely his heart and he may have been born with a bad heart. I asked her to let me know if it looked like we were losing him. I wanted to come by and say goodbye to him. The very next day, as I was walking home from a yoga class, I couldn’t stop thinking about Joe Black and to my surprise, a sudden sadness came over me and I was crying. When I got home, I emailed Karen again to see how he was doing and she informed me then that he had passed away in her arms that day. VOKRA has a no kill policy so she did everything she could to give him a boost but she said that he was in a lot of pain. She held him in her arms as he let go peacefully.
I cried. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. In my heart though, when I felt that moment of sadness earlier on, I must have known on some level. I shared the news with my friends, most of whom had met Joe Black. And I grieved and allowed myself to feel the sadness and loss. Though I had only known Joe Black for a few weeks, he held a special place in my heart, as each of the kittens whom I have fostered over the years has.
I took a short break from fostering after losing Joe Black to grieve the loss and create space in my heart. I knew that I would continue to foster; there was never a moment of doubt. I also realized that death and loss were part of the cycle of life, that other kittens still needed a home and that my work was not done. Meanwhile, Dora and Jade got adopted separately into nice homes and that reminded me of the reason I foster: it is so rewarding to see the joy in people when they find their kittens, knowing that I played a small role in that joy and that I helped to raise them into well-adjusted, social and lovable kittens.
So I continue to foster to this day. I know that the greatest gift fostering offers me is learning to love and let go. Of course I develop a bond with the kittens but I do it, knowing that they will leave me and that I will hand them over to their forever homes. It is a great lesson in detachment.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine pointed out that Joe Black’s name was strangely appropriate that I remembered that Joe Black was Death. I had seen the movie with Brad Pitt years ago and had forgotten what it was about. A few days later, as if it was Joe Black’s way of saying goodbye, the movie was on television. I watched it, crying and thinking about how I had met and lost my Joe Black. I may have given him a warm, loving, temporary home in his short life, but he gave me so much more: a lesson in love, an undeniable gift.
Chris Shin Bio:
Chris Shin is a former lawyer, now writer, advocate, educator, crisis management consultant and sacred guide in Vancouver, BC. She is also founder of Clear & Calm Compasshin Solutions. She is committed to her own healing and strives to lead a life of compassion, grace and ease. Her life purpose is to inspire and empower others and share the love with all - to guide others through their trauma and crisis, and to help them heal and make peace with the past.
She also wrote “Rebirth: After a Home Invasion” in the April 2012 Thrive in Life E-Magazine:
She can be reached at email@example.com or on LinkedIn (https://ca.linkedin.com/in/chris-y-shin-97140164).
She has been a kitten foster parent with Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue (VOKRA: http://www.orphankittenrescue.com/) for a decade and also sat on their Board. VOKRA is a registered charity and is driven 100% by volunteers and donations. Donations can be made: http://www.orphankittenrescue.com/donate/
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