Faces of No-Kill: Senior cat mentors foster kittens

Wilbur the orange tabby cat wearing a sweater
This 15-year-old orange tabby teaches us that senior pets still have a lot of life to live and love to give.
By Christina London

In many ways, Wilbur is the quintessential grandpa. This senior cat loves wearing sweaters and bowties, taking leisurely strolls, and napping during the day. (Plus, have you ever heard a more grandpa name than Wilbur?) He even loves spending time with his “grandkids” — the foster kittens he and his caregiver, Vanessa, welcome into their home.

This story is a part of our Faces of No-Kill series, highlighting the journey of pets who lost their place to call home. These pets are thriving today thanks to an animal shelter that helped them rather than killed them. Best Friends’ goal is for every shelter and every community to reach no-kill in 2025, and this story shows why that’s so important.

Since his adoption, Wilbur and Vanessa have fostered more than 100 kittens and cats. That’s more than 100 lives that could have been lost if not for volunteers like Vanessa who give pets the extra time and care they need.

Seeing Wilbur jump to the highest shelves or zoom around the living room, you’d think he was closer to 15 weeks old than 15 years old. But he almost didn’t get his second chance at kittenhood.

Meeting Wilbur

Wilbur came to the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Salt Lake City from a nearby shelter. He was a friendly orange tabby with a crooked smile that lit up the room. However, a lot was going on beneath the surface. The veterinarian diagnosed Wilbur with severe dental disease, a heart murmur, and asthma that made it hard to breathe and would require a daily inhaler for the rest of his life.

Despite how lousy he must have been feeling, Wilbur’s affectionate nature shined through. Even while wearing a medical cone, he would make biscuits and flop over to receive belly rubs from the vet staff. Wilbur needed a comfortable place to stay as he returned to health, and veteran foster volunteer Vanessa agreed to take him in.

[Foster to Save Lives this Kitten Season]

As Wilbur began to improve, he really started to show his personality. Vanessa quickly learned that Wilbur is very talkative. He always responds with a knowing meow when you say his name and even likes chatting with the neighbors out the window. Also, he’s incredibly playful — and more than a bit mischievous. (Repeat after us: Blinds are not for climbing.)

Within a few weeks, it was clear that this temporary arrangement was actually permanent. How could Vanessa resist adopting Wilbur? This sweet boy was already home.

Foster kitten class in session

Even after adopting Wilbur, Vanessa wanted to continue her volunteer work fostering kittens. As she carefully introduced him to that first litter, she was delighted to discover that Wilbur loved fostering kittens as well. Not only did he tolerate his little houseguests, he embraced them and his role as their teacher.

[A most extraordinary mama cat’s love knows no bounds]

With 15 years of experience being a cat, Professor Wilbur is the perfect mentor for these bright-eyed kittens. Some of his courses include Biscuit-Making 101, Intro to Litter Box, and The Art of Play. He also bathes them, making sure their ears are clean and their fur looks immaculate. He shows them love and affection while still keeping them in line. In turn, the kittens follow him around and hang on his every meow.

When all the training is complete, his young students are ready to go to homes of their own. The kittens may not remember, but the lessons Wilbur taught them will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

You can help save homeless pets

You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

Saving lives around the country

Together, we're creating compassionate no-kill communities nationwide for pets and the people who care for them.

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