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Kittens graduate from foster care to forever homes with volunteer support, face time on Mass Street

It’s a jungle inside the window front of Wild Man Vintage, complete with live cats on the weekends.

At the Mass Street Kitten Academy, adorable and adoptable kittens chase one another surrounded by artificial plants, a green rug, a huge spotted leopard plush and a photo backdrop of lush trees. They eat, nap, play, purr and interact with potential adopters and people who simply love cats.

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And courtesy of some creative middle school builders from West Middle School, their domain at Wild Man Vintage, 939 Massachusetts St., includes a climbable tree, too, so maybe they can stretch their legs a bit more.

Mary Costello started staging kittens in downtown Lawrence window fronts in June 2020. She changes up the scene — and the location — every so often. At Wild Man Vintage, she launched the academy with a vintage living room (her favorite window so far) and then transitioned to a farm, complete with a red barn and hay bales. An ocean motif she debuted at Love Garden Sounds this spring helped 30 kittens find families during a 10-week period.

Mary Costello Kittens play on the papier-mâché tree designed and donated by West Middle School students to the Mass Street Kitten Academy.
Mary Costello Congratulations! A fur baby graduates from the Mass Street Kitten Academy. Volunteer Mary Costello celebrates adoptions by making a special mortar board to commemorate the milestone.

When a kitten graduates, they don a tiny black mortar board to celebrate the milestone. A snapshot of the moment often lands on Instagram. Supported by the partnership with local businesses, Costello and fellow volunteers foster and facilitate adoptions through the Lawrence Humane Society.

The program has connected a lot of floofs with their humans. During the first six months after it launched, more than 40 cats graduated.

A little help from my fuuuriends

Middle schoolers in Jessica Miescher-Lerner’s flex class at West needed an end-of-the-year project after their teams wrapped up competitions in National History Day, Future City and Model United Nations. Mrs. ML (as she’s known at West), a teacher of gifted students, said in an email that flex is a class taken alongside physical education that offers what students need academically and socially.

“At the end of the school year, there always seems to be some downtime after competition season is over and last year was a particularly challenging year in regards to student engagement. I floated the idea to students as community service, kittens and fun, as a way to give something back to both downtown and to the Lawrence Humane Society … Students picked their theme and dove right in and had no problem engaging with this project,” she said in an email.

Lynn Henry, 12, said working on the project with their classmates was “really fun.” Besides the enormous tree, the then-sixth graders crafted a variety of elements with papier-mâché related to the fictional character Totoro, featured in a Japanese animated film. Under the theme “Cats in Space,” they crafted a spaceship scratching post, a moon and a Pride rocketship.

Contributed Papier-mâché cat houses made by students from West Middle School line up, ready to be donated to the Mass Street Kitten Academy.
Mary Costello Mass Street Kitten Academy furballs hang out in the roomy window of Wild Man Vintage, 939 Massachusetts St.

Lynn, a member of the Future City team and student council, said making the tree turned into a long process that involved starting with a tube and blown-up balloons to form the hollow trunk and hideout. Then there were the twisted vines.

“The vines were really hard. It’s easy to do one, but when you have to do a ton, it’s a lot of work,” Lynn said, adding that cutting out the individual leaves proved time intensive, too, but enjoyable. “It was a very relaxed project. It wasn’t like some other ones where there are due dates and you have to write essays.”

Costello said via email that she was very impressed with the students’ donations. ”So creative! I love that they chose this project.”

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Little cats, big dreams

Costello has fostered neonatal kittens for various animal rescue organizations for about nine years. In 2019, she started volunteering with the humane society’s Trap, Neuter/Spay, Vaccinate, Return program, which aims to reduce the feral and community cat populations. Soon after, she said, the talk of a kitten window began. It became a reality a year later.

Costello shared even bigger aspirations for herself and her whiskered friends. “My dream has always been to open a cat café  on Mass. Street with adoptable cats and kittens, so this is a nice placeholder until that’s possible. The foot traffic downtown and increased visibility is a really great advantage for adoptions and you’re also able to reach people who aren’t actively looking to adopt but just happen to fall in love. Ultimately, my goal is just to share the joy I get from fostering kittens.”

Mary Costello An adoptable — and very adorable — kitten naps in the window front at Wild Man Vintage, 939 Massachusetts St.
Mary Costello That’s not a barn cat! That’s a kitty looking for their forever family at the Mass Street Kitten Academy in the window front at Wild Man Vintage, 939 Massachusetts St.

And she’s thankful to LHS for helping make it possible. “Lawrence Humane Society has such a wonderful staff who work incredibly hard. I’m always amazed and grateful for what they’re able to accomplish in our community and I feel lucky to be a volunteer there.”

If you’d like to financially support Mass Street Kitten Academy, Costello suggests those interested make a donation to LHS or buy some academy flair at Wild Man Vintage. Sales of academy pins and stickers help buy cat food and litter.

You can visit adoptable foster kittens on weekends from noon to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays at Wild Man Vintage, 939 Massachusetts St.

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— Tricia Masenthin (she/her), reporter, can be reached via email at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com.

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