When Less Adoptable Means More Lovable
Getting by with a little help from good friends.
I have a new boyfriend and his name is Ringo Starr. He’s a soulful ginger Tabby with eyes designed to melt hearts. But like most boyfriends, he’s not perfect, which is why adopters at North Shore Animal League America have passing him by for more than a year.
At the age of 14, Ringo is an elder, and as we all know, with age come issues: he has a kidney condition that requires a special diet, which he loves. He’s also on the cat-tankerous side, meaning he prefers to be the only cat in the room — a one-man band, you might say. Plus, Ringo is declawed. Ouch! — so much for that new drum set I was going to buy him.
What all those adopters miss about Ringo is his sweetness, the va-va-voom in his strut, and the meaningful meows of wisdom he’s always eager to share. In the world of animal rescue, Ringo is one of the “less-adoptables,” which means, of course, I love him!
I’ve never met Ringo in the furry flesh but based on his fabulous headshots and all of my instincts about felines — plus the rave reviews from his legions of fans at the shelter — he is one very special kitty, as in a cat with special needs who is extra special to boot.
I celebrate Ringo today because he and other special-needs pets have a week coming up dedicated to them and only them: September 20-26 is Adopt-A-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week. As you know, I have a soft spot for cats and kittens with special needs, because in my opinion, everyone shares one very special need: the need to be loved.
My colleagues at North Shore Animal League America (NSALA) love the less-adoptables, too. Ringo had been dumped at a municipal shelter at age 13 when the heroes at NSALA came to his rescue. In fact, NSALA’s no-kill mission means refuge and care to animals regardless of their age, medical condition, or physical challenges. Way back in 1997, NSALA created the Pet Sponsorship Program, a monthly donation plan so people can help provide ongoing care for special-needs animals. Even after they’re adopted, their medical needs continue to be covered, as are Ringo’s.
So let me introduce you to…three of Ringo’s special-needs bandmates: Apollonia, Toby, and Zuke. These sweeties are still awaiting adoption, but even if you can’t adopt them, you can help them through the Pet Sponsorship program. Find out more at animalleague.org/sponsor.
Apollonia was rescued from a hoarding situation in late 2019. She was so emaciated that staff thought she was only a year old until they determined that she was suffering from irritable bowel disease and was actually closer to seven years old! Today, with her health
tremendously improved, Apollonia has become a regal beauty, delivering loud “pigeon purrs” and headbutts to her people. She prefers to be a single cat and loves the peace and quiet of sharing office space with NSALA’s volunteer manager, though of course she’d like a home
of her own.
After being adopted as a puppy, Toby was returned to NSALA when his family became overwhelmed by his skin allergies and infections. Thanks to expert medical care plus the TLC he received from staff and volunteers, Toby’s skin conditions are well under control, as is the extreme anxiety he felt after losing his family. He is now in NSALA’s Foster Care Program to help prepare him for a fresh start in life. His
foster mom says Toby is completely lovable and enjoys long morning walks in a nearby park where he can run and roll in the grass. And when he’s anxious, his anxiety vest immediately calms him down.
Like Apollonia, Zuke was saved from a hoarding situation involving more than 50 cats. Medical staff diagnosed him with a heart murmur, including SAM (systolic anterior motion), which can be a life-threatening condition. And like so many perfectly imperfect fosters, Zuke has a pronounced corneal scar on one of his eyes. I’m told that Zuke has demonstrated his innate compassion by befriending the shyer of his feline companions at the shelter and comforting them with snuggles. Sadly, black cats are often hard to adopt. I hope Zuke beats the odds, and soon!
Zuke was named after a man who helped with that rescue and, with his wife, has adopted several special-needs cats of his own. He is also a longtime member of Team Animal League…which reminds me, NSALA’s Team Animal League is currently gearing up for its fundraising run in the New York City Marathon’s 50th Anniversary event on November 7.
This brings back so many wonderful memories. I actually started this annual fundraiser for NSALA when I decided to run the marathon in 2008 when I assembled a team of 20 runners to join me. That was the year Howard and I got married, and since running the marathon had been on my bucket list since I moved to New York, I decided to commit, train, and have NSALA benefit.
