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Continuing Education: A Visit to Miss Sherry's Finishing School

Best Friends Animal Society
Best Friends Network

May 29, 2008

Like most teachers, I like to use my summers off to recharge my batteries while at the same time furthering my own education. So, what better place to begin the summer than the “campus” of Miss Sherry’s Finishing School (MSFS), located at Best Friends’ Rescue Village?

Although Headmistress Terri Gonzales was taking a much-deserved break, the pupils enrolled at MSFS were hard at work (between naps, of course) this Memorial Day weekend. Fortunately, Bob and Corinne Mitchell were on campus for several days, giving novices such as Kate and I an opportunity to learn the ropes.

After Corinne and Paprika demonstrated the different steps involved with each lesson, Kate and I proceeded with our own eager students. Kate worked with Delphi and Sylvester, getting each lesson off to an enthusiastic start with a little baby food (turkey, it seems, is quite popular around here).

Meanwhile, I was about 10 feet away, struggling with Ginseng, who showed no interest whatsoever in the bit of pureed poultry I offered her. Too cool for school, this one? Not at all. She just wanted to get on with it—and then get back to her mid-afternoon siesta (a sentiment shared by a number of my freshman and sophomore history students).

In no time at all, Kate was petting a skeptical but willing Delphi, and moving onto her neighbor (and, according to some, brother) Sylvester. And, to my great relief, I was making progress with Ginseng. (I later learned that she’d spent a significant amount of quality time with Corinne the day before, which no doubt left her warmed up for me.)

Fellow Arizonan Carrie Faulkner (who adopted Great Kitty Rescue cat Yin earlier this year) was busy in the playrooms where, using the FURminator  grooming tool, she was making fast friends with a number of the cats. Watching her with the cats, it was clear that she was getting as much enjoyment out of it as the cats were.

While his human “handlers” were eating lunch, class president Jasper demonstrated a skill not taught at MSFS when he pulled a blue jay through the double fencing out front of the Yurt, finishing it off inside (to what we can only imagine was a justifiably impressed crowd of classmates). It’s difficult to imagine a Jasper more full of himself than is his natural disposition, but there he was—the rest of the day marching around the Yurt with his glossy black chest all puffed up.

After all the dust (and feathers) settled, Kate and I returned to the classroom for afternoon sessions with the group of cats we’d worked with earlier, giving all three of them high marks for the day’s work. At MSFS, careful notes are kept for each session so that progress can be tracked.

And there is a tremendous amount of progress to be tracked, too. I lost track of all the “turnaround” stories we heard—cats you couldn’t touch a month ago are now soliciting pets, resolved runners are becoming lap cats, and so forth.

All of which challenges long-held ideas about feral cats and how best to care for them. In fact, around here, you rarely even hear the F-word used.

• • •

Playroom 1 was nearly emptied each night of our visit, as cats were taken for sleepovers in the RVs. We chose Chelsea and Dazzler to accompany us in the Hitchhiker. Although inviting two torties for a slumber party in tight quarters would seem to be asking for trouble (a phenomenon known as “tortosterone overload”), these two were no trouble at all.

Chelsea, as has already been reported, has almost none of the expected “tortitude,” and settled in immediately. Although she can be a bit of a princess (reluctant to share the bed with Dazzler, for example), everybody who’s met her agrees: all she needs is to go out on one adoption event and she’ll be snapped up. This cat is absolutely ready for a home.

Dazzler, on the other hand, headed for the first hiding spot she could find, wedging herself (head-first and butt in the air—practically a handstand) into the corner between the bed and the wall. “We can’t have another stuck cat!” exclaimed Kate, referring to a recent, well-publicized incident with Milk Mouth.

But Dazzler was fine, just getting cozy. She was eager to purr as soon as we petted her, too. And before long, she had all the motivation she needed to come out and look around. It turns out we had company. The Hitchhiker had its own hitchhiker, in the form of a tiny mouse.

Somehow, all of us—Kate and I, Chelsea and Dazzler, and the mouse—made it through the night (although none of us slept particularly well).

Sunday night, Bob and Corrine prepared a fabulous dinner, and we all sat around the Hitchhiker telling cat stories, joined by Barbara Williamson (whose tales easily topped all the rest). This evening (which ended on a high note when, during a lights-out bed check, it was discovered that Whisper had successfully broken out of Playroom 2, and was happily roaming the overhead chicken wire) alone would have made the six-hour drive worthwhile.

• • •

Most schools offer sweatshirts and bumper stickers as souvenirs, but there is no gift shop at MSFS. Not yet, anyhow. Here, you’re encouraged to take home a graduate (or two). Bob and Corinne were doing their part, taking home Kermit.

And Kate (possibly inspired by Barbara, whose roster of four-legged dependants generally runs into double digits) got in on the action, too, making arrangements to adopt Dazzler. The idea is that she’ll make friends with fellow tortie Flora (another of the Great Kitty Rescue cats, whom Kate adopted in January).

Although we were ready to bring Dazzler home with us, she needed another vet check before she could be released. So, she’ll be on the next Best Friends transport headed to Phoenix.

Had we stayed another night, I think I would have smuggled (as he was not on the approved list of overnight guests) Sebastian into the Hitchhiker. Talk about a cat ready to go home! Each day we were there, I sat in the red dirt (he prefers the “front yard” of his Yurt, where he can get away from some of his rambunctious housemates) to visit with this sweet little guy.

All of which made leaving for home that much more difficult. I can still picture Sebastian sitting there beyond the gate, watching me with his one eye, as I walked away.

And so, we’re already making plans for our next visit. I hope Sebastian is still there, sitting in the red dirt. Maybe by then he’ll be one of the “model students” at MSFS, hanging out in the playrooms, a shining example for the others.

Better yet, maybe he’ll be adopted—and taking courses online instead.


Best Friends Animal Society

Miss Sherry's Finishing School

Some of the Great Kitty Rescue Cats:

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© 2008 peter j. wolf