It’s a crisp, calm Saturday morning in the highdesert town of Hurricane, Utah. On these kinds of days, residents sleep in and look forward to hiking the sandstone bluffs in the nearby mountains. But for 62-year-old Susan Barrett, it will be a whirlwind day. She’s already fed her foster cat, arranged to trap kittens at a farm and made plans to drive a carload of animals to a Best Friends Animal Society’s spay/neuter clinic, which is an hour and 15 minutes away. Like a bolt of lightning, she’s out her front door and on her way to Hurricane Animal Shelter to pick up cats and take them to an all-day adoption fair at PETCO.
But this isn’t a typical day for Barrett. No two days are alike for the feline foster parent and animal rescuer. As one of the few dedicated animal advocates in her small country town, Barrett’s days are scheduled by the needs of cats (and sometimes dogs) in her rural community. On some days she fosters kittens and traps free-roaming cats for spay/neuter; on other days she socializes neglected cats that were surrendered to the shelter and finds ranches to relocate abandoned semi-feral felines. Whatever the task, Barrett does it with a passion and intensity that leaves no room for anything but a happy ending for the animals in her care.
“Susan is a force of nature,” says Lynda Kinsman, an animal control officer and shelter attendant at Hurricane Animal Shelter. “She’s helped literally thousands of cats and has changed the way people here treat animals. I don’t know where she gets her energy.”
Barrett believes that she was born to help animals, but she admits that it’s not always easy to follow her calling. Although fostering and animal rescue work is challenging in urban and suburban communities, rural ones provide additional hurdles.
“She often has to drive an hour or more to get services, but she’s also up against a different mindset,” says Holly Sizemore, executive director of No More Homeless Pets in Utah, whose programs have helped Susan’s free-roaming cat spay/neuter efforts in Hurricane. “In rural settings, a lot of people have the attitude that there’s no need to fix cats because nature will take care of itself, and some people still resort to drowning kittens. But Susan has the belief that if you want to make a difference, sometimes you have to act on behalf of peoples’ apathy. She’s a diplomatic fighter and she keeps plugging along.”
When she first moved to Hurricane eight years ago, people asked Barrett to remove kittens from their properties, which she did. She fostered them and drove around for days at a time knocking on doors to find them new homes.
“Then I started telling people about the advantages of having the cats around,” Barrett says. “I’d tell them, ‘I can’t help you if you don’t help me.'”
There still are days when Barrett gets overwhelmed. During those times, she believes her guardian angels swoop in to save the day.
“I’m kind of a spiritual person, and I truly believe that I have angels watching over me. Sometimes when I’m at my very lowest, I’ll have these miracles happen,” she says, remembering a recent instance involving a 15-year-old foster cat, Grandpa, whose days at the shelter were numbered. “I knew I was dreaming that this cat would get adopted — we have a tough time just getting 1-year-old cats adopted.” But then she got a call from an acquaintance who has a facility dedicated to geriatric adoptions; the woman decided to take in Grandpa and find him a home.
Whether people live in the country or the city, Barrett encourages everyone to try fostering and rescue work, not just for the help that it provides to cats in need, but also for the impact it will have on the community and their own lives.
“If everyone would give back a little, the world would literally change tomorrow, and they’d see that the satisfaction you get from it is unbelievable,” she says. “The animals really have no voice of their own, so if we don’t fight their battles, who will? You can help them if you believe in what we’re doing and give it your whole heart. You just have to get up in the morning, go out there and try.”
Cimeron Morrissey is a cat rescuer, award-winning writer and Animal Planet’s 2007 Cat Hero of the Year.