Siri Zwemke, Author, Executive Director of Siamese Cat Rescue Center
You tuned into the community cats podcast ready. Let's go <music>. Welcome to the community cats podcast. I'm your host stacey lebron. I've been involved helping homeless cats for over twenty years with the the merrimack river feline rescue society. The goal of this podcast is to expose you to amazing. People were improving the lives of cats. I have these interviews. We'll help you learn how you can turn your passion for cats into action today. We are speaking with series whimpy. Siri brings us a refreshing work of creative nonfiction fiction and her first book rescue me's finding herself midlife collecting way too many cats amongst other animals siri decides to switch careers overnight from special education teacher to director of a nonprofit cat rescue group a decision that quickly snowballed as the rescue organization siamese cat rescue center gained national attention <music> over the next twenty years with the help of steady team of nine hundred volunteers rescued over thirteen thousand cats making every mistake in the book series pokes. It's fun herself in a light-hearted manner. She learned the lessons of animal rescue the hard way from handling rifle wielding hillbillies in the mountains of virginia to doing the dance the dead mouse you'll laugh you'll cry and you'll learn something about cats and rescue currently residing in virginia with her husband daryl whom she met through the rescue. Several cats is anti dog enjoys gardening reading and is working towards her black belt in martial arts siri. Welcome to the show. Thank you thank you for having me stacey. I'm so oh throw a dashing with lots of questions here to ask you. A siamese cat rescue has been on my radar for many many years and so i'm very very thankful that you joined the organization and has been working with it over the last twenty years or so first and foremost tell us how did you become incredibly passionate about cats and why siamese cats will. I think it was one of those things that i grew up with siamese cats. My mother had siamese cats when she was younger and it just sort of automatically came to me that i would get a siamese cat as a teenager that turned out to be my first soulmate if you will and it kerr became a passion from that point forward so it was in the family and the tradition was passed on yep yep that's it and so so i'm really interested in diving into siamese cat rescue but first. Let's talk about rescue me's. Why did you decide to write a book will after twenty years of doing siamese diomede cat rescue we sort of looked back on all of the experiences and how much we learned and all the different chats and people we met and things things we went through and i thought wow this really would make a great book not only in a sort of an educational way to help people who are either interested in risky skew or cats or siamese but also just in a funny funny stories that maybe at the time were so funny looking backer aca really quite humorous as i stumbled along and learned everything the hard way so many of these stories were drawn upon your experiences running the siamese cat rescue center yep. So what sort of role do you play for. Siamese cat rescue. Are you on the board of directors the executive director. I'm the executive director. I'm an founder of the rescue program which started in nineteen ninety eight kind of by mistake <hes> when i was looking to adopt a siamese cat having recently recently lost one had several cats but didn't have a siamese at the time and went out to try to find one got on the internet and actually found out out in kansas by a woman who had a small rescue organization out there that she was adopting out cats and so i thought wow there's a siamese in kansas and maybe could figure out how to get the cat from kansas virginia and then it sort of occurred to me wow maybe there are siamese cats in shelters in virginia so i made the i don't wanna say mistake mistake but i called up all of the local shelters within probably one hundred mile radius which was quite a few and sort of said hey. I'm looking for a siamese cat. Do you guys get siamese. Cats in everybody took my name and then the next thing you knew i got started getting all these phone calls. Hey hey we know about a siamese cat or we have a siamese cat. Can you come look at the siamese cat and the first lesson rescue which had not yet learned was you can't can't take them all and and so i did i took them all and kind of became the crazy cat lady with way too many cats and shortly after that i sort of realized wow this this isn't gonna work and maybe i need to turn this into you know a profession or an activity that i'm going to do and start a rescue organization and so it kinda snowballed into this career change as as you said i was teaching full time i was raising my daughter already had a super busy life and then all of a sudden you know ahead twenty cats at my house my goodness though but siamese cat rescue does not have a physical building other than foster homes correct we actually do. We put up a small shelter on our property. That's actually carnival long funny story which is detailed in the book but i had so many cat cages in the house that it was becoming really overwhelming and i again it sort of snowballed. I didn't realize it would become super-popular very very quickly playing so very rapidly. I had people showing up on my driveway all days of the year on thanksgiving afternoon wanting to come and play with the cats listen people knocking on my door at all times and the phone was always ringing in every room in the house was filled with cat cages and cats and very quickly. I realized this isn't gonna working so we actually put up a second building on our property that we where we could house the cats and so that's kind of the center or the mothership is we call it and and then from there we grew into a lot of foster homes throughout the various states that we cover nine hundred volunteers. That is an amazing number volunteers. How do you manage such a large group. It's crazy. <hes> we were just were so lucky to tap into a resource of siamese cat lovers which we did primarily over the internet nat word of mouth grabbing every adopter who adopted from us in convincing them to get involved in offering a lot of different volunteer positions so it wasn't just fosters that we needed but we needed interviewers and we needed crafters. Emily started a transport system so that we could move the cats from place to place a starting starting with a cat out in kansas that needed to come to virginia. We started what was called the measor