IWD: Meet the east London grandma who has fostered almost 1,000 cats
- Credit: Christine Fenwick
A Chadwell Heath grandmother who has fostered almost 1,000 cats over the past three decades shows no intention of slowing down any time soon.
Christine Fenwick, who grew up in Rush Green, has homed around 900 cats during her 28 years as a feline fosterer.
The 69-year-old's commitment has earned her the nickname 'Queenie' - the "queen of rescues" - among her friends at Scruffy's Angels, the animal finding team where she volunteers.
Christine told the Recorder: "I really love everything about fostering cats.
"When I started, I kept the first six, then realised I couldn't keep them all.
"It's so rewarding - as a volunteer, if you got paid for what you do you'd be a millionaire.
"It just becomes your life. There were a couple of years where I was working too much to foster, and I missed it so much.
"There was a cat-shaped hole in my life."
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When she isn't out rescuing stray kittens, the sprightly 69-year-old practices yoga at Thames Chase.
"It keeps me balanced, and has kept the surgeon away so far," she joked.
Christine left school at the age of 14, and began working as a typist the following year.
"Back then, you did what you were expected to do," she said.
"Nobody ever asked you what you wanted to do, and to be honest I don't know what I would have said."
She later worked at Romford Post Office as a breakfast cook for 20 years until retiring nine years ago.
"People would come and ask for my advice about their cats over the serving counter," she laughed.
"Someone once asked me 'do you ever not come home with a cat?' and I said 'never'."
It's not just animals that Christine takes under her wing - during lockdown, she began volunteering for people in need, getting their prescriptions and stopping in for a chat.
"If you've needed help yourself in the past, you want to help other people," said the cat lover.
"There's a great deal of satisfaction in putting quality back into others' lives.
"It makes life worth living. Both people and animals put their trust in you, and they respond to kindness."
Christine fosters up to 10 animals at a time, and has kept mountains of diaries over the years, chronicling the tales of her furry guests.
"I might turn them into a children's book," she quipped. "My grandson used to have a little kitten book that he loved, and I've often wondered if I could do that.
"Every cat I've had is so different, and I remember them all so clearly."
Christine recalls moments of both joy and heartbreak over the years, such as taking in a pregnant kitten who became part of the family for almost two decades.
Tabatha - who was pregnant and semi-feral when found in Leytonstone - ended up curling up in the crook of Christine's arm every night for 18 years.
"It broke my heart when I lost her four years ago," she admitted.
"Then there was a local cat called Ginge, who was determined he was going to move in with me, whether I liked it or not.
"He was jealous of all the fun cats had at my house. He moved in age 13, and I had him until he was 18."
When Christine found scrawny Emma, the fosterer assumed she was an elderly cat, but she turned out to be just a kitten.
"It was absolutely dreadful, she was in such a state," she said.
"She has lice, fleas, and was emaciated. She was everything a cat shouldn't be.
"In my care she blossomed into a beautiful, healthy kitten."
Tragically, starvation had damaged the feline's organs, and she died months later.
For Christine, finding cats their forever homes makes all the hard work worthwhile, and she has made some lifelong friends along the way.
She added: "It's lovely when people stay in touch, and send photos of the cats becoming part of their family.
"Over the years they often come back asking for help or advice, and it's good to know you can help."