news

Friday, July 21, 2017 This Week's Paper

What’s Right With Tacoma: Itty Bitty Kitty Committee harnesses kitten power

Dogs may think they rule, and in some hearts, and at events like the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County’s annual Dog-A-Thon fundraiser, they may.

But Laurie Cinotto has another narrative, told in purrs and squeaks.

Cinotto, a woman of enormous heart, great talent and modest means, has herded more than $400,000 into the working budget of the Humane Society for Tacoma and Pierce County.

Her fundraising secret?

Kittens.

This month, the three kittens Cinotto is fostering are taking a break from daily cuteness to answer phones on the glittery FUNdraiser telethon on her dining table. They hope to bring in $100,000 from across the globe to help pay for, among other services, spaying and neutering shelter cats. It’s a key program that is succeeding in lowering the numbers of kittens brought to the shelter. It coordinates with other efforts, including quarantine and visitation rooms that are raising the number of kittens who go to good homes. Together, they reduce the number of cats and kittens who are euthanized for lack of adoptive homes.

Cinotto is the founder, the feeder, the artist, the brains, the sole soul maintaining The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee (http://www.theittybittykittycommittee.com), a website that has followed some 40 litters of, well, itty bitty foster kitties from their arrival at her house to their departures for their forever homes, and sometimes beyond.

She also is a prime example of What’s Right With Tacoma.

Cinotto,46, was born in Blue Grass, Iowa, population 1,000, earned her degree in art at Iowa State University and looked westward. In 1993 she moved to Seattle, took a job at Northwest Wholesale Floral, then at Urban Flowers and learned the florist’s art and business. In 1994, she met Craig Miller, an artist who now works at an advertising agency.

They moved to a sweet, cheap and roomy house in Seattle’s Central District where she ran her own business doing flowers for weddings and special events.

“We were there eight years, and every year the rent went up,” she said. “We started thinking about Tacoma, and I got this e-mail from Amy McBride.”

Tacoma’s arts administrator, McBride was organizing a Spaceworks display in the old F.W. Woolworth windows.

“I told Amy we were thinking about Tacoma, and the next day she sent us a stack of information all about what was happening in Tacoma,” Cinotto said. “That was 2001.”

McBride made what Cinotto considers a perfect match.

“Tacoma is so perfect, it’s the perfect size of a city,” Cinotto said.

It’s not just the size. It’s the passion, the imagination, the competence.

Tacomans figure out what they want then figure out how to build it. That’s how Tacomans developed Cinotto’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood, for one big example, and how they keep it fresh with events like Art on the Ave. That’s how Miller and Cinotto are re-dreaming their pocket-sized back yard, from planting kiwis, figs and hydrangeas to sledge-hammering out a pesky old driveway to make way for an outdoor room.

Tacoma is reinventing itself in contagious beauty every day.

In much the same way, Cinotto has reinvented her career. She gave up living flowers for paper ones and has advanced to crafting at the professional level. She develops craft projects made possible with tools by companies like Fiskars, a client. Martha Stewart has featured her in her magazine.

And then there is the book, “The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee: The Ultimate Guide to All Things Kitten,” $12.99, available, signed, at Kings Books.

Before all that, back in the florist days, came the fostering. Cinotto’s neighbors were volunteering to take very young kittens from the Humane Society, feed and care for them until they were healthy, socialized – and neutered – so they could be returned to the shelter for adoption.

“I didn’t know people fostered kittens,” Cinotto said. “I kept visiting them. They had Charlene and her brother. They were so, so, so, so fragile, it seemed like they wouldn’t make it, and he didn’t. I kept visiting them.”

A light just went on in IBKC fans’ brains. That frail kitty was THE Charlene. Charlene Butterbean who, at 8, is proud to say that she is not fat. She is floofy.

The visits and adoption led to fostering – Cinotto reckons they have had some 200 kittens over the past eight years.

At first, she intended the blog to be a fine bit of storytelling, with pictures of kittens so adorable that anyone seeing them would want to adopt them.

She picked a pink background, because all kittens look good against a pink background. She set up a girly vibe, with kittens cavorting in her eclectic vintage décor. They look extra adorable in turquoise ceramic vases.

Their names are beguiling.

“Finding the perfect name is a good way to illustrate who the kitten is,” Cinotto said. “I have a list going, jotting things down when I see them. Street signs, French poets, Civil War generals, IMDB. I want the kittens to be represented well.”

For example, the latest set of three kittens go by the names of Evie, Maeve and Delphine Kibblesmith

Pretty soon, all of Cinotto’s friends had kittens, so she switched purposes without messing up the blog.

“It was a way to talk about the fostering experience,” she said.

Volunteers responded.

So did a lot of people in Singapore, Italy, France, Finland, California and New York.

“A lot of people were coming by because it was a bright spot on the Internet,” Cinotto said.

So she added more ways to interact on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, where you, too, can have a nice chat with Charlene.

“She’s got some really funny friends. She likes that,” Cinotto said, and paused. “I spend a lot of my day pretending to be my cat.”

In 2009, Cinotto proposed an on-line fundraiser tied to the Humane Society’s Dog-A-Thon. She volunteered to try to raise $3,000 that would be used for kitty care at the shelter.

“Within two days we met it, and I kept raising it.” Fans gave more than $20,000. That paid for the Charlene Butterbean Quarantine room for cats new to the shelter.

It’s gone the same way every year: Cinotto sets a goal, fans exceed it, and cats get a new or improved resource at the shelter. A favorite is the Petnia Louise Community Cat Room, where visitors can play with adoptable cats. She calculates the fans have given more than $400,000, and they are only midway through this year’s $100,000 goal.

From now until the Dog-A-Thon at 10 a.m. on July 27, in Fort Steilacoom Park, they are keeping up with Evie, Maeve and Delphine Kibblesmith. They also are going online at http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/ibkc/dog-a-thon-2014 to help pay for a new foster kitten quarantine room at the Humane Society. That room would take up about $75,000 of the $100,000 goal, with the balance paying for cats’ care at the shelter.

The Kibblesmiths have serene confidence the goal will fall under the full force of their tiny cuteness.

Comments