express and do who was that cat was the first rider of the measor express which basically works as a relay system where different volunteers take different sections of the trip and they pick up the cat say at the foster home and they drive. Maybe an hour and a half and then passed the cat onto the next dry rude drives an hour and a half and passes cannot and so on and so forth and this is allowed us to replace the cats up and down the east coast throughout our coverage area most weekends. We have transports going in many different directions. Have you found that changes in the impacts with regards to the reductions of the numbers of cats going into shelters especially in the northeast and northwest and smother other pockets in the country. Are you finding business a little bit less busy than it was like ten years ago. Yes absolutely and i think that's great right. That's that's wonderful. Foia actually just had a conversation with our local animal control officer last week and we're talking about you know hey it's june and the shelter is not full. You know what's going on and every year and we track all sorts of statistics for ourselves anyway. Every year. We found that busy season or kitten season as you want to call. It gets later on so it used to be. We'd see it in april and then we see it in. May you know this year. It's been mid to late june and so i think spain owner is working in you know i think there is that reduction of homeless pets which is wonderful so that would bring us to in another part of the conversation which we sort of touched upon a little bit before i hit the record button which is this relationship between shelters and breeders and the fact that because you deal with siamese cats you're working with breeders as well as working with shelters. There's and you're not seeing huge spikes of these specialty breeds because of breeders continuing to breed you know and i think it's an interesting bridge. Your organization plays between the two camps because i i really think that shelters and rescues would have a hard time sitting in the same room with some breeders or readers in general general feeling that they're not on the same mission but in a way they may have the same mission because at the end of the day we just want the best possible homes for these cats are best possible environment for these these cats as they live. Do you have any thoughts about this. I think you're exactly right. I think the bottom line and particularly when you're talking about a purebred cat so the siamese cat <hes> you know has a personality that doesn't mesh with everybody and of course within the breed just like with any breed. There's going to be a real variation in the personality so oh i think the the bottom line is that you really have to match what the adoptive family needs and is looking for with the cat and if you don't do that i'm afraid that you're sort of contributing to this recycle of animals that get adopted from a shelter and go home and don't work in the home and then get returned turned or turned into someplace else so i think it's really really key to do a lot of matchmaking and that means that you know not every home or or adoptive parent is going to necessarily find what they need. In rescue and breeders play a very important function to you know not only perpetuate patch. Wait the breed but also there are a lot of i think adoptive homes that what they're looking for is maybe more reader specific end that may be a more appropriate appropriate venue for them so again we use the word breeder though in in rescue you run into a lot of situations which are not necessarily good breeding situations right so you have somebody who is backyard breeding and you know maybe the animals aren't receiving the vetting care and there isn't the supervision of the adults of the parents that their breeding together and stuff so you know it depends. I think that rescues shelters breeders all really have to work together for the benefit of the cat in question so that you get the good hohmann. It works the other way round too. We've had a lotta breeders. Approach us less cats that maybe they couldn't. It's find an adoptive home for for whatever reason maybe the cat was older retired breeder you know everybody was adopting their kittens but they had this older cat and leave welcomed about cat into our to our system been able to find a home for it so i think it works both ways. Do you wanna create amazing videos that get animals adopted then check out rescue tube where they've simplified the creation of adoption and fundraising videos volunteers and foster simply upload raw video and rescue youtube it turns it into amazing stories set to music. They even posted on your social media for you. Check out rescue dot tube to learn more going back to the days when i was running the merrimack river feline rescue society and we would get in a siamese get a seal point. You know the various different rent type of siamese cats and they're chatting away with us and stuff at that point in time. Yeah are doc fee was seventy five dollars or something which in our world now in new england is actually quite low but there was always huge demand for those tapes of cats so is it important or is it. I don't know i would always think about oh well. We should make this cat's adoption fee three hundred dollars to be able to help offset the dental for the next cat that walks through the door or whatever but are there things that as shelters shelters we need to know about with regards to specific breed of siamese that the breed specific rescues are better equipped to handle. I think the knowledge of the breed is is really key so if we look at siamese specifically you've got to have the right home for a siamese cat in general your typical siamese personality is talkative given active and dog like an involved in smart and curious and they're not really suited for somebody who wants you know a cat. That's just going to hang down on the couch and the person leaves a very busy lifestyle and they're not home that much and they travel on the weekends but they wanna come home and have a cat. That's great but that's probably not a siamese cat and so you know i think it goes back to again the matchmaking you have to educate your general public what the siamese cat is all about if they don't know and then you've gotta right and make sure that the person who's adopting the cat in again. Each cat is going to be different of course but are they going to be okay with the cat whose standing outside the closed bathroom door you know yelling at the top of their lungs so i have a question for you in terms of the trends