Kitten season is starting so Beth Stern is in full swing, fostering as many of the little tykes as possible. Despite a career as a model and actress — and, oh yes, as the wife of shock jock and America's Got Talent judge Howard Stern — she happily devotes the majority of her time to rescuing shelter animals and taking them home with her to the Hamptons, where she has set up a special, foster-care room.
The Pittsburgh native, 42, has had a love affair with four-footed friends since childhood, but it wasn't until her and Howard's English bulldog Bianca passed away in 2012, that Stern felt a call to action. The result is Bianca's Furry Friends Foundation, which benefits the North Shore Animal League America (NSALA).
Many celebrities who are the face of a charity don't actually roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work. But Stern, who has six resident cats, actually goes to kill shelters, where she will swoop up kitties, take them to get checked out by the vet, nurture them to health, and then help find them homes. Because she gets very attached to her foster charges, she actually makes deliveries herself after adopters have been vetted.
Now, in honor of Animal Prevention Cruelty Month, Stern shares with Bio her beginnings in animal advocacy, how she became a cat lady, why rescuing a pet actually saves two lives, how adopting a cat that Howard named Yoda became the book Yoda, The Story of a Cat and His Kittens, and more.
Do you consider animal activism your purpose in life? When did you get started?
I guess you could say I got started at birth. My parents' "firstborn" was a Collie mix named Suzie-Dog, and we treated her as a member of our family — because that's what she was. Caring for animals was a basic part of my upbringing, something I shared with my entire family. In fact, my favorite picture of my great-grandmother shows her surrounded by dogs. We always adopted our pets from local shelters, and we also rescued hurt or sick wildlife in our neighborhood. So I'm convinced that loving animals is in my blood. I've never considered myself an animal activist, and my love for animals is nothing new. What's changed is that now, a lot more people know about it.
Is it true that you actually go into kill shelters and rescue kittens minutes before they are to be euthanized and, then, take them home and nurture them until you can find forever homes?
After our dog, Bianca, passed away in 2012, I realized I wanted to dedicate my time to helping more animals. I met with my friends at North Shore Animal League America and we discussed my desire to foster. From that conversation my role as a foster parent evolved.
In the animal welfare community, there's a time of the year known as “kitten season,” the period between March and November when the greatest number of kittens are born. It's a tough, stressful time for shelters everywhere. So as kitten season approaches every spring, I help local municipal shelters by taking those kittens who are in danger of being euthanized, due to overcrowding and the enormous numbers of cats and kittens inundating shelters.
Once we pick up a litter, we take the mother and kittens to North Shore Animal League America to have them medically evaluated so I can bring them into my multi-cat household. At that point, my husband names them — something he has a super knack for — and I nurture and socialize the babies until they're strong and reach a safe weight for spay and neuter.
Meanwhile, my husband talks about the fosters on his radio show and I post daily pictures on my Instagram site. Social media are amazing tools for getting the word out!
Because I get to know these babies very well, I'm determined to be as hands-on with their adoption as I am with their nurturing. After socializing the kittens for weeks, I'm in a good position to determine which family would be the best match for each individual kitten. Then I personally deliver the kitten to his or her new home and meet the family in person.
I’m able to keep up with all of my foster kittens (more than 100!) on a Facebook page I created, Bianca's Furry Friends/Beth Stern's Fosters. It's pretty great. My adopters can post and comment, and the public can view the page and see how everyone is doing.
Is there a specific message you would like to get out?
When you adopt from a shelter, you're actually saving two lives; the one you take home and the one who can now move into that space at the shelter. Adopting a pet is the most special, magical, beautiful feeling in the world. The bond is indescribable. People who've adopted or rescued a pet know this feeling. There's nothing else quite like it! My husband and I make a point of adopting adult or special-needs pets. Last year we adopted Bella, a blind calico. It's fascinating observing her figuring out the world. I learn so much from her every single day!
I love the story about Yoda and how being with the kittens helped his heart condition. Can you describe it briefly?
Yoda, a 2-year-old white Persian, was one of those hard-luck cats who'd been sitting at Animal League America for a long time. When I saw him in his cage, he was clearly in a very sad state. His previous owners had so badly neglected him that the shelter groomers had to shave off his beautiful coat. He was skinny and withdrawn. He just stared into his litter box and wouldn't make eye contact with potential adopters. I decided to bring him home to foster and then find him a home. Howard named him Yoda for the wise "Star Wars" Jedi master.
I took him for a vet visit and learned that his heart was failing and he had only three to six months to live. That very day, Howard and I adopted him and vowed to love him until his last breath.
A week later I got a litter of foster kittens, and something magical happened. Yoda made his way into the foster room and he came alive! He groomed all the kittens, one by one, and watched over them! He slept with them, made sure they ate, and nurtured and loved them. As he was doing that, his heart got stronger! After a few months of taking care of "his kittens," his heart condition was gone, his gorgeous coat grew back, and today, almost one year later, he is the happiest, jolliest, healthiest boy!
I truly believe that love and purpose healed his heart. I decided this was a message that children would want to hear, so I wrote a children's book, Yoda, The Story of a Cat and His Kittens. (The proceeds from this book are donated to North Shore Animal League America's Bianca's Furry Friends campaign.) I love getting letters from teachers and their students who have read the book. Yoda has had an unforgettable impact on so many! He's my little miracle.
If you're interested in fostering, adopting, volunteering, and/or donating to North Shore Animal League America, please visit animalleague.org.