I will try to be as persuasive as possible in convincing someone to adopt an animal they’ve rescued, especially a homeless cat—and I can be extremely persuasive, coercive and gently arm-twisting—but if their honest assessment of their situation is that they can’t adopt I am not the person to question their judgment, and I will do my best to help them and to find the animal a permanent home. This story is from 2011, around this time of year; I started helping people in this way decades ago, and I still do to this day. Penny’s story had so many wonderful twists and turns, friendships and coincidences, it’s a joy to share it again.
In mid-October 2011 I received an e-mail from someone in the community next to mine that a stray cat had come to visit her porch.
“I have followed the articles written over the years in the local paper about you and I know that you are a cat lover,” the e-mail read from a person I did not know. Busted! This sometimes happens, and it usually leads to a new friendship. I read on to see where this would lead.
“A small Calico Cat has taken up at my house. It is homeless and I wanted to know if you knew of someone that would like to have it or could foster it until it finds a home? It is a beautiful cat with black, gold, tan spots with a white belly. I think it is young because it looks very dainty and it has yellow/green eyes,” she continued.
I was so touched by her detailed and tender description. Obviously she had not simply looked out her window and seen a cat and e-mailed me, she was observant and had studied the cat and found adjectives like “small”, “beautiful” and “dainty” to describe her, which gave me hints about her feelings for animals and even about her as I began to assess the situation. These observations also told me a few things about the kitty, that she made direct eye contact and wasn’t timid, that she was probably affectionate, likely was not feral and could have been a lost pet.
She described the kitty as “very sweet and friendly” and guessed that someone had dropped it in the neighborhood. She went on to say she had she posted listings for an apparently lost kitty on PetFinder and craigslist but no one had called to claim her, and that she couldn’t keep the kitty herself.
“I need to find it a home before it gets cold and now I am feeding it and it has a bed on my back porch. If I can’t find someone to take it I will have to take it to a shelter. I have neighbors that are not being kind to it now,” she explained.
Yes, the coming winter was a concern, as were the neighbors; we who rescue cats know how that can be. I was also concerned that the kitty might not be spayed—who knew what her health history was? The last thing we needed was an autumn litter of kittens. I was organizing my concerns to reply to her, lists of resources she could use, and of course I was going to try to convince her to foster or even adopt the kitty until I read the next line.
“My Old English Sheepdog died in early September so I am not ready for a pet now.”
I understood. There may have been other reasons I could work around, but this was one I would not work around in any way. Grief must take its time, and even the presence of another species of animal after a loss can be painful just as it can be comforting.
I also knew that I could not take the kitty, that every other rescuer and foster organization I knew of was full, and there weren’t many options for the calico but a shelter. I would advise to get her on a waiting list at Animal Friends, Pittsburgh’s no-kill shelter, but that might take more time than she had.
I know she was concerned of the kitty being euthanized at another shelter, as many people have the perception that most animals don’t survive the shelter experience and hesitate to surrender animals there.
However, through the years I’d sent or taken plenty of cats to Pittsburgh’s two open-door shelters, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania, who’ve gone on to happy homes from the shelter or from one of their offsite adoption opportunities at PetSmart, Petco, or one of the many events they sponsor. Timing is the important element. In mid-summer at the height of kitten season it’s not a good idea in any city anywhere as shelters work with the overflow of kittens and mother cats, but fostering for a while until the overcrowding decreases helps reduce the burden of overcrowding, kitty stays socialized by living in a home and you can vouch for kitty’s personality with a potential adopter, increasing kitty’s chances of being adopted.
I’ve also known both of these shelters to be honest about an animal’s chances of being adopted when people take them for surrender during one of these overcrowded times, asking the reason for surrender and offering guidance if it’s for a behavior problem in hopes they can keep the animal in its home permanently—and often they do—and if cages are full asking if the owners can keep the animal for a while until there’s a little more space.
