Every time Kris Papiernik and Kia Griffin’s 5-year-old nephew, Shon, comes for a weekend visit, he only wants to do one thing — go outside and take care of the street cats.
“We’ve been a big part of his life ever since he was born,” Papiernik, an independent cat rescuer, told The Dodo. “If he was with us, he was around cats. He follows our lead.”
For the past 10 years, Papiernik and Griffin have been caring for over 40 street cats who live in rough parts of Philadelphia and the surrounding area. While they try to rescue and rehome as many cats as they can, others are too feral and unsocialized to adjust to domestic life, and the most Papiernik and Griffin can do is feed them, and try to get as many of them spayed and neutered as possible.
They’ve dubbed the different cat colonies the Kolony Kats, Backyard Boys, Stray Kitty Crew, Meow Squad, Gas Station Kitties and Indoor Kitties.
When Shon first expressed interest in helping out with the cats, Papiernik and Griffin weren’t too sure.
“We were a little hesitant at first because they’re feral cats, and we thought they’re going to run from a rambunctious 3-year-old,” Papiernik said.
But the women couldn’t have been more wrong.
“It was the total opposite — they just gravitated to him,” Papiernik said. “He’d scratch their bellies and scratch their heads. It was amazing to see these cats who wouldn’t even allow us to touch them, but immediately took to him. He must have this magical effect that the cats can pick up.”
A cat named Bug, who lives in the Kolony Kats group with nine others, was one of the first cats whom Shon managed to charm.
“We couldn’t get Bug neutered or anything because he wouldn’t come to us, and he wouldn’t come near the trap,” Papiernik said. “But when Shon came around and started feeding him, Bug came immediately to him and, ever since then, Bug has been a friendly cat.”
Shon is still too young to help with the canned food or to administer medicine to the cats who live in Papiernik and Griffin’s home. But he knows exactly how to dish out the dry food, hand out treats and fill the cats’ water bowls.
“Sometimes he likes to dress up,” Papiernik said. “He said it makes him feel like a superhero for animals.”
Shon loves the cats so much, he hates missing any chance to see them.
“If it’s raining or cold or he can’t go, he gets really upset,” Papiernik said. “He cries, and it really hurts him hard.”
But when Shon does get to spend time with the street cats, he’s in his element — and this makes both Papiernik and Griffin extremely proud.
“We love it,” Papiernik said. “It makes us smile.”