This Father’s Day, the ASPCA pays special tribute to Charlie, a seven-year-old cat who has shown a uniquely paternal love for dozens of homeless kittens over the past three years. Charlie, who was once abandoned and homeless himself, “paws it forward” year-round by showering his vulnerable charges with the utmost care and affection.
Before they were old enough for adoption, feline siblings Angus and Moo Cow were cuddled, groomed and showered with affection, but not by their biological mother or another nursing feline. They were shown loving parental care by an unrelated, adult male cat named Charlie.
Charlie, who belongs to ASPCA foster volunteer Chandler Alteri, has helped dozens of shy kittens like Angus and Moo Cow come out of their shells.
A former homeless and foster animal himself, Charlie was abandoned in 2010 with his siblings at a campground near Nashville, which is Chandler’s hometown. On one of the hottest days of the summer, and just days old, the kittens were discovered inside a box, dehydrated and panting.
A friend of Chandler’s family found the kittens and turned them over to Chandler’s mother, Amy Sparks, a frequent animal rescuer. The family bottle fed and socialized the kittens and eventually found homes for them all—except for big-eared and big-pawed Charlie, who Chandler adopted herself.
Charlie followed Chandler to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where she graduated with a degree in journalism and electronic media. The pair moved to New York City five years ago, living in Midtown for two years before relocating to the Upper West Side.
“As soon as I got my own apartment, I said, ‘This is my chance to be able to rescue and bottle feed,’” explains Chandler, a freelance writer/producer.
So she and Charlie began welcoming foster kittens into their home.
Chandler vividly recalls Charlie’s reaction to their first two fosters, Jitterbug and Bitsy, both from the ASPCA. She kept them away from Charlie at first, then carefully introduced them. “He immediately started grooming them,” she recalls. “These kittens didn’t have a mother, and he took them in. And they were so receptive. He even let them pretend to nurse. It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.”
His paternal instincts have not gone unnoticed by ASPCA staff. “Charlie is the best ‘kitten raiser helper cat,’” says Adi Hovav, Senior Feline Behavior Counselor at the ASPCA. “We send him the ‘hissy’ kittens, and he helps them come out of their shell.”
“Cats in a social grouping may groom one another; it’s one way that they share scents and form social bonds,” explains Katherine Miller, the ASPCA’s director of Anti-Cruelty Behavior Research. “It’s a very affiliative, pro-social behavior.”
Even Champ, a young cat with cerebellar hyperplasia and incontinence—got complete dedication from Charlie. “Charlie would clean him up,” Chandler says. “He never wavered.”
“Chandler and Charlie exemplify one way to help animals in need, even if you already have pets of your own,” said Eileen Hanavan, Senior Manager of the ASPCA’s Offsite Adoption and Foster Programs. “With support from our foster team and slow introductions, many of our foster volunteers’ resident pets have successfully welcomed foster animals into their homes.”
When he’s not busy being a doting dad, Charlie is a frequent flyer, accompanying Chandler to Tennessee on trips home where her mother still rescues animals, and where the seed for Chandler’s rescue work was planted.
“Rescuing is something really special that I share with my mother and is unique to just us,” says Chandler. “Her love and compassionate heart for saving animals is one thing I cherish most about her. We share a special bond.”
That compassionate bond now includes Charlie as well.
“Being a dad to these vulnerable kittens is an awesome fit for Charlie,” Chandler says. “It just melts my heart to see him care for them.”
The ASPCA welcomes individuals 21 and older to become a part of our Volunteer Foster Program. Orientations are held twice a month through October, with an increased need during kitten season while our Nursery is in operation, and a year-round need for large dog fosters.
To follow Charlie on Instagram, go to the handle @Charlie.fosterdad.