It began in 2010, when a cat gave birth in Joan and Richard Bowell’s garden on the Greek island of Syros. She had two kittens, and one was ill.
The Bowells took them in and gave them names: Pepper was the mother, Tiny and Ninja the babies. The trio joined two cats the couple had brought to Syros when they moved from Denmark, Joan’s native country, and the Bowells viewed it as a mere expansion of their two-person family. They now had not a small number of cats, but not so many that they couldn’t take the animals along when their plan to move to New York, where Richard worked with the United Nations, came to pass.
But this was Greece, where cats posing against white buildings become the subjects of many postcards, but not necessarily the objects of much affection. The Bowells kept finding felines bearing injuries and sicknesses and kittens, and soon the Bowells’ acre of island idyll had become a cat sanctuary they called God’s Little People. The name was not a statement about faith, they say, but about a philosophy — that cats are important as individuals, with a right to be free and to be cared for.
“People think animals are things that you pick up and put down, and that’s not how we thought about it,” said Richard Bowell, 66, a writer and philosopher who is originally from London. “So we had to, at some point, make a commitment that we would never leave them or leave them in a lesser state than we kept them.”
So on Aug. 5, Joan created a Facebook post soliciting applications for a modestly paid job managing God’s Little People. Within six weeks, they had nearly 40,000 applications.
Each day in August, Joan received 1,000 to 1,600 e-mails. She kept updating the Facebook post, emphasizing that the job was indeed real, and clarifying that the tiny house provided to the manager would not accommodate families or pets brought from home, and that it is a job that entails scooping poop, cleaning vomit and making “heartbreaking” decisions about gravely wounded or sick cats.
Even so, the applications kept coming, and they came from people in more than 90 countries. The Bowells enlisted a half-dozen friends to help review and sort the flood of queries, which they say astonished them. Richard Bowell said he believes the enormous response isn’t just about the Internet’s infatuation with cats. It, too, is about humanity.
“There’s a kind of wish for people to return to some level of humanity at a time when things are degenerating into such inhumanity … people want to see a future that can be worked toward.”
Recently, the Bowells whittled the towers of applications to a handful of finalists. Among those was 62-year-old Californian Jeffyne Telson, whose husband sent her the link to the job ad.
For 21 years, Telson has run RESQCATS in Santa Barbara, Calif., which takes only strays — cats like those on Greek islands, which Telson has visited three times.
Telson sent a letter to the Bowells, explaining that she’d placed 3,000 cats and kittens in homes over the decades. Those too sick or antisocial to be adopted stay at her sanctuary; currently, it has 15 residents, including four feline leukemia patients in their own isolated area. “I believe that every life is precious and worth saving,” Telson wrote.
Her submission stood out immediately, Richard said. The Bowells traveled to Santa Barbara to meet Telson in mid-September and, he said, “there was an instant connection between Joan and Jeffyne — and the other way around.” Telson, like Joan, was an artist. She, too, never had children.
“It was just a match made in heaven,” Telson said.
Telson said she will leave her rescue in the care of volunteers this winter when it shuts down for the season, and spend several months in Syros. She also said she’s giddy.
“This will be a wonderful opportunity to spend with just cats,” Telson said.
“And, I think, a time of reflection and gratefulness.”