I e-mailed my contact at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society because it was the closest to both this person and me, and found that things were slowing down after some pretty high numbers in August. “Of course we can take care of her, it’s why we are an Open Door Shelter,” she said.
So I e-mailed back to kitty’s person that I could not take her, and I understood her feelings so soon after losing her dog that she could not keep her.
“I am concerned for two things in addition to the weather: the neighbors, and the fact that she is young and may not be spayed, and may be expecting a litter of kittens and has chosen your porch because it is safe. This is not unusual, and it’s often difficult to tell if a cat is pregnant until pretty far along if she’s been outdoors and hasn’t had a regular diet,” I told her.
I explained that in this case it was most important to get her to a safer place as soon as possible. I told her about the fluctuation in intake at shelters and that they all do everything they can to find homes, and that I’ve taken cats to the shelters myself with confidence. They’d even give her shelter number to watch her progress on the shelter’s website. Calico cats, especially friendly ones, are VERY popular, and kitty would probably find a home quickly. She’d be spayed and get all her shots and be microchipped at the shelter, and a donation would be very much appreciated. I would keep in touch with my contact at the shelter and if anything came up that would endanger her time there, she would call me. The calico would be in no danger.
“You know how I feel about cats but I would do this myself, and I would have all confidence that she would not be euthanized, that she would get good care, and that she would find a home quickly,” I added.
This was agreeable to her and she said she’d arrange to take the kitty that weekend.
“It is the most sweet cat and deserves a good home. I just don’t know why someone would let a nice cat like that go unless it truly is lost. I will miss it when it is gone but it deserves better and a good home. I call it Kitty and I will miss it,” she said.
In successive e-mails I explained about the calico coat pattern and that she was probably a girl. And thinking of her recent loss I also shared with her that it had been a year to the day since I’d lost my Peaches and sent her a link my anniversary post about Peaches, and mentioned that sometimes animals show up at our door for a reason.
She read the article and replied she had had Snoopy, her sheepdog, for 13 years and the last month was the hardest.
“She went to the vets because of a urinary tract infection and they gave her a penicillin shot then 2 days later her hind legs were paralyzed,” she said. The vet thought it had something to do with her spine, and this often happens with older large breed dogs. “She got so sick the last 2 weeks and I was off on family leave for my Mom so I was able to take care of her every day. Up until the day she died, she barked for the mailman like she did every day and she always really loved to eat so at the end I gave her dog food pouches and the last two times she ate, she licked my hands and I think that was to tell me thank you and she knew she was going,” she continued.
“Sometimes I think that the Calico cat was sent by Snoopy. It stretches its legs in the front and then the back and Snoopy did this too. It even gave us her paw,” she said. “One day she sat on the steps with me and looked up at me with her eyes as if she was trying to tell me something. …I would like to keep her but I don’t have the room and my Mom is 81 and I am afraid she would fall over her.”
She thanked me, I wished her luck and waited to hear news of the kitty’s shelter number.
Is no news good news?
But time passed, and no news. Over Thanksgiving weekend I was planning to contact her, almost afraid in case something had happened but hoping that she had decided to keep the kitty.
The Monday following I received an e-mail from her that she had taken the kitty to WPHS the previous day. She had indeed tried to keep her but found she couldn’t.
Kitty was even a good girl in the car. “She sat in a box in the car and meowed a few times and that was only the second time since she was with me that she meowed,” she reported.
They told her at WPHS she was about a year old. “She has such a nice disposition and is so beautiful – she has a heart shape right below the back of her neck. I hope she gets a really nice home. When I put her in the carrier she never caused any trouble,” she continued.
“I hated to take her but at least she is safe and warm now. She had a bed on my porch with covers and I gave her a hot water bottle to keep her warm,” she described. “She loved to sit on the porch and look out at everything. She liked to look at the birds and think about catching them.
“I called her Kitty but my Mom named her Penny yesterday which was a good name because I once got a poem from someone that said every time you see a penny on the ground it is an angel from Heaven and to say a prayer. I am going to start volunteering at the shelter so maybe I will see her again,” she ended.
