By Janice Brown
There is one thing I can say for sure about Beth Stern, animal advocate, author, and actress: She is the real deal. I first met Beth back in 2008 for a TAILS cover shoot at North Shore Animal League America (NSALA). Once I got over the fact that she is about 50 times prettier in person than she looks in photos, I noticed how genuinely kind, thoughtful, and interested she is in those around her—especially the animals.
Despite her increased exposure in the media over the years, including hosting multiple TV shows and writing a book, Beth has maintained her “girl next door” appeal. She seems just as happy chasing kittens around her house in the Hamptons as she does being spotted at a New York Knicks game or red carpet event with her husband, radio personality Howard Stern.
Beth talks passionately about rescuing animals, her love for her husband, and how grateful she is to be an instrumental part in bettering the lives of animals.
TAILS: So, last we met it was you and Bianca, your Bulldog, who has since passed away. How did you get into rescuing cats?
Beth Stern: I’ve turned into a crazy cat lady now! It’s so funny. This summer, the Long Island Bulldog Rescue group I work with told me about a dog being dumped off somewhere on Long Island, so I picked her up. I found her a home early on, but [the new family] had a trip planned to Europe so we kept her for over a month. I fell madly in love with her and I thought, “This fostering is not for me.”
But the moment I handed her over to her family, I realized that I can’t not be doing this. As hard as it was to say goodbye, I woke up the next morning thinking, “Fostering is for me, and I need to go save some kittens right now.”
How did you get started?
It was June—it was kitten season. All the shelters were so overpopulated with cats, it was ridiculous. And I thought, “I’m going to go to a municipal shelter to grab a litter of kittens, bring them home, and make them famous. Howard will name them. Howard will take pictures of them.”
I didn’t know if I was going to get one application. And lo and behold I got tons. It was such an incredible thing to sit with the people from NSALA and really look at all the applications and find the best families for my fosters.
And you didn’t stop with just one litter?
Nope! Currently we’re 37 cats in; over 40 with the litter I have now. We’re doing well!
Do you still visit shelters personally to pick up the cats?
I take my friends from NSALA—the operations person and the cat behaviorist. We go together to the municipal shelters and pull cats. They immediately go to North Shore to get medically evaluated. I’m bringing them into my home, and their safety and the safety of all of the cats is highly important to me. Once we find out they’re okay and they’ve tested negative for anything horrible, they get their vaccines. Then they come to my home and they stay with me until they’re completely socialized—until I feel they are ready to go to a family and be great kittens.
They have to be at a certain weight before they get spayed and neutered, usually about four to five weeks. After the surgeries I let them recover at my house. Even though they tell me they are fine the next day, I keep them at my house at least three more days! Then I get in touch with the families and I hand them off. It’s been really such an incredible experience.
What is the time commitment you invest for each litter?
Usually it’s four to five weeks that they’re with me. With Mama Grace and her kittens, they were just born. So they were here 11 or 12 weeks. And then Mama Grace was with me for another two to three weeks, because I wanted to dry her out so she could get spayed. We got so attached to her. It was heartbreaking handing her off. I was crying like a baby with the kittens, but it was three times worse with her. I was bawling.
With everything you have going on, who is doing most of the work?
I am. I live out in the Hamptons full-time now, and go back to the city one or two nights a week depending on what I have to do. I’m with the kittens when I’m here, and have round-the-clock help when I’m not.
At one point I had nine kittens, plus Mama Grace and her three newborns, in addition to my four resident cats. We do have housekeepers who help, but I do the majority of the morning feedings, the kittens I feed three times a day. There is so much poop I can’t even tell you. Oh my God! The cutest things in the world make the stinkiest poops in the world.
Do you think other people could replicate what you are doing and be successful?
I really hope that people see what I’m doing and are inspired to open their homes or consider fostering. But I have to say, I am fortunate that I do have an outlet—my husband’s show—where I can talk about these kittens and get the applications. My friend Jennifer fostered six kittens this summer and she couldn’t find homes for them, so she has six more cats at her house. And that’s the problem. I’m very fortunate and lucky that I am able to find homes so easily for my foster kittens. I would find it very challenging to hand these kittens, who I’ve nurtured and bonded with, back over to the shelter. I am fortunate enough that once an animal comes into my home, the next stop is her forever home.
But shelters do need help, so if you’re strong enough to do it, then God bless you, and I’m all for it. I wish I could be so strong. But, I’m just…I’m very lucky.
What has been the greatest gift in all of this?
We’re fostering this blind cat, Bella. She had her kittens with us. We’ve fallen in love with her. I haven’t even discussed it with Howard, but I think she’s going to be my “permanent foster.” I’m not going to use the term “foster failure,” I’m going to use “permanent foster!”
