Many people call themselves animal lovers, but few are at the same level as Dr. Jessica Thompson. She devotes a large part of her life to working with cats, not only in her career but also in a volunteer capacity and in her home life.
Thompson started fostering cats and kittens when she was an undergraduate student, sometime around 2002. She stopped briefly while she was in veterinary school and as she settled into her career, but then she was quick to pick it back up. Now she hosts anywhere between 10 and 30 cats at a time. She has a designated kitten room in her basement, but extra cats often take up residence in the laundry room and living room too.
Every morning, when Thompson gets up, she feeds and cares for all of the foster cats and kittens, along with her own five cats and two dogs, before taking care of her own needs. Currently, there are 28 cats in her care.
“It really doesn’t feel like that much for me,” Thompson says. “I guess when I have less, I kind of feel like I’m not helping as much.”
Then she goes to work at Vista Pet Hospital, where she may spend just a few hours or up to 12 hours. The clinic hosts rescue days where the veterinarians spend the entire morning taking care of rescue pets, often performing amputations and other care that is critical to the animals’ survival. They also offer discount pricing to help ensure that community members are able to take proper care of their animals.
Thompson has people come to her home during the day to clean litter boxes and play with the foster cats as much as possible, but she still chooses to spend her evenings petting and doting on whoever seems to need more attention. This is the time that she’s able to really work with the “difficult cases” – the foster kitties who are extra shy or scared of humans.
Thompson is also a dog lover, but she says dogs take a lot more time and effort to foster than cats, so she doesn’t take them in to avoid limiting the number of animals she can help. Of course, there are still limits to what she can do from her own home. Supplies are expensive, fosters are in short supply, and there’s never enough time.
“The biggest challenge for me, I would say, would be time,” she relates. “Trying to manage all my time, trying to make sure to get everything done in a day, but I’ve gotten really good at it.”
Apart from her duties at work and home, Thompson also helps out a few different animal rescue groups. She fills an advisory position on the boards of three rescues and also provides free veterinary services for one of them – Northwest Animal Companions of Portland, OR.
Larger rescues, Thomspon says, often have their own veterinarians to look after the animals, but many of the smaller ones do not. Thompson fills a need and helps save the rescues money by providing veterinary care and animal health advice for free.
“I get [the cats] started on all the care they need, and I do this on my off time to try and help save the rescue money.”
Thompson also manages her cats’ online presence on Instagram. This more or less began when Thompson, a Taylor Swift superfan who has seen the celebrity in concert every tour since 2005 or 2006, accidentally gained some fame by dressing up the seven fosters she had at the time as different Taylor Swift personas.
“When Taylor Swift was coming out with her album ‘Reputation,’ she had this ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ music video, and it showcased her in a whole bunch of different costumes and different eras of her public life,” Thompson recalls. “I was watching Taylor’s music video, because you had to watch it a lot in order to get boosts in order to be able to get tickets to the Reputation tour. I had a group of seven foster kittens, and I made a whole bunch of kitten costumes, and I dressed them all up like different eras of Taylor Swift, and it went viral.”
Entertainment Tonight, Buzzfeed, and other media companies picked up the story, and Taylor Swift’s team saw it too. Thompson was invited to Swift’s house for the Reputation secret sessions, and it was shortly after that that she changed her page’s name to “TheSwiftieKittens.”
Thompson says the most rewarding part of taking care of all of these animals has been seeing so many of them thrive and find their forever homes. She also loves getting to do vet visits with these kitties years later so she can see them again.
“We had a lot of panleukopenia or feline distemper last year and the year before, and watching those kittens survive that disease and coming up with a protocol that actually helped those kittens survive was amazing,” she recalls. “And then seeing them thrive and then go to their new homes, and then a lot of times, I get to be their vet. And so then I get to see them every year, and that’s exciting for me, too, watching them grow up.”
Thompson has lots of favorites, one of which was Harper, the first cat she ever saved from feline infectious peritonitis.
“Bottle babies Harper and Hank got adopted together, and Harper, shortly after adoption, developed wet FIP. It’s a mutated coronavirus, and it used to be fatal for cats. And at that time, there wasn’t a lot of information out there on how to treat it. I couldn’t see Harper dying, and so I did a whole bunch of research and discovered some ways to get medication. And I got the medication and I gave Harper an injection every day for 84 days, and she survived the disease. It was just amazing to see her thrive, because before that, I’d only ever seen FIPS cats die.”
Mira is another kitty Thompson remembers fondly, because she was among the smallest kittens to survive panleukopenia.
“She’s big now, but she was this tiny little fluffy calico, and she had it. And then this other kitten had it. And so we had these 1 1/2 pound kittens on IV fluids and supportive care and medicine, and watching them survive was amazing. Harper and Mira are some really ones that I look back and I’m like, ‘We did that. We saved their lives,’ and it’s great.”
Thompson hopes her story can help inspire people to foster and adopt from rescues and shelters but also to help in smaller ways. She recognizes that fostering isn’t for everyone, but anyone can donate to or volunteer at a shelter to help make sure all the animals are well provided for and get enough social time.
“I want other people, if they can, to help foster and help support rescues, not necessarily just the big ones. There’s a lot of little ones out there that also need the support and don’t get so much funding like the big ones. It’s just nice to help out the smaller guy who’s also working hard towards the same goal.”
If you’re looking for more ways to help out in your community, perhaps you’ve found the sign you’ve been waiting for. Check out your local animal rescue or shelter and ask how you can be of assistance.
Thank you, Jessica, for all that you do to help out the shelters and cats in your community!Whizzco