WESTMINSTER, Md. - While working at the Humane Society of Carroll County in Westminster this past spring, Karen Baker, of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, had an idea.
Baker, the volunteer coordinator at the shelter, is also an avid knitter. She said she could picture a room full of knitters connecting with the shelter cats.
"At the time, we were looking for ways to reach out to the community and connect them with our shelter," Baker said. "We have a community cat room — a cage-free room for cats — with lots of chairs. We keep 10 or 12 cats in that room, and I could easily picture this happening in there."
As a result, the group CatKnits was born.
CatKnits meet from 2 to 4 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of each month.
"The cats love it," Baker said. "They lay in the baskets or on the yarn. Some cats will lay in people's laps while others hide. And they are all up for adoption."
Nancy Ervin, of Eldersburg, said she attended a volunteer orientation session for the Humane Society in May after seeing the mobile adoption trailer at a senior event in April. At the shelter, Baker's enthusiasm drew Ervin to the CatKnits group. After she attended a May meeting, Ervin became CatKnits' lead volunteer.
Ervin arrives early to set up for CatKnits sessions, arranging seating for those who attend. She brings a baggie of needlework tools along. Some are designed to make pom-poms, while others can be used to make tight knit ropes. She has catnip spray, too, because many of the knitters work on toys and blankets for the cats.
"We send a kitty blanket and a toy with every cat that is adopted out," she said. "Friends often donate yarn and supplies."
Ervin said the cats quickly become the main focus at a CatKnits session.
"They provide us with so much entertainment," she said of the cats. "They come out of their corners to see us. Some of them hide behind the cat litter boxes or the sleep and play stands. Others get involved with trying to take all of our knitting and yarn out of the bags. You may have plans to knit but then a cat gets on your lap for some TLC and loving and that's it for the knitting."
But the benefits aren't just for the humans — socializing the cats helps to make them more adoptable to the public.
"This is a great way to get the newer cats to come out and mingle," Ervin said.
Carol Jordon comes from Littlestown, Pennsylvania, to do needlework with the group. She said she saw an ad in the Merchandiser and she is glad she started attending, not only for the cats but for the many friendships she has gained within the group.
"We never knit anything good here. Cats like to play and they have claws," she said with a laugh.
It's those friendships, plus the company of the cats, that keeps Kathy Gosnell, of Finksburg, coming back.
"Anything can happen when you put crazy cat ladies in a room with knitting needles. I love them," Gosnell said, laughing.
Gloria Preis, of Finksburg, has been attending since the spring. She said she's been knitting for about 10 years and crocheting since eighth grade.
"I thought, 'why not?' I like to knit and crochet and I like cats," Preis said.
Preis said she had three cats when she joined. Now she has four.
"Every week we'd go in and these beautiful cats would be there and I'd be petting them," Preis said. "Then, on the weekend of the Fourth of July they were offering free adoption to anyone who came in wearing red, white and blue. I have a big enough house and a big heart so I thought, 'why not?' The Humane Society takes such good care of them."
Preis asked for the oldest cat. The 15-year-old black male she adopted was 18 pounds. Ironically, the feline was named Little Bit. She said Little Bit hadn't been in the shelter long. Realizing that he'd lost his home at his age tore at her heart. She knew he needed a family with love.
As shelter cats adapt to being around strangers, Preis said, their personalities begin to shine.
"When they first put (a cat) in there it may be shy but in time it will start coming out and socializing more. All the cats in that room are usually 4 years old or older and they all have their own personalities," Preis said.
Ervin said she hopes others will join them for needlework in the cat room.
"It is a cool experience and it makes the cats more adoptable," Ervin said. "When people come to look at the cats I always try to get them to consider the older cats. Because we have learned (the cats') personalities we can match them with what someone is looking for."