Who doesn't love an adorable picture of a fuzzy little kitten? With cat memes all the rage online now, it seems like the internet has an endless supply to feed people's need for a little dose of playful, furry fun.
But Latter-day Saint Cindy Congdon has found a way to channel this cat-craze in a way that changes lives.
Take, for instance, Eli.
Eli was an orphaned kitten discovered with his dead siblings. When he came to live with Congdon, Congdon introduced him to a mother cat, Madeline, who had previously lost a litter of stillborn kittens.
Though Madeline had recently successfully given birth to four kittens, she took in Eli as her own.
And so have his new siblings.
"Madeline's kittens treat little Eli like a brother and love to play and snuggle with him," Congdon shares. "Seeing him trying to keep up with the older Siamese kittens is both heart-warming and hilarious. . . . It's stories like these that make litter box scooping and nighttime bottle feeding totally worth it!"
And Eli's story is tugging at heartstrings all over the world, thanks to Congdon's Instagram account.
A cat-lover from the time she was little, Cindy Congdon discovered a new way to help her community and cats when visiting with her vet. Many local shelters have programs where people can foster kittens until they are ready to be adopted by a new family.
"A shelter isn't the nicest (or healthiest) environment for a kitten to grow up in," Congdon says, "so the kittens are sent to foster homes where they can learn to love people in a healthy environment."
Though Congdon takes in foster kittens from the Seattle Humane Society near her home in Washington, she goes one step beyond volunteering by helping these kittens find a new home.
With the largest foster kitten account on Instagram and over 400,000 followers from all over the world, Congdon helps find homes for these kittens by posting pictures and videos of all their major milestones—birth, eyes opening, first steps, first teeth, first pounce, etc. Families can't help but get attached.
"The kittens I foster go to amazing homes, where they are loved by families who've watched them grow up on social media and are eager to take over when it's time," Congdon shares. "People have even flown in from other states and Canada to adopt a kitten."
But Congdon's work goes far beyond helping kittens find homes.
Congdon shares: "I receive comments such as these all the time: 'Every night before bed, I scroll through your account, and it helps me feel calm and peaceful,' or 'My daughter is recovering from surgery, and is struggling. The kittens help her cheer up,' or 'Rough day at work, but now I'm laughing at your videos while on the train home,' or 'I'm going to call a shelter near me and see if they need my help,' or 'I come to your account after watching the news to restore my faith in humanity.'"
Congdon's kittens also recently helped a little girl in her ward, one who was graduating from Primary into Beehives.
Congdon's husband, Mark, recently became bishop in their ward and had the chance to interview the girl." She was almost too nervous to meet with me," Mark shares. But the little girl happened to love kittens. So, after arranging for her to come to his home, Bishop Mark Congdon let the young Beehive pick out a kitten to hold and play with during the interview.
And the stories go on and on. After helping two shy kittens heal from infections, Congdon got them ready to become part of a prison fostering program, where mental health prisoners have the chance to help care for the kittens.
As a result of her example, many have decided to serve in turn, sending Congdon toys, food, and blankets for the kittens. "There is something about helping animals that resonates with good people, regardless of their faith or nationality or economic status," she says.
And hand-in-hand with all of this service comes the chance for Congdon to share her faith and the love she has for her family.
"Followers often comment on the love and kindness they sense between me and my husband and our two teenage daughters," Congdon shares. "They feel the Spirit vicariously as they see us interact with each other and with our little kittens."
Congdon is also vocal about her faith, sharing quotes from prophets on her Instagram account and joking about taking her kittens to church. In fact, she's had several followers ask for her to pray for them.
But most of all, Congdon's volunteering allows her to do something she loves. She shares: "I love that kittens were created. In a world where emphasis is sometimes placed on what is large or loud or expensive or fast, it makes me smile knowing that something as common and simple and perfect as a kitten exists."