By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Cuddling kittens


Five little kittens tumbled out of their carriers and onto the laps of residents at Brookdale Senior Living Tuesday, Dec. 20.

The 6-week-old balls of fluff had visited before — foster caregiver Amber Blankenship brings kittens to the retirement center twice a month — but this time they were older, stronger and even more curious about their human friends.

“Oh, sweetie pie!” Dick Wood, 102, crooned to little Gus Gus, caressing the white and black kitten’s ears. “Oh, you’re a sweetie!”

Gus Gus, infamous for hissing with all the strength a one-pound kitten can muster, nestled down on the blanket in Wood’s lap. He’d been squirmy earlier, but now he was happy to accept the senior’s attention.

Maybe he recognized a confirmed cat lover. Wood is the owner of QT, who lives in his room at Brookdale, but he always makes time for kittens, too. Fellow residents call him “the Cat Whisperer.”

Then again, neither Gus Gus nor his siblings, Nala, Simba, Sebastian and Aurora, lacked attention during their visit.

“I love pets. Anything furry and cuddly,” said Mary Jo Lewis, who makes a point of coming to the lobby whenever Blankenship is due to visit Brookdale.

“Good thing I didn’t bring my snake,” teased Blankenship, who did bring one of her other pets, a blind adult cat named Stevie Ray after Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.

If she had a snake, it would be made from lightweight, fuzzy fabric so kittens could easily drag it around her house. She always has at least one litter chasing, pouncing and batting at toys in her home.

Blankenship fosters kittens for two adoption programs, Homeward Bound Pets in McMinnville and Hazel’s House in Newberg. Gus Gus and his siblings, named for Disney characters, are the offspring of a pregnant female that was rescued and taken to Blankenship’s home a few days before her litter was born.

She will care for the kittens and their mother until the little ones are old enough to be spayed or neutered, then adopted. Four of the five in this group were spoken for by the time of the Brookdale visit; only Gus Gus was still waiting for a permanent home.

Plenty of other kittens also will be available in the coming weeks and months, Blankenship said.

So the kittens are accustomed to people and ready to go to new homes, Blankenship sees they get socializing opportunities such as Brookdale.

“This is great for the residents, but it’s so good for the kittens, too,” she said.

She started visiting the McMinnville residence when her grandmother, the late Delilah Mihalik, was living there. Whenever she took a kitten to visit, the other seniors crowded around, wanting a chance to cuddle it too.

Soon she was taking more kittens to visit on a twice-monthly schedule. And each time, seniors gathered in a circle, carefully passing the cozy creatures from one lap to another.


“I look forward to this,” said Alice Howell, who has lived at Brookdale for six months. “I had older cats, but it had been a long time since I’d seen kittens.”

Beverly Sands said she always comes to the lobby to see the kittens. “Absolutely!” she said. “I love kittens.”

So does Bob Bottchen. “Kittens are so snuggly,” he said, rubbing the ears of Gus Gus before passing him over to Wood. “The problem is they grow up.”

Little Aurora was in no hurry to do that. She settled onto Glenda Fox’s lap and fell asleep draped over the Brookdale resident’s hand.

“I enjoy cats,” said Fox, being careful not to disturb the snoozing kitten. “I love petting them, but don’t necessarily want to take care of one 24/7.”

Ellen Bender, 100, returned to Brookdale from a medical appointment and went straight to the circle of cat lovers. She accepted Nala from Blankenship and kissed the kitten on the head. They settled down on a loveseat together.

Her friend Patty Chittenden sat down beside them with Gus Gus. “You’re a big chunky one,” she told him with affection.

Across the lobby, Marylyn Cody accepted a wiggling Simba from Blankenship. “Oh, you’re such a pretty little kitten! Of course you are!” she told the little white and orange bundle.

He stopped wiggling and looked up at her. He thought of his siblings, each one cuter than the last.

He purred, as if to say, “Of course I’m the prettiest!”

For more information about adopting kittens, contact Hazel’s House, at or 971-264-0760, or Homeward Bound Pets, or 503-472-0341.


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