Foster volunteer prepares to welcome 100th kitten

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Cherri Gillmore sitting on a chair holding a gray tabby cat
Cherri Gillmore has a knack for helping unsocialized kittens, and together with her cat, Simon, she’s encouraging children to feel confident reading aloud.
By Nicole Hamilton

One of the first things you’re likely to see when you visit Cherri Gillmore’s home in Truckee, California, is a large dog crate atop a blanketed table, smack dab in the middle of the living room. And if you’re lucky, you might also see kittens peeking out from underneath the table or curled up together sleeping soundly in the crate.

Cherri, a foster volunteer for the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe and a Best Friends supporter, calls her setup the Kitty Palace. And over the years, it housed 91 kittens, all of them receiving loving care from Cherri until they were ready to be spayed or neutered and adopted.

"Cherri is truly an angel to all animals,” says Victoria Johnson of Best Friends. “Foster volunteers like Cherri are literally saving lives. The world is lucky to have her."

Two kittens lying together on a bed in a crate

Cat inspires volunteer to help many more

Cherri can trace her love for fostering kittens back to Elvis (the cat, that is). Back when she began volunteering, she considered herself a dog person, but she decided to help out with cats at the shelter because that’s where help was needed the most.

One day, the shelter team handed Cherri (who by then had earned a reputation for helping even the shiest cats come out of their shells) an unhappy bundle of fur named Elvis, hoping she could work some magic. Immediately, he curled up on her shoulder and started purring. “Elvis was singing just for me,” says Cherri, who decided that day to become a foster volunteer and bring Elvis home.

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Over the course of a few months, she watched Elvis transform from a shy kitten to a confident one. Eventually, she formed such a strong connection that she decided to adopt him. But that didn’t mean she was done fostering. In fact, it was quite the contrary. After seeing Elvis flourish, she wanted to help more kittens like him.

Black and white kitten lying in a cat bed

A penchant for helping unsocialized cats

“I typically foster kittens who come to the shelter unsocialized,” says Cherri. “I don’t mind dealing with shy or scared kittens.”

Over the years, she’s created a rock-solid plan to help kittens develop the social skills they need to thrive after adoption. The key, she says, is taking it slow and letting them approach her on their time, not hers.

Once the kittens get used to life in the Kitty Palace, she often wraps them up in a blanket, which she calls a “kitty burrito.” Then, she brings them to her office, closes the door and holds them one at a time on her chest so they can hear her heartbeat. She also lets them lick baby food from her finger before she reaches out to pet them. “They see me as a giver of yummy things,” she says.

So far, she’s had great success helping even the shiest and most scared kittens find their way to loving homes. And she will occasionally get updates from adopters letting her know how well the kittens she once held to her heart are doing. “If I could do backflips, I would,” she says. “Hearing that they are doing great is such a wonderful feeling.”

"Cherri is a huge asset to our foster program and is someone who (we can always rely) on to step up and help when needed,” says Samantha Laroche, foster manager for the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe. “Her dedication and love to each foster kitten she has cared for has been incredible.”

Black kitten with a logo on the side that says Brockway

Cat reading coaches

If Cherri isn’t at home tending to her foster kittens, you’re apt to find her at a local elementary school along with her cat, Simon, helping young children develop confidence reading aloud. It’s an initiative she and Elvis (who recently passed away) got involved with about six years ago.

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She and Simon usually spend about an hour visiting individually with children, who each bring in a favorite book. Then, they read to Simon while he sits and patiently listens. It’s a role Simon takes to naturally. “He’s a dog in cat clothing,” says Cherri, who transports the 17-pound gray tabby in a canvas crate that sits on a wagon she calls Simon’s Chariot. Once his chariot is in the room, Simon hops out, eager to greet the children who can’t wait to pet him.

Cherri says the program has been a huge success. Parents and teachers report that, first through Elvis and now through Simon, the program has helped the kids feel more at ease reading out loud. And recently, the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe launched its Read Up For Fun (RUFF) program at the local public library.

"Our RUFF program is made up entirely of certified therapy dogs, with the exception of Simon,” says Erin Ellis, community engagement manager for the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe. “Kids' faces just light up when they see a cat and know that this special animal is going to be their reading buddy."

Cherri in a library with kids and Simon the cat

Huge milestone for an amazing volunteer

With kitten season fast approaching, Cherri has good reason to believe that sometime very soon, she’ll welcome her 100th foster kitten to the Kitty Palace. And it’s not like she has any plans on stopping. All she has to do is think about the kittens she’s helped to save — from a litter found clinging to life in a dumpster to the kittens she ended up adopting, including Elvis and Simon. She knows she’s making a huge difference.

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Photos courtesy of Cherri Gillmore