that you've seen over the last twenty years or so years ago. It wasn't wasn't uncommon to see many of these special cats. Come into us declawed. Has that trend changed by that has changed <hes> we still see some of the older cats come in you know and that's typically the thirteen fourteen fifteen year old cat whose owner has passed away and they may be declawed but you're correct act. We don't see nearly as much of that anymore. Thank goodness because the declawed cats that we do get almost always have some behavior issues from that declaw claw and what would those types of behavior issues we see a lot of declawed cats who are biters our neighbors so they have learned that they need to to defend themselves or if they're put in a scary position or whatever they don't have their claws anymore so they use their teeth and we also see a lot of declawed cats. Come in with litterbox the boxes shoes as a matter of fact. I have the nicest cat. I mean almost ever that we've had over at the center and she has been returned four times and dan. She uses litterbox fine here but every time she goes home. We've tried all sorts of different homes for her. It hasn't worked. She's had litterbox. Issue is a night you know have to attribute attribute that to her declaw. We've certainly seen quite a few. I mean any cat. That's been declawed is at risk of having behavioral issues but yeah we definitely would see that in siamese and persian cats at came into us to do you have a relationship with the other breed specific rescues that are out there and are there organizations that are as big as siamese cat rescue center. You know i'm not really aware of other ones that have the longevity that we've had there have been over the years. There was a persian asian rescue for a while there have been a couple of other siamese and other breed rescues but typically we focused just on the siamese and if someone comes comes to us in our website talks a lot about what is the siamese cat. What kind of behavior you should you expect. What are you looking for in your cat and does it match with the siamese and and you know if someone says to us say we're looking for. You know very quiet cat. That's just going to be a meatloaf on the couch. You know we may say well. We are probably not the breed free. You know many years ago i think there was a maine coon rescue that we had utilized a couple of times you know they're very active and and they actually like to be outside a lot and they they get upset if they're not we've used them for barn placements on occasion and that kind of thing too though it's it's interesting. It's interesting to learn the ins and outs of the different organizations and and you know as you develop a nonprofit you're also thinking about. What's my niche or don't feel like you have to be all things to all people. It's how do we serve ourself the best efforts. I'd like to go back to rescue. Me is just a little bit talking about your book. Basically it sounds like there's different stories that you're sharing for myself as a shelter or rescue or community cat oriented mantis person if i'm reading that book what is it that i'm going to end up taking away from it will first of all. I worked really hard to make it very lighthearted. I think a lot of people are sort of worried. Oh it's gonna be really sad. All these rescue stories. It's gonna make me cry and stuff. I really worked hard to make it light hearted by poking fun at myself and all of the naievty that i had going into this just not really understanding about rescue in how the rescue environment works and the types of situations i would run into and stuff so i think that people will come away with a real sort of a good feeling that hey you can make a lot of mistakes in life and you can correct them and learn from them. Um and actually develop something. That's really pretty cool. I think they'll learn a lot. There's a lot of cat behavior. There's a lotta matchmaking in there. There's a lot certainly about siamese cats hats but i think also just cats in general and then there's quite a bit about just running a non profit animal rescue in what goes on behind the scenes i mean there's dead admires under your clothes and all sorts of things that you don't expect it to happen as you said you had cages in your house and it was getting a bit overwhelming. Did you talk at all about like sort of your home and it seems like one of the biggest challenges is being able to know your limits and being able to say no at times or i say not right now or say. Here's somebody else. Did you have that learning curve. They certainly did and i had a lot of moments in different areas teja moments in handling the volunteers. I had a moment since you said saying no to the cats coming in. I had a ha moments when i stood but at the end of my very rural driveway trying to eliminate or whatever to make money and realized this isn't gonna cut it you know so there was a lot of a lot of that and i do you detail a lot of that. I kind of learned like i said the hard way for sure so folks are interested in finding out more about rescue. Me's how would they do that. It certainly certainly for sale on amazon earns noble as paperback e book. I have a facebook page under my name series lemke author which gives a little excerpt from it talks about it some and then it's of course intricately tied to the siamese cat rescue. You can find me through that as well which is on has its own website so i of course also on facebook and then there's rescue. Me's that measor dot org the email says well yes excellent excellent series or anything i think else you'd like to share with our listeners today. You know it encourage anybody to contact us if you are interested in adopting if you wanna know more about siamese cats chats in general if you have an issue the siamese cat we're very interested in trying to get out into the community via cyberspace to try to help to work hard to keep these cats in their homes to provide some mentoring and advice and support in different ways so i hope that you know as we look at that changing changing rescue environment we look at possibly some new directions that siamese rescue may head in that people think to contact us if they need help and if we can it just talk to them about what's going on with their cat or is a siamese cat suited to them. Excellent will syria. I wanna thank you so much for agreeing to be a guest on my show and i hope to have you on again in the future. I really enjoyed it stacey. Thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you for listening to community cats podcast. 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