I was so proud to be able to raise nearly $300,000 for the animals. (All our wedding gifts that year were donations to NSALA as well!) I trained for six months, and although it was a challenge for me, it was really one of the best experiences of my life!
Photo: The New York Daily News
I will never forget the feeling I had crossing the finish line with Howard and his daughter Ashley waiting for me…4 hours and 15 mins after I began! That’s just under 9-3/4 minutes a mile. Better than I’d ever hoped!! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, one that I strongly endorse!
Speaking of winning teams, I have my personal team waiting for me every morning when I wake up: Team Stern, aka our resident cats. I want to share their very special stories.
I’ll start with the most famous and charismatic feline in the family: Yoda was admitted to NSALA in terrible condition, having been severely neglected by his previous owner. I’ll never forget seeing his bones after his matted fur had to be shaved. (It came off in one piece…that’s how bad it was.) He was despondent in the shelter. He sat in his litterbox with his face to the wall and wouldn’t eat. He was also diagnosed with a severe heart issue, so I decided to take him home to foster. I took him to specialists and was told he wouldn’t live more than six months, so we decided to keep him and make his last few months happy and filled with love. Well, it’s been more than seven years and he’s still with us… plump, happy, and a great help with my foster kittens! Yoda loves kittens! In fact, he was the inspiration for my two popular children’s books. The first, a New York Times Bestseller called “Yoda: The Story of a Cat and His Kittens,” is about how love and purpose in the foster room healed his bad heart.
We adopted Walter 11 years ago when he was 4 years old. He’d been adopted from NSALA as a kitten and returned after the family declawed him. He still has issues from that horrific, inhumane act. He was then adopted again by another family but returned a few years later when the new baby turned out to be allergic. But three times is the charm for Walter, who’s now in his forever home and will never be returned again. Plus, he is Howard’s absolute favorite.
Mooshu Peaches, aka “The Moosh,” a gorgeous longhaired Calico, was found by one of my IG followers in her parents’ yard. She was about five months old and in heat when she came to us, and she reminded me of my childhood kitty, Lizzie. Our beautiful Moosh loves Howard but does not like me, LOL, although we have made a little progress! She and Walter have become inseparable, as you
can see in the photo above.
My perfectly imperfect Bella was admitted to NSALA when a good Samaritan found her in a junkyard nursing her four newborn kittens. She is completely blind due to unknown trauma. I learned about her while volunteering and decided to take her and her kittens to foster. I found loving homes for her four nuggets and fell madly in love with her. I believe she needs me most of all. She is my heart.
Pebble was a foster baby of mine. A local vet called me and asked if I would take her into my program after someone brought her in with a severely infected eye. She arrived in our home and was incredibly naughty, immediately, right from day one! Tiny little thing with so much sass and spunk! After her bad eye was surgically removed, she came back to recover, and she made it clear she was here to stay. We knew she’d be returned if we’d adopted her to anyone else. (Moral of the story: Be bad and you stay with me.)
If you’re reading this and follow me on Instagram, you probably know the saga of Helen Rose. It began in July 2019 when I was contacted by a woman who’d purchased a young female purebred British Shorthair from a breeder who didn’t tell her that the cat was pregnant. The woman was upset and truly needed help. The mother cat almost died delivering six kittens, one of whom died. With help from Dr Jackie at Long Island Veterinary Specialists, the other kittens thrived, and the mother survived, too. Three kittens quickly found homes through Dr. Jackie, which left two for my program: Bernie and Helen Rose. I found a great home for Bernie, but by then Howard had fallen hard for Helen Rose and begged me to keep her. I agreed and was going to make her a therapy cat. Then Covid happened and she never made it to work. Instead, she worked from home, the way a lot of folks did, and became a superstar. She has truly helped us smile during quarantine, and she’s done the same for my IG followers. So, I guess she did become a therapy cat: Ours! And yours!
P.S. Here’s a way to share YOUR experiences as a special-pet parent. If you’ve adopted a senior or special-needs animal companion, post your story on your social media to promote special adoptions and educate/inform your friends and the public. I also hope you’ll visit NSALA’S The Mutt-i-grees® Rescue Pets Family Album and tell your special story there. This charming site is open to everyone and provides a fun way for people to share stories and inspire each other, whether their pets came from shelters, rescue groups, the streets, or from people who no longer wanted them.