the infinite interview series #1 :
melanie jaecques & kat zoekt thuis in the spotlight
some people make extraordinary efforts to help animals in need, operating out of the spotlight. one of those people is melanie.
i have been in awe of her for quite some time and i am happy she agreed to take the time for this first infinite seeds interview.
in addition to her job at eva vzw (where she is responsible, amongst other things, for donderdag veggiedag – a similar project to meatless monday), melanie volunteers for the non-profit kat zoekt thuis taking care of cats and kittens that are stray or have been abandoned, often as an indirect result of people not sterilising their cats.
her dedication inspires me a great deal and i have no doubt sure she will inspire you too. grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit back, and enjoy her story.
10% of infinite seeds’ august & september profits went to kat zoekt thuis.
you can still provide financial support directly, visit their website www.katzoektthuis.be/steun-ons for more info.
the non-profit organisation kat zoekt thuis (cat seeks home) was founded by a number of passionate people concerned about the fate of stray cats.
could you tell us a bit more about kat zoekt thuis and describe what you do for this organisation?
I became a fosterer for Kat Zoekt Thuis in 2011. At that time I had just had two infirm cats (suffering from ataxia) put to sleep, and I figured that instead of adopting new cats, I could make a bigger difference by becoming a temporary fosterer. That way I could care for the cats and kittens who had been found on the street and were awaiting a ‘forever home’. It was really important to me that Kat Zoekt Thuis had a no-kill policy and that every cat they received had the same chances. The same is true today: we only euthanize cats when they are in unbearable pain and can’t be helped. I started to gradually take on other duties within the organisation, such as offering guidance to new foster families, keeping the website updated, processing the documents for new cats, helping to rescue stray cats, and so on.
In 2017 I became the organisation’s chairperson and together with four other board members we ensure that the organisation remains strong and professional. The main objective is to give as many abandoned cats as possible a new life. Kat Zoekt Thuis is not an animal shelter in the strict sense of the word since we don’t have a central location where people can visit all the cats that are up for adoption. We work instead with foster families who have room at home for one or more cats. This way the cat or cats can stay with them temporarily, in a homely environment, until they are adopted. Without these foster families it would not be possible to help so many cats each year.
last year, kat zoekt thuis helped around 1,000 cats. how many of these cats did you take care of?
I take in around 60 cats a year at my home. But a great many more come first to my home for a quarantine period before moving on to another foster family. In this way we are able to lower the risk of diseases being spread and I have a chance to assess how bad the situation is in each case and decide which foster family would be best for them. This year I have already fostered 28 cats and quarantined 40 before sending them on to other foster homes. We’re just half way through the year and we are already receiving so many new cats that I think the number will be over 1,000 this year.
could you describe a typical day for you as a volunteer?
In a foster organisation there is no such thing as a typical day, because you can never predict how things are going to go. You wake up thinking “I’ll just enjoy a cup of coffee first”, and then suddenly you get a call about an urgent case. A few hours later you sit back down to discover your cold, untouched coffee. Or, after a tiring day, you’re planing to go to bed early ... and at that moment you receive an email or a call, and it’s a situation where you know lives could be lost if it had to wait until the next day.
Apart from the unpredictability that goes hand in hand with working with animals, there are a number of recurring duties. When I get up in the morning I do what I call my ‘cat tour’.
I clean all the litter trays in the various foster rooms, put out fresh water and food, medication if required, and I also devote time to socialising the cats and playing with them. Depending on the number of cats and the condition they’re in, this can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours. Then I take care of my own animals and head off to work together with my dogs. The vets and volunteers working with Kat Zoekt Thuis know that I work in the daytime and try not to disturb me during those hours, but of course there are times when I occasionally receive an urgent phone call and I do my best to help. Right after work I go on another ‘cat tour’ and take a little more time to give the cats some attention. It’s especially important for the kittens to have a cuddle and a play so that they are used to interacting with people. Very often I also go to the vet in the evenings, because there’s always one that will be sick or in need of vaccination or sterilisation.
