Only a very special person would take in orphaned kittens, bottle-feed them, care for them until a home can be found for them. Only a dedicated person would make it her mission and spend her time and resources to teach children how to care for pets.

And only someone completely committed to bringing awareness to the need for spaying and neutering pets to stem the tide of overpopulation would unite her love for art and her passion for protecting the least of God’s creatures to achieve her altruistic goals.

Shery Polansky, “The Nursing Lady,” is that special person.

Over the past 10 years Polansky, a retired hospice nurse, has rescued many area kittens whose mothers have been killed, rejected their babies or were simply too young or too ill to nurse them. She’s reared to weaning as many as a hundred in a year.

“My rescue days started when I was 8,” Polansky said. Her grandmother raised pigs, she said, and Polansky bottle-fed a runt from one litter. “I’ve always had a soft spot for the weakest, ugliest and most pitiful creatures.”

As a teen, she worked for several different veterinarians, and again became involved with bottle-feeding baby animals. But it was a decade ago, when she became an on-call hospice nurse, that she finally had a lot of free time on her hands.

She had a friend who loved cats and who was suffering from depression, and “I advised her to do what my minister had suggested: Get involved with a project for God, a project bigger than yourself.”

The woman took her advice, contacted local vets and rescue organizations, and together the two women became “The Nursing Ladies.”

Photo | Jo Anne McKnight

Photo | Jo Anne McKnight

After a year, when her friend had a stroke and could no longer care for kittens, Polansky became the singular nursing lady.

“Every time I considered not bottle feeding, the phone would ring and when I would hear the loud cries coming from behind and the panic in the voice of the person calling. It was not a decision. ‘Yes; bring them to me,’” she said.

As the caretaker for defenseless, abandoned kittens, Polansky has had the help of her son, Seth, and the support of her husband, Dr. Daniel Polansky, who, she said, “has never said ‘no’ … He has helped me climb under houses, pick up kittens from snakey hay lofts and barns, trap feral mothers. We have been to some very unsafe places.”

Many of Dan’s meals have been late because of the babies’ feeding schedules and he has fed more than his share of kittens and puppies, she said.

“He always falls in love with each one and wants to keep all of them.”

But, she’s quick to point out, she is not a refuge for unwanted kittens. In fact, her goal now is to take in only a few a year to use as a hands-on demonstration of how to care for orphaned pets.

Polansky said there is a desperate need for bottle-feeders, people who are willing and patient enough to feed and care for the kittens just as their mothers might have. And that means keeping them snuggly warm, feeding them with a bottle or eyedropper every three or four hours, bathing them, loving them and, yes, even burping them. And the “surrogate,” no matter how short the kitten’s stay, has to make sure the baby has the necessary veterinary visits and treatments.

“My primary goal now is to teach the community what to do with these babies and to bring awareness about the need for spaying and neutering,” Polansky said.

In addition to nursing (humans and kittens), Polansky is also a talented artist, and in April opened CATS — Creative Artistic Treasure Studio — at 4310 Old Shell Road, Suite A, across the street from Spring Hill College.

The shop, a combination art gallery and gift venue, features cat-related paintings, jewelry, figurines, tote bags, coffee cups and other giftware, and also offers the works of some 40 local, national and international artists (not all works are geared toward animals). The gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

“It is the vision of CATS to be the premiere location for unique art and gifts that focus on a love of animals and to be known as the go-to place for information about how to care for orphaned kittens and puppies,” says the informative brochure Polansky distributes.

“There’s always a Party on the Hill at CATS!” the flyer says. Polansky said events either already on the schedule or in the works are “Purrsday Thursdays” on the third Thursday of each month; “Featured Artists Receptions” spotlighting a different artist each month; and a “Community Speakers” forum.

She welcomes veterinarians, spay-neuter groups, dog trainers, rescue groups, adoption organizers, artists, children and their parents to CATS. A video on how to care for orphaned kittens is available for showing at a moment’s notice. Call 251-308-2552 to schedule a date to showcase a special showing and provide education to the community.

The CATS informational brochure ends with the following quote from Ghandi: “I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man,” and that is a belief “The Nursing Lady,” Shery Polansky, holds dear.