Bartlett, a volunteer foster cat parent for Purrfect Pals, an Arlington-based shelter, last year rigged up a camera in what he calls his "Critter Room."
First, he posted it on Facebook. Then, after People Magazine posted a link to his Web camera, as many as 21,000 people viewed the site at one time.
More than a year later, the site still draws an average of about 2,000 concurrent viewers, Bartlett said. He's had hits on the site from nearly every country in the world and drawn donations for Purrfect Pals from several of those countries.
"A lot of people have made friends watching the kittens," he said.
Bartlett, 42, of Bothell, has been caring for cats for Purrfect Pals since 2008. The shelter doesn't have space at its main location in Arlington to house all the cats and kittens that come its way. As a result, the organization relies on 85 volunteer foster parents to care for the felines until they can be adopted or there's room at the shelter, said Kat Dockstader, who manages volunteers for Purrfect Pals.
"Like so many of our volunteers, he has done so much above and beyond for Purrfect Pals -- from supporting adoption events, to taking pictures, picking up donations at various locations, and he has saved more than 35 litters of foster kittens and their mamas since his time with us," she said.
He also plays "Santa Claws" during Purrfect Pals' December fundraiser and volunteers one night a week at the Woodinville PetSmart store, where the shelter keeps several cats available for adoption.
He got started with the organization by going into PetSmart on his lunch hour to watch the cats. He works nearby as a computer programmer for AT&T.
He showed up at the store so often it was suggested he volunteer, so he did.
Bartlett has been taking in litters through friends since 2003.
"I got fostering in my blood," he said.
He grew up with cats and still has some of his own -- "a single-digit number" -- that he keeps separate from the foster groups.
He cares for one litter at a time, sometimes more. Some of the cats are feral. He names the litters and posts photos on the Web.
"Some are with me for a couple of days, some for months," Bartlett said. The average is about two months, he said.
"I get a lot of sick cats that need a lot of TLC."
In October 2011, he set up the camera.
"I wanted to see how the kittens were behaving when I wasn't in there," he said.
Then he posted the link on Facebook and later on Livestream.
"Besides the sheer geek factor of broadcasting kittens across the web 24-7, I kept the kitten cam to raise awareness for fostering and hopefully to encourage others to foster," Bartlett said.
One litter, the Spice Kittens, drew $6,700 in donations to Purrfect Pals as of Dec. 1, he said. He estimates that the kitten cam has drawn at least $2,000 in other donations as well.
The money has come from several nations, including Russia, Australia and Croatia, Dockstader said.
Bartlett quickly got feedback from many people who told him they had recently lost a pet or loved one and that watching the kittens brightened their days, he said.
At first, "I never realized just how much the kitten cam has helped others in their lives in dealing with loss and depression," Bartlett said. "I asked the fans of the Critter Room how the kitten cam has impacted them and hundreds have replied."
When the kittens are ready to move on, many of them are taken to the Everett PetSmart store on Saturdays, where Purrfect Pals puts them up for adoption.
Often, people who have been watching the cats on camera will line up early at the store to adopt their favorite kitten, Bartlett said.
He said it's hard for him not to get attached to his foster felines and it can be tough to see them leave.
"It's never easy," he said. At the same time, if they're leaving it means they've been adopted or have a chance to find a permanent home soon, he said.
"It's always bittersweet. Kitten withdrawal is a real thing."
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Videos show romping kittens
John Bartlett's Critter Room on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheCritterRoom
Viewer feedback: tinyurl.com/KittyCamComments
Livestream videos: http://new.livestream.com/ FosterKittenCam
More photos: http://strangejourney.net/cats/main.php/v/Fosters
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