She had one of her eyes removed due to trauma as a kitten. Someone smacked her, or threw her, or abused her in some way. We had to remove one of her eyes and then she had surgery in the other eye. We have this big house in the Hamptons, and she’s walking into things, knocking things over…but it’s remarkable. All four of my resident cats are madly in love with her. They show her around, nudge her with their noses so she follows them, and they walk right beside her. I want to do something, like a short movie or something else, just to show how she’s not the ugly duckling, and doesn’t get picked on. It’s the opposite. She’s the misfit who everybody’s in love with and attracted to and wants to help. It’s pretty sweet and heartwarming. And Howard’s in love with her too. She’s been a joy to have this past month, I just don’t see her going anywhere!
What is the hardest part about fostering, and what is the most rewarding part?
Letting go, and letting go. Letting go and knowing you’ve placed these animals and given them a chance at life. The kittens I’ve fostered are ones that were slated to be euthanized. I’ve saved lives, and I’ve handed them off to incredible homes. It’s so bittersweet. It’s so hard, yet so rewarding and fulfilling.
So much so that you have turned your husband into a cat lover, too?
Howard is such a part of what I’m doing. He spends time, he helps me socialize the kittens. They’re in his house, you know? He’s living with these kittens and he gets really attached. He names them. He photographs them. He talks about them on the air. And he ends up crying like I do when we say goodbye. He gets very emotional.
It’s a lot of work, but he loves it! I mean, you know, pets and people, it’s really a challenge. The pictures that Howard is taking are so incredible! It takes a lot of patience. Howard and I are a great team but there are days where we want to get one great picture to tweet or post on Facebook, and it can take five or six hours to get a good shot. It’s time consuming, but at the end of the day when we edit them and we’re together it’s fun, and it’s very rewarding.
You and Howard teamed up to produce a calendar for North Shore Animal League America. That sounds like a big undertaking.
Yes! The cat photos were all of our fosters, and [the photos] were taken over several days. But the dogs that North Shore brought over to our house, we banged that out in one day! It was a long day, but we did it. It really was a labor of love, but we’re so proud of it. When we saw it all put together, it was worth every second that we put into it.
Tell us more about where the funds raised from the calendar are going.
We’re raising money for Bianca’s Furry Friends (BFF), an expansion of North Shore. We’re really excited about it. We need to raise $7 million for construction, start to finish, of the 15,000-square-foot addition and a feline wellness center, which will free up the entire downstairs for more dog rescue.
The calendar has given us a huge jump start. Our goal is to raise the money over the next couple of years.
You are hosting the Kitten Bowl, airing during half time of the Super Bowl in January. Are any of your own fosters starring in it?
The plan is that I’ll probably bring some of my guys. I have two in particular in mind. But NSALA has rounded up 60 to 70 kittens, who I am lucky enough to play with for four days in a row while we tape. And we’ll have some kind of adoption event afterward with the kittens. We really want to find them homes—immediately!
What about your other TV projects? Anything exciting on the horizon?
Mom Caves is no longer, that was just a one-season thing, and Spoiled Rotten Pets, that was just a one-season run, as well. I do have another project in the works but I didn’t sign anything yet, so I cannot talk about it. But it’s very exciting and it’s animal related. I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve been offered dream jobs working with animals.
If you had the opportunity to have a billboard in Times Square, what would it say?
Adopt from a shelter and save two lives: the one you’re adopting and another who now gets that empty cage.
Are you going to get another dog?
Absolutely another dog is in our future. But right now, fostering the cats takes up so much time. I don’t think I’d be able to commit to nurturing the animals the way that I am with a dog in the house. That’s why I feel this is Bianca’s doing. When she passed she gave me time to do this work. It’s been really important and therapeutic, and I have to keep doing it for now. I know that I have to keep fostering kittens and adult cats and special needs cats.
We’re definitely going to open our home to another dog, and it’s most likely going to be a big ol’ mutt from NSALA who’s been sitting there for a while. I don’t need to get a puppy. I feel so sad and sorry for the adult animals who are sitting there.
I was at NSALA last week and saw a few dogs with situations where the families had to go into hospice or became terminally ill. They’re perfect pets who need a home and they break my heart. There are such advantages to adopting an adult animal. Everyone wants a puppy, but I keep telling people, “Before you look at the puppies, take a look at the adult dogs and see if you have a connection.” They’re the ones who I feel the worst for.
What do you still dream of doing?
Ask me again when Bianca’s Furry Friends Feline Wellness Center is completed. This has been my dream and it’s coming true!
Images by Howard Stern