She added later that she was really missing them both, that Penny “really changed us all for the better. She was a little gift from God.”
Advocating for Penny’s adoption
A quote, proverb, saying, aphorism that I’ve heard passed around for years though I’ve never found its origin—and it became popular again in Harry Potter stories—that when you save a life, you are then in some way responsible for it. Perhaps in this way I felt responsible for Penny, so I spread the word of her rescuer’s good deed and did my best to help Penny find a good home. “When I get a chance to visit the WPHS I’ll find her and take a few photos, but I honestly hope that even if I get there tomorrow she’ll already be adopted and be hard at work as an angel in some other needy human’s life,” I said at that time. I shared Penny’s adoption information including her adoption number and WPHS adoption fees and terms.
Penny’s adoption, more twists and turns and coincidences
So life went on, my new friend Penny’s rescuer, trained to volunteer at the shelter, and I kept track of Penny. I had heard from my contact that Penny had contracted an upper respiratory infection soon after she entered the shelter, not unusual, but that could, and still can, often be a death sentence for cats in shelters because the staff isn’t equipped to quarantine and treat animals for most conditions. But because I’d made arrangements for Penny’s surrender, and I was promoting the shelter and Penny’s adoption, they found a foster home to give her antibiotics. This is the main reason I missed seeing her at the shelter during the busy holiday season.
Just after the new year I’d been planning to drop in to meet Penny, but in a very roundabout way I heard the news that Penny was adopted just after New year’s Day! Not only was Penny in a wonderful loving home, her adopters excited to share their home with her, but her rescuer was surprisingly on hand when Penny was being adopted, on her first shift as a volunteer.
But there’s more…
Early Wednesday morning, January 4, Ingrid King, author of the site The Conscious Cat and friend who you’ve read about before on this site, forwarded a comment addressed to me that had been posted on her profile of me from 2009—from the people who had adopted Penny:
…My fiancée and I recently adopted Penny (named after the phrase ‘pennies from heaven’), a beautiful calico cat. We were told you’d written a story about Penny; the woman who’d brought her to the shelter gave us your name.
The commenter added that it was difficult to find the article or many other things on The Creative Cat, which is how she ended up talking to Ingrid.
Thanks to Ingrid I could contact the woman through the comment, introduced myself and gave her the link to the article. I added, “I love to post updates to cats I’ve posted for adoption on The Creative Cat. All people are completely anonymous unless they wish otherwise. Would you mind telling me a few things about why you chose Penny, why you visited the WPHS and perhaps why cats are special enough for you to be taken into your home? If not, I’d never betray your privacy, I can just announce that Penny was adopted and a lot of people will cheer.”
From Penny’s rescuer
I also sent off an e-mail to the woman who rescued Penny saying that I was so glad to hear, not sure that she knew, though I knew that she had followed through with her promise to train as a volunteer at WPHS so she might be in the know. Better than that! She wrote back:
“I was at the shelter when Kitty got adopted. That was the first day volunteering and I was doing the laundry and was mentioning Kitty and one of the girls told me she was getting adopted right then. I rushed over to say goodbye to Penny….I don’t think she recognized me at first but then she got more playful and then I think she recognized me. The man and lady who adopted her said they already had a cat and it was not a lap cat and took more to the girlfriend than the man that owned her. He wanted a cat to sit on his lap. I think that is just what he got because Penny liked to be held and have her ears rubbed. She would fall asleep when you did that. I asked him why he picked her and he said she seemed friendly and came over to him. He looked at another calico but Penny seemed more friendly. He seemed like a really nice man and I was so happy that Penny got to be adopted that day….I told them about the story you wrote about Penny and I wrote down your name to look up your website. Do you know if they got to read the story about Penny? I have a copy and give it to friends when I talk about her. That was such a special story. We still miss Penny and talk about her but I am so happy for her that she got a home.”