I usually work another couple of hours following up on emails and notifications regarding new cases, and discussing the most urgent cases with the other board members. Before I go to bed I check in on the cats one last time to see that everything’s okay. If there are any cats that need bottle-feeding then the night is divided up further into feeding sessions. A couple of years ago I started to work 4 days of the week – one day less – so that I have an extra day to do all the other work that comes with a non-profit organisation, such as administration and financial tasks. This way I can still have a little bit of time to myself, to read a book or go for a walk.
sleepy, fluffy gustaaf was found as a 4-week baby kitten in the cellars of an apartment building. he has already completely forgotten his trauma and is now the king of melanie's kitten room. soon he will leave for his forever home. credits - photography by melanie jaecques
what motivates you?
From a young age I was always highly devoted to animals. I often came across animals on the street that were unwanted or wounded. I can’t abide injustice; having respect for other living beings is very important to me. Animals usually can’t stand up for themselves and are often at the mercy of people.
By helping the animals that cross my path (or are brought to me) I hope to make a difference for them, and to inspire other people to not turn a blind eye, but to do the same whenever they can.
some cats or kittens don’t make it. how do you deal with that loss?
I’m a bad loser, and whenever we take in a cat it is my goal to stabilise the animal, both physically and mentally, and to help find it a caring adoptive family. When things don’t go according to plan, and especially in the case of kittens, who have their whole lives ahead of them, I feel a tremendous sadness and powerlessness. Almost every time, I tell myself I can’t go on fostering because it’s so emotionally demanding.
At times like that I have to suppress the anger I feel towards the people who let the situation get so bad. Because very often it is human indifference and irresponsible behaviour that gets these animals into such a state. At such times I’m really very grateful to have a partner who supports me and understands what I’m feeling. The other volunteers at Kat Zoekt Thuis, some of whom have become really good friends, also provide an unbelievable amount of support in such situations. We understand perfectly what the other is going through and help each other.
I also notice that I have perhaps become a bit stronger in the sense that I am now better able to process things when I have to say goodbye. I try to focus on the large number of cats that we have been able to give a good future. But that’s not to say that I’m able to hold back the tears when one of my foster cats passes away.
is kat zoekt thuis looking for volunteers?
Always! And we’re always in need of additional foster families. Our waiting list is always long, especially in the summer, so it’s much appreciated whenever someone is willing to foster one or more cats or kittens. We’re also always looking for people who want to help with rescuing stray cats, food collections and benefit events.
kitten pinda was found in an industry park and is now safe and sound with a foster family. credits - photography by jasmine kesteleyn
in which other ways can people who – for one reason or another – are not able to become a volunteer still help?
Kat Zoekt Thuis doesn’t receive any subsidies, which makes the veterinary bills in particular a heavy burden. We do ask for an adoption fee from adopters, but this usually only covers half of the amount we have spent on the cat. So we can’t get by without donations. Financial support (tax-deductible) is vital for us if we are to continue doing what we do and help more cats in the future. People can also sponsor a kitten. They then pay 25 euro and follow the development of ‘their’ kitten until it is adopted. People with slender financial means can still help us by spreading the word about our organisation. Because in addition to financial support we also need adoptive families to be able to give more cats a new life.
a lot of people who would in principle rush to the aid of a cat or a dog in need are somehow not outraged that billions of farmed animals raised for food suffer needlessly. when did you make ‘the connection’? and when did you realise you wanted to become a vegan?
As a child I realised early on that it didn’t make sense to eat animals, but just like many children I was told stories to suppress my natural empathy. When I went to university and was able to make my own decisions about what I ate, meat (and later fish) was scrapped from the menu. It took another ten years before I realised that what happens to animals in the dairy and egg industries is perhaps even worse than what goes on in the meat industry. After several weeks of an intense internal struggle with cheese, I finally decided to go vegan, which, looking back, was the best decision I ever made. I discovered so many new ingredients and recipes (helped by the fact that my partner is an excellent cook), and every meal is now a pleasure, not only because it’s so delicious but also because I know that no one had to suffer for it.
