Sitting down on the Barthelme home front porch nestled in the countryside, a few miles east of Newton, I noticed I was being watched by 20 pairs of eyes.

Ten kittens were staring at me as soon as I was seated near their large holding cage that keeps them from spreadng feline chaos in a yard and driveway on a summer afternoon. There were tabbies, black and whites, a couple of grays, and a black mix with a cluster of long silvery whiskers. On top of a stand in the cage, a black-as-midnight kitten became bored with the tall, bearded visitor and laid down apparently for nap time while the others below romped about.

Then came “Buster” a black lab mix dog with the strength to tug and pull at the leash held by Melinda Bethelme, who formed “Saved by Grace” Animal Rescue at her family’s rural home surrounded by a peach orchard. Allowed to walk unhindered on the porch, Buster’s nose led him to the kitten cage for a sniff at those curious furballs.

Suddenly, the tiny black kitten stood up, arched its back, raised its tail and let out an awful hiss at Buster, who sauntered away without barking or his tail between his legs. Then he offered a smile to the camera with his long tongue hanging out of his mouth.

The privately funded animal shelter is demonstrating there can be peaceful co-existence between dogs and cats. “Saved by Grace” has many of its rescued dogs or cats in the care of foster households within the area. There have been many adoptions of the animals that were abandoned or lost – efforts are made to return the latter group to their owners. Embedded chips for identifying lost pets show their worth in those situations.

“We are foster based. Instead of putting these animals in a large building we place them with people who care for them until they are ready for adoption,” Bethelme said.

But it is fun to have some of the animals at the Barthelme residence where the dogs can cool off in a shallow pond or run around. The kittens have some romping time, too, but under control, of course. They are washed up at night and made comfortable for bedtime.

“It’s funny how after we have them clean and everything that they go into the cage in the morning and are playing around in the litterboxes,” Bethelme said.

Barthelme incorporated the organization in July through the state and license with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Saved by Grace is also registering for tax-deductible status for the benefit of donors. The community has been generous so far.

The recent debate over solving the feral or stray cat problem in Newton has helped Saved by Grace. People are willing to help get some of the cats and kittens caring and loving homes. The city is working on a trap, neuter and release program on the cats to ensure humane treatments of the strays. Veterinarians are assisting with the program.

“We’re working with the city on the trap, neuter and release program. The idea is to save their lives. People bring us or tell us of the animals. But we have been assisted by the county animal control, too,” Barthelme explained. “We are caring for animals now that were left with no food or milk. They were living in empty places and facing so much heat this summer. One of the animals brought to us had a broken jaw. Once they’re healthy and adopted they will be vaccinated and treated for fleas and heart worms. They will be spayed and neutered.

The cost for adopting dogs and cats with the above procedures is $195 and $65 respectively. That is not a bad price for acquiring an animal that will appreciate having a second chance with loving care this time around.

Barthelme brought out two adorable puppies that are up for adoption. She cradled in her arms, Primrose, a silver and black Chihuahua, and Oscar, a black Lab. Primrose enjoyed the brief photo session, while Oscar was whimpering at not getting a chance to run off the porch. Or maybe he was just camera shy, the exact opposite of the kittens and Buster.

“They all have different personalities,” Barthelme said with a grin.