On the latest cover of Rolling Stone, Howard Stern poses with two black foster kittens named Trick and Treat. They were brought to the photoshoot by his wife Beth, who fosters cats in partnership with North Shore Animal League America. It was Stern’s idea to have her husband hold the kittens. “I knew at the moment it was so killer and awesome,” she says of the cover.
Stern began working with the Animal League fifteen years ago, when she was working as a model and was asked if she could do a runway show at the organization’s annual luncheon. She didn’t leave until every puppy was adopted. “They recognized my passion for it, and I started volunteering and going to the shelter,” she says. “And then came out that I was Howard Stern’s girlfriend at the time.” From there, she began doing television appearances and became the organization’s spokesperson.
The Sterns, who married in 2008, have been fostering cats in their Long Island home for five years. “It’s really my purpose in life,” Beth says, noting that almost a thousand cats have come and gone through their house — roughly 200 a year. “I wonder if I had all thousand cats and kittens right now in one room, would I be able to figure out who was who?” she wonders. “I think I would be able to.”
Take me back to the beginning.
Howard and I had our only child together, a 56-pound english bulldog named Bianca. She was the love of our lives, and when she passed away [In July 2012], that’s when I was volunteering and spending time at North Shore Animal League America. I’m a cat person, I’m a dog person, I work in wildlife rescue. I love all animals. But I really felt when I was at the shelter, and other shelters, that the cats were the ones that weren’t getting adopted as quickly as the dogs and the puppies. And I said, “I really want to focus, right now, on helping cats.”
So I went to a municipal shelter, meaning a shelter where the cats are in danger of being euthanized if they’re not adopted. I grabbed a mama cat and her litter of kittens and I brought them home and Howard was on board. He loved the experience so much. We nurtured this mother cat and kittens and got them all adopted, and we never stopped. The pain of letting them go…the only way that we were able to recover was to bring in more.
How many at a time in total are at your house?
Right now it’s kitten season and I think there’s 25 in my house. But our house is really big and I have a separate area — a couple rooms that are dedicated to my fostering. So it’s completely separate from where our living quarters are so it doesn’t interfere with our four resident cats that we have. It’s very clean in our house. But anywhere from 15 to…I think I’ve had 28 at one point.
Is it ever hard to say goodbye?
Oh my god, I cry every time. It never gets easier. Some kittens have been nurtured since they were so very young and I’ve seen them through eye operations and leg amputations or they’re blind. The special needs ones are the ones that really tug at my heart even more than the perfect little kitten, but again, I cry every single time when every one of them leaves my home, because they just become such a part of me. I know every thing about them by the time I’m handing them off, it just does not get easier.
What’s your day-to-day like? I feel like you work seven days a week doing this.
Oh my gosh, it’s never ending. I wake up with my husband so early at 4 o’clock — he has to get ready for his radio show — and I start my rounds. It depends on what the kittens need the most. Sometimes I have to administer medication, sometimes kittens need to be syringe-fed or bottle-fed. I try not to get into the bottle feeding because that’s every two hours waking up.
But starting at 4 o’clock, I have my breakfast and then I go right to who needs me first. I like to feed my kittens every three or four hours, and it starts all over again. In the interim I’m cleaning litter boxes, cleaning the rooms, refreshing their towels, it’s constant. But I can never imagine my life any other way. It brings me such joy. It’s an addiction. I just absolutely love helping and saving these lives.
Do you have help at the house?
Absolutely. I’m so fortunate that I do have help at the house. I wouldn’t be able to save the amount that I’m saving if I didn’t and I’m so grateful that I’m able to. The way Howard supports me and how he’s able to fund all of this — he pays for all of the surgeries, the vet appointments. It’s really a team effort, I’m just the one that’s leading it all.
It seems like Howard really loves it.
He loves it. The only problem with Howard is that he ends up wanting to keep every one [laughs]. I have to be the strong one and say “No, we have our resident cats, these we’ve found great homes for.” But every time I bring one in and he spends time with them, he goes, “Let’s keep this one! I want this one!”
His job when they come in is to name them. So every kitten and cat, and even our resident cats, he has named. He loves doing that, but unfortunately we’re running out of names. We have this whole system where if we’re taking a walk or we’re in the car and he’ll say something like, “Dorito!” and then I write it down really quickly. So I have a little master list of names.
You guys also foster cats in Florida, correct?
Yes. I have some shelter partners that I work with there and whenever we take a visit and go down there, I always get in touch with my rescue partners. They bring over usually an adult cat and a litter of kittens and I nurture them while I’m there and if they’re ready to be adopted, I put them on my Instagram. Thank god for my Instagram, it’s the only way I’m able to find these incredible homes.
Your Instagram account has around 500 thousand followers. Is there a waiting list to adopt?
There is, yeah. I have an Instagram account @bethostern, and from the second the cat or kitten comes into my home, people can follow their journey. I literally post 25-30 pictures a day and people seem to get really involved. My Instagram can lead you to my Gmail account, if somebody is interested in adopting. I read every single email that comes in. Whatever email I feel is worthy, I send on to North Shore Animal League America, because all of my work is through them. I’m technically a foster parent for North Shore and they do all the screenings for me. So once I hand off the email, they do all the hard work with getting in touch with the adopters, calling their references. Then they come back to me and we discuss which cat or kitten is right for which family.
By that time, I know which kittens are available, I know which kittens are good with kids, with other cats, if they’re good with dogs — I always have a friend bring over a dog and we do the dog test. So when people write to me and say, “I want Cheese Doodle!” chances are they’re not going to get Cheese Doodle. If they want to be involved with my program and adopt from me, they’re gonna be okay with the cat I feel is the best fit for them. And it’s been working out beautifully and people don’t return the cats do me. The way that I do it is, I match the kitten for the family and what I think would be right. It really has been a great formula and it’s really working well.
Yeah, it seems like you’re the liaison between the league and the adopters.
I deliver every single cat and kitten. I have to meet the family, I have to look them in the eye. I have a care package of all the kitten’s favorite things, usually a blanket or a bed that they’ve been sleeping on at my house to make the transition easier. And food for at least two weeks. So I really set them up. It only makes me feel better knowing that the kitten is going to be set up in a situation where they’re going to be the most comfortable after leaving my house.
Do you find that a lot of people trying to adopt are crazy Stern fans?
I can spot them right away if they’re crazy Stern fans. But they can also be amazing adopters if they’re crazy Stern fans. It’s not a fine line. I can totally tell if they want to become involved in my life for Howard or because of a passion for animals. It’s so easy and I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem with that at all. We’ve really gotten incredible adopters.
You’ve also written books about animals.
I’ve written three books. The first book was called Oh My Dog, and it’s kind of a whole huge resource book on when you go adopt a dog to the dog’s final days. People are still telling me it’s their lifesaver when they bring a new puppy home. And then the two children’s books are based on our rescue cat, Yoda. He was diagnosed with a heart condition and I was told he had only two months to live. He ended up getting into my foster room and taking care of all the kittens, and he didn’t die, he’s now six years old. It’s the sweetest thing ever. I always said love and purpose heals his heart. He literally had a heart that was deteriorating, and now he’s as healthy as can be and his whole purpose in life is to take care of kittens.
Do you have any plans to write another one?
I was just contacted by my publisher, they’re ready for another one. But I will only do it if something magical happens in the foster room. It has to be real and it has to have a lesson.