In my work with EVA vzw I am able to contribute to societal change in a way that is completely in line with my own ideals. We help people, in a positive way, to adapt their eating habits, either gradually or in one fell swoop. At Kat Zoekt Thuis we also try to advocate a gradual broadening of the circle of compassion from one animal to others. Many of our foster families have become vegetarian or vegan and all of our benefit events are entirely vegetarian-friendly and 90% vegan-friendly. It wouldn’t make much sense to be rescuing cats at the expense of cows, chickens and pigs. In that regard, it’s now only the cats themselves that have yet to join in. But i’m looking forward to technological developments such as ‘clean meat’ or ‘lab-grown meat’, which stands to give our carnivorous critters a karma boost.
what’s your favorite vegan recipe?
Very difficult to choose, because I love a good curry www.evavzw.be/recept/thaise-kokoscurry-met-rijst, but I am equally happy with a classic like a ‘vol au veggie’ www.evavzw.be/recept/vol-au-veggie. A tofu scramble greatist.com/eat/recipes/10-minute-scrambled-tofu is my idea of the perfect breakfast treat.
are there any books, cookbooks, movies, articles, websites, etc. that you would recommend to people interested in veganism?
These days there’s no shortage of cookbooks, websites, and documentaries if you want to find out more about the advantages of veganism or if you want some tips on how to get started. On the EVA website you can find plenty of recipes as well as general information. Interested in trying out veganism for one month? Then I recommend signing up for Try Vegan you’ll receive tips, recipes and support. I personally recommend the documentaries Cowspiracy and Peaceable Kingdom if you want to know more about the environmental aspects of the meat and dairy industries in addition to the animal welfare aspect. Jonathan Saffran Foer’s book Eating Animals was also a great inspiration for me and has sparked positive change in the lives of many others. Lastly, I would also like to recommend Tobias Leenaert’s book How to create a vegan world, a pragmatic approach, especially for people who want to actively advocate for veganism in an efficient manner.
hazel & fluf
kitten hazel and rabbit fluf getting along and feeling at home at their foster family. credits -photography by jasmine kesteleyn
what exciting projects do you have planned for the future?
One day I want to set up a rescue centre for farmed animals. There is scarcely any attention given to the billions of animals that are killed each year for food, and a great many people have never even seen a cow or a pig up close, let alone experienced how intelligent, playful and charming these animals can be. When I worked as a volunteer at Farm Santuary in the US some years ago, I was able to experience this first-hand, and I also saw the effect these encounters had on the visitors. Most people love animals but don’t stop and think about the animals they’re eating. But if they can make that connection and realise that these animals are not so different to their cat or dog, then beautiful things can happen. Recently a number of rescue centres like this have been established in Belgium, so maybe I’m too late ;). But, on the other hand, there can never be too many of these places, where animals are treated with respect, and where everyone, including the visitors, can feel at peace.
is there anything else you would like to share here?
When I take a cat into my care that would otherwise stand no chance of survival, people sometimes tell me I’m a hero. But for me it doesn’t feel like an heroic act; It feels like something completely normal. We can’t wash away all the world’s suffering, of course, but it seems so natural to me that if an individual crosses your path who is in need of help – help that you can provide – that you should do it. Whether it’s giving food to a homeless person, taking a wounded animal to the vet, making room in your home for a stray animal, or donating to charity, everyone can make a difference on a daily basis. And not only for the animals that we view as pets, but also for animals in the food industry. With every meal we can choose to exercise empathy. It’s my hope that more and more people will try to do so, even if it’s step by step. Everyone can be a ‘hero’ in this sense.
thank you for the interview!
melanie & paolo
paolo was rescued by farm sanctuary (california). credits - photography by beth redwood
vzw kat zoekt thuis does not receive any subsidies. they get by on adoption fees, donations and income generated through benefit events and webshop sales.
every bit of financial support they receive makes a huge difference! anyone wanting to be part of their team or to help in any other way can fnd out more via the following links: