Perhaps the happiest room on Earth

According to Faith Resnick, “People who hate cats will come back as mice in their next life.” That means that people who hate kittens will come back as a laser light. Or the plastic seal at the top of a milk carton.

Sure, there are curmudgeons in this world who hate cats, but even Winston Churchill abided them. (Supposedly, he preferred pigs to both cats and dogs.)

I happen to like dogs, cats and pigs, but we’ve always been a cat family. We have six. Just for the record, we’ve never had pigs, which is probably a good thing since almost every cat we’ve ever owned has been a real turd hockey fanatic.

In any case, last month I spent a few minutes inside something called the Kitten Room. You can walk inside there for free, but someday someone is going to figure out that the Kitten Room is a real moneymaking opportunity. My sense is that people would pony up serious scratch to hang out for a few minutes inside there. Think lawyer fees.

The Kitten Room is a sunny enclave inside the new Homeward Bound Animal Welfare Center in Middlebury, Vermont, the no-kill animal shelter formerly known as the Addison County Humane Society. It is filled with pillowed ladders and cubbies and cat toys and … kittens.

I went there on Aug. 24, immediately after the ribbon cutting ceremony and opening celebration for the new shelter: A breathtakingly well-conceived (and, yes, beautiful) new facility to care for neglected, abused, and unwanted animals — especially cats and dogs. It cost a little over $1 million, most of which was raised in Addison County. My wife volunteers there weekly, working with the cats most in need of attention. Four of our family’s six cats are from the shelter. Jackie Rose, executive director, and her staff and board and the design team — and all those volunteers — accomplished something extraordinary.

Which brings me back to the Kitten Room. It was the first thing my wife wanted to show me when she was giving me the tour of where she spends every Tuesday afternoon. It was amazing. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I believe people would pay to hang around inside there. It might be the happiest place on earth that doesn’t have short people in giant mouse heads or plastic duck masks.

But don’t take my word for it; take Wanda Goodyear’s. Wanda is a neighbor here in Lincoln and she just turned seven. She and her mom, Jen, were in the Kitten Room the same day as I was. “There were nine or 10 kittens in there and it was so much fun!” Wanda told me. She particularly loved watching a pair of kittens at the cat door linking the Kitten Room with the outdoor playpen: The two were batting it back and forth, trying to figure out how one could get out while one was trying to get in.

Wanda fell in love with a four-month old gray kitten named Simone. “Simone liked to be held, and she loved to be on my lap and didn’t want to get up,” Wanda said.

Simone is one of 125 cats at the shelter. You can see why a facility like Homeward Bound matters.

And then, of course, there are all the dogs. Among the speakers at the ribbon cutting ceremony was Ken Barlow, owner of 92.1, WVTK on your radio dial. WVTK — especially general manager and DJ Bruce Zeman — has been a tremendous supporter of the shelter and its capital campaign.

“We always wanted WVTK to be a community station, and animals are a part of the community, too,” Ken said.

Indeed they are, which is why it’s worth celebrating the revitalized Homeward Bound — and, of course, championing all of the shelters across Vermont. My thanks to everyone who works and volunteers at them.

And that Kitten Room? A great gift to the county. All it needs is a turd hockey rink.

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This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on September 2, 2012. Chris’s most recent novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” was published in July.

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

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