And from her adopters
About 3:00 that afternoon I received a sweet e-mail from the adopters:
Read the story about Penny and loved it! The attached file answers the questions you posed. You may absolutely use our first names as well as any portion of the attachment. Many thanks for all you do.
Attached to the e-mail was a story they’d written in answer to my questions! People don’t do that unless they are really smitten, and I would guess they are.
My fiancée and I have been cohabitating since our engagement last February. Randy came into our relationship with two cats and I had one. To keep the focus on Penny, our new addition, suffice it to say two of our three cats passed on. We were down to Friskie, a healthy rambunctious striped cat whose favorite past time is shredding our toilet paper. I had been whispering in Randy’s ear for a few months that Friskie was bored and needed a companion. The day after Christmas Randy surprised me when he pulled into the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society (WPHS)!
Friskie is a little over two years old. We wanted a female cat of similar age who had been fixed. Penny’s cage was positioned near the entrance to the cat enclave. While the signs say NOT to stick your fingers in the cage, of course we did! Penny was immediately responsive, gentle and Randy was already gone on his little girl. Randy was extremely desirous of a ‘lap sitter’, something Friskie only does briefly.
We liked two other cats but of those two, one was a boy ~ not meeting our criteria; the other was adopted out before we moved from the cage ~ believe it or not!
We had some private time with Penny in the ‘quiet room’. She seemed most content to sit on each of our laps and have her ears scratched. The deal was done. We wanted Penny.
While we waited our turn to complete paperwork Randy and I met the woman who had brought Penny to the shelter. It was her very first day volunteering at WPHS. When the kindly woman saw we meant to adopt Penny she gave us all the background information you previously printed in your article “An Angel Named Penny” posted on December 1, 2011. What are the odds? We’d chosen a famous kitty who’d been published. WOW!…
Now, a few weeks after adoption, Penny is officially one of us. Our Friskie is still shredding toilet paper if left within claws reach, but he does have a companion. They are seldom out of each other’s sight; it’s too CUTE!
Our only concern is that Penny sleeps an awful lot and is a bit thin. Her appetite is unbelievably good so I expect she’ll thicken up in no time. I’m not overly worried about her sleep habits either, but Randy almost obsesses on it. I’ve explained that Penny’s had a rough go of it and to give her a few weeks. And too, cats lean towards nocturnal. I’ve seen her racing through the house with Friskie in the middle of the night when I’m getting up to use the bathroom or grab that 4 AM snack.
In closing, you had asked why we chose WPHS and why cats? Randy and I are both animal lovers. We love ALL animals. A discussion about adopting a dog sporadically surfaces but our lifestyles aren’t conducive to dog ownership. Dogs take a lot more effort, what with the walking, scooping and dependency issues. We’ve both owned dogs in our past but are at a place in our lives where cats are the more desirable pet. We’ve got a few cats and a few fish; that’s good for now.
And as to why WPHS all I can say is why not? We’re not about breeding pets or raising them up for ribbons and shows. We just wanted an addition to the family. We didn’t need a thorough bred or something with papers. We had a ‘wants’ list, but mostly we wanted something warm, furry and cuddly. We got it; we got Penny!
Marsha & Randy
I can’t say more than that, except to say that I’m glad I was a part of it. And I know this kind of magic happens every day, even without my intervention, at shelters all over the country. I am in tears thinking about how many happy endings are wound up in this one story!
Penny’s rescuer volunteered until her mother needed more help at home, but we keep in touch regularly. She hasn’t adopted again, but someday an angel meant just for her will appear to share her life.
I love to share happy endings because with all the bad we tend to hear we need to hear about good things and happy pets. But don’t forget that every animal waiting in a shelter has a story. Adopt if you can, foster if not, or donate to your local shelter in time, goods or money this holiday season.
In 2012, the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society was celebrating 138 years of helping animals.
This article was first published in December 2011 and won a Certificate of Excellence in the 2012 Cat Writer’s Association Communications Contest.
Read more of my stories from decades of rescuing and fostering cats, with a few from other rescuers mixed in Rescue Stories.
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