Kathleen Farrell-Decker is the volunteer manager at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society in Menands. She is the point person for the society’s volunteer program which averages 403 volunteers donating 16,311 hours per year. Her specialty is cats, and has managed the society’s foster program in the past and is a frequent foster mom, too. She is pursuing veterinary studies at SUNY Cobleskill but has been on hiatus due to COVID. She lives in Elka Park with her husband Jeffrey Decker, seven cats (Bear, Rachel, Monica, Scuttles, Peppermint, Armani, and Polly,) two dogs (Nanook and Remus) and a rabbit (Mrs. Toodles.) All are rescues and all except for Bear were former fosters.
Q: The obvious question first — what is the difference between cats and dogs and do you prefer working with one over the other and why?
A: The first thing I noticed when I started working at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society as an animal care associate was the individuality of every single animal. There are so many little quirks that each one possesses. Some dogs hate toys, some love them. One cat can eat only fish flavored pate food while others like the crunchy food better. I think a lot of people think of dogs and cats in generalizations, but they are so wonderfully unique on an individual level. I do prefer to work with cats over dogs, though. Cats tend to require a lot of care in specific areas for shorter periods of time. When orphaned bottle babies come in, they need you to feed them, watch them, clean them, etc… They’re entirely dependent on you. Once they grow, they become more independent and learn so fast, leaving you behind in the dust. Dogs form deeper bonds and they’re more loyal. They take a little more patience and time to come around, but when they do, it’s amazing.
Q: What is most rewarding to you from working with animals every day?
A: I love my job. I say that way more than I complain. I promise. It’s so incredibly hard to narrow this down because the longer I’m in this field, the more layers that are added. I guess bottom line is that I get to make a difference every day. The most rewarding moment has to be when my bottle babies are adopted. Some of those kittens come to the shelter only a few hours old without their mother. Without fosters, they would die. That’s an undeniable fact. Stepping up and, unavoidably, being zombified sleep deprived for a couple of weeks is nothing compared to the chance at life these little babies receive. They can go on to live for 20 years, and we get to give them that gift. I do miss the little guys when they get adopted. Sometimes I tear up, but there is always another litter who needs me.
Q: What or who got you started down career path of working with animals?
A: Well, I’ve always been an animal lover. My first cat Frodo taught me a lot about give and take in all my friendships. Cats have clear boundaries. Honestly, I was bullied quite a bit in school for loving animals, but that only made me more determined to dedicate my life to helping out the underdog. The community of people I’ve found along the way, are the absolute most amazing people in the entire world. Everyone in animal welfare cares so deeply and works so hard. That, and we can all be a little awkward around humans at times.
Q: Volunteers are, by nature, motivated. What is the trick to channeling the enthusiasm of a newcomer who, for example, might want to take all the homeless animals home?
A: My biggest belief with volunteering is that it is supposed to make you feel good and be fun. We have a large variety of positions that help volunteers feel out where they would like to volunteer and where they fit in. I try to find the strengths each person possess and steer them in the right direction. We have dog and cat people of course, but we have many other volunteers who help us battle the mountain of dirty laundry and sort our “blob” of bottles and cans. Each time anyone says they want to take everyone home, I always laugh and caution against it from personal experience. My house is full! It was full two cats ago, but they wormed their way in. There is a wonderful point of clarity you reach when you’re woken up each morning at 5 a.m. by cats incessantly screaming for their breakfast, which is served promptly at 7 a.m.
Q: You recently began a business, the Feral Flame, with the proceeds going to help stray cats. What is the secret to making a good candle?
A: Well, I haven’t quite decided where the proceeds are going just yet, but at the moment, when I make some, I’m saving to buy a house with extra bedrooms so I can have full areas dedicated to kitten care (just like the Kitten Lady) and hopefully a fenced in yard so I can start fostering the dogs who need a safe place to learn how to be dogs. It may sound corny, but what I’ve learned making candles so far is that the secret to making good ones is to have fun, and use soy. With the wide variety of scents, you have the world at your fingertips. You can recreate so many vivid memories from scent alone. A soy candle releases such a calm scent and steady burn, you can have it going for hours and just breathe. Just make sure they’re far out of reach of any foster kittens!
If you’re interested in learning more about fostering and our volunteer program, please visit mohawkhumane.org for more information.
If you would like to see someone featured in Five Questions, contact Jim Franco at 518-878-1000 or [email protected]