Although she’s allergic, Tarra Provident has always loved cats. The 2001 Mt. Lebanon High School grad got into cat rescue while in college at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she started fostering strays on campus. Fast forward to 2014, Provident was appalled by the number of strays in her Brookline neighborhood, so she got involved in TNR (trap, neuter, release). Around that time, she became a co-founder of Pittsburgh CAT, a local volunteer cat foster network with nearly 14,000 followers on Facebook. Then last year, she started her own group, Bridges from Kuwait, that would impact the lives of cats around the world.
“I had seen something on Facebook. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it sparked my interest,” said Provident. “I learned about the Friday Market, which is a big flea market in Kuwait. They sell animals there. They often put them in bird cages, many crammed in together. They’re not vaccinated, they’ve never been seen by a vet. Feline leukemia is all over … when the animals get too sick to be sold, they stick them in carriers or crates in a corner somewhere people don’t see. And when they die, they dump them out back.”
When she learned that many of these animals are purebred, because they are marketed as high-quality pets, she saw an opportunity to help.
“I realized we could get (these cats) homes in about two seconds here,” said Provident. She connected with Debbie Grant, a United Airlines flight attendant and founder of Kitty Love Kuwait, based in Virginia, who explained her rescue model. Provident then started her own program, with the first cats arriving in January 2020.
Here’s how it works: Provident uses a network of animal rescuers based in Kuwait and other countries, where animal shelters and veterinary care are scarce. These contacts have the room and the will to foster dozens of animals—but they are happy to rescue more with Provident’s help. They go to the market and convince the sellers to give them the cats that are too sick to be sold.
Then Provident organizes transportation. Because of pandemic-related protocol changes for airlines, Provident has dealt with many different situations. When she first started, she organized “flight parents,” people willing to fly to the United States with the rescue cats, and they would check in as many cats as they could handle—sometimes dozens. Now, U. S. Customs and Border Protection has tightened restrictions, so she spends more money on brokerage fees and she is limited to just three cats per flight parent. Additionally, COVID restrictions are tight in Kuwait, so she’s having trouble finding people willing to leave the country, meaning the cats now often travel in cargo, without a flight parent.
“Now the cats are in pretty good condition because of the cost and with customs being pretty particular. (My network) is careful to send us ones that appear healthy,” said Provident. “But in the past, when they came with a flight parent, I saw lots of upper respiratory infections, ringworm, many were underweight … there are a lot of them that have deformities from improper breeding.” All of the cats must have vaccinations and a veterinary health certificate before they may enter the country.
Provident raises approximately $500 per cat, through donations and adoption fees, to cover travel and veterinary costs. She gets the cats spayed/neutered and vaccinated within a week of arrival, before connecting them with their new families. Provident says 99 percent of the cats are adopted before they arrive.
A special education teacher for Propel East charter school during the day, Provident dedicates her evenings and weekends to Bridges from Kuwait and other local cat rescue projects. Lately, she’s been working on obtaining nonprofit status for Bridges from Kuwait—at the moment, it’s just a Facebook page with a passionate base of followers.
“I often hear ‘I was about to go to a breeder, but then I found you,’” said Provident. “If someone is looking for a Persian cat, they aren’t going to a shelter, they are going to a breeder. So we’re not taking homes from the cat in the shelter down the road … It’s the best of both worlds. People can get the specific cat they want, and they can still rescue.”