We didn’t believe it could happen to us. My relatives and I are animal lovers. We’re the kind of people who stop to watch a dog walking with its owner or a couple of squirrels frolicking on a lawn. But here we were, bringing two pet cats to a shelter.

Lily and Ellie in better days

Last summer it became obvious that my elderly cousin (I’m changing my cousins’ names here; I’ll call her Elaine) could no longer live on her own. She had crippling arthritis and worsening dementia. Her son Michael moved her from Indiana into an assisted-living facility near his home in Delaware. But her cats, Lily and Ellie, could not accompany her. Mike asked me if the cats could come to Save the Animals Foundation (STAF), the no-kill shelter where I have volunteered for over twenty years.

Our shelter is always overcrowded. We have to turn down all but a tiny fraction of the requests for placement. Because of my long tenure, I was permitted to bring the cats in.

“People ought to have a plan!” our shelter manager admonished. She’s right; they should. And my cousins did. But I think Lily’s plan always involved her coming to the shelter. She’s a sweet little cat, but she’s thirteen years old and has a history of urinating on the carpet. Not an easy cat to re-home.

Ellie’s situation was different. We originally thought she would make the move with Elaine or go to Mike’s house. But something had happened to the pretty tabby a few months earlier. Formerly outgoing and mischievous, she suddenly became fearful. She hid in the basement and came out only at mealtime. We didn’t know if this was a response to something Elaine had done or an indication of illness. Mike simply couldn’t handle Ellie’s problem along with his mother’s.

Timing worked against Ellie. My two cats died last summer and I adopted two more from STAF. At that point I thought Mike’s sister Rachel had found a home for Ellie. When that fell through, I already had Batik and Oliver, and my husband was adamant that we could not have a third. Rachel couldn’t take Ellie herself, because she has a housemate who is extremely allergic to cats.

I warned my cousins that the shelter might not work out for Lily and Ellie. Often, cats coming in from a home do not make a good adjustment. They grieve for their owners and react with hostility to the large population. If they have any latent diseases, this is the time they will fall ill. (Surprisingly, street cats tend to do better; they welcome the quiet and the regular meals.) But Mike and Rachel could see no alternative.

Rachel and I met in Indianapolis, halfway between our homes, on a Saturday to transfer the cats. I was relieved to see that Ellie looked thin but did not appear ill. Lily seemed all right except for a slight cough. I isolated them in two bathrooms for the weekend and regretfully brought them to STAF on Monday. There was no chance of changing my husband’s mind about keeping one or both. He refused to even look at them.

The cats stayed in cages for several weeks while we gave them booster shots and observed them for problems. Ellie did better than I expected. She constantly hid under her bedding, but was happy to emerge when a volunteer opened her door. Our veterinarian pronounced her healthy. “She’s pretty, she’s declawed, and she’s only six,” I said to Kathy, who works with adoptions. “She might have a chance at a new home, don’t you think?”

Sure enough, only days after Ellie moved into a room, a couple came looking for a declawed cat. Kathy showed Ellie to them. They liked her personality but said they wanted someone younger. But I guess they couldn’t forget her. The next weekend, the wife returned and took Ellie. I was surprised at my mixed feelings. This was what I wanted for Ellie, but I felt sorrowful that I would never see her again.

A few days later, Kathy forwarded an e-mail to me: “I thought you might like to hear about how well Ellie is adapting at our house. She is eating well and using her box, and has warmed up to me and John quite nicely. We spend as much time as possible with her each day and continue to see improvement in her trust level and enjoyment of life with us.” Best of all, the message included a photo of Ellie sleeping on—not hiding under—a blanket.

Lily did not do as well. After a couple of weeks at the shelter, her cough worsened and she stopped eating. Our vet diagnosed a long-standing lung infection. We gave her antibiotics and breathing treatments and fed her with a syringe. Lily stabilized, but did not improve. She slept most of the time. We believed depression was keeping her from getting well.

Our manager thought Lily might do better in a foster home. She approached Sue, a volunteer who has made a specialty of caring for older cats with health issues. Sue eventually decided not to foster Lily, but to adopt her. Lily went home a few days before Christmas, and I hear she is settling in nicely.

I can’t believe how lucky we have been. A lot of people assume that if they bring cats to the shelter, we’ll quickly find them new homes. That is emphatically not the case. As a no-kill shelter, STAF houses some animals for their entire lives. We have geriatric cats who came in as babies. Yet Lily and Ellie found homes in less than three months.

It’s nice to think they’re having a happy new year.



  1. Thanks for updating us on that amazing story. I have often thought about your cousin’s 2 cats and am so glad they have found a good home. Ellie and Lily are very lucky indeed!!

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