VINCENNES, Ind. -- All it took was one tiny calico kitten named Charlotte to change Kim Geheb's heart for animal rescue.
"I had no desire to bottle feed kittens," she said with a chuckle, a strawberry blonde curl falling across her forehead. "But it only took one kitten looking at me, needing me (and) I was hooked.
"And I had to have more."
Geheb, a Vincennes transplant from Chicago, has become a familiar and, more importantly, dependable face at the Vincennes Animal Shelter, 11128 River Road, over the last three years.
In fact, director Laura Arial has come to depend on her generosity.
"When Kim was willing to take that kitten, it was really great," Arial said. "In the past, it was just the staff that would bottle feed kittens. It's a lot of work for us, to work here all day and then go home to bottle feed kittens all night.
"Sure, it can be scary to hand over animals to people you don't really know. But then someone like Kim comes along and makes our jobs so much easier."
Geheb moved to Vincennes 10 years ago when her husband, Mark, came to practice law with local attorney Joe Black. Now, he owns his own practice, and Geheb, herself, is a pathology assistant at Good Samaritan Hospital.
Then, three years ago, her 12-year-old son drug her along see about volunteering at the animal shelter, and a new passion was born.
"He wanted to come here so bad, and I just kept putting it off," Geheb said from the shelter Jan. 19 as she stroked the back of a tortoiseshell-colored cat named Kay Kay. "That first year, I didn't take any kittens.
"But then I took one, and it just took off from there. I took in two or three then started taking entire litters," she said. "I just finished my third season. I've bottle fed 71 kittens so far."
Geheb really knew nothing about kittens - or cats, for that matter, as her husband was allergic - when she took in that first one. But she took to YouTube and taught herself the ins and outs of caring for cats under the age of 8 weeks.
She transformed a den in her home into a makeshift kitten nursery, complete with blankets, heating pads, toys and litter boxes. And, as it turns out, kittens don't produce the dander that cause allergic reactions, so her husband was on board as well.
Over time, she's become one of the shelter's most trusted bottle-feeders, even helping Arial to launch a program last year where potential volunteers could learn the practice of how to care for very small kittens.
"It's hard work," Geheb said. "They have to be fed every two or three hours, around the clock. You have to help them go to the bathroom. They depend on you. Their survival depends on you.
"But there's a bond that forms," she said. "I loved that they needed me to take care of them. It came so naturally to me."
But the shelter, Arial said, needs more volunteers as dedicated as Geheb.
Together, they're hoping to teach more bottle-feeding seminars this year in an effort to recruit more people willing to take kittens into their homes.
"We have more kittens than people to foster," Arial said. "And we're really trying to keep kittens out of the shelter before they're 8 weeks old. It's just better for them. And it's easier on us."
Arial said she, too, has purchased supplies - cages, heating pads, food and formula - to ease the financial burden on willing volunteers.
And there's no better reward, she said, than to watch all your hard work pay off when that kitten finds itself in a forever, loving home.
"When they get to be about 3 weeks old, and their tails start to wag back and forth and their ears wiggle while they eat, it's just the best," Arial said with a grin. "You're literally saving lives.
"There's no way (the staff) can take all the kittens we get home. Having volunteers like Kim takes a huge stress off of us. And the kittens do so much better, too. They're so well socialized when they're bottle-fed."
"And when you get home and they see you, they come running to you," Geheb said with a wide smile. "It's the best feeling.
"Really, it's the best kept secret."
Source: Vincennes Sun-Commercial
Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com