I don’t know about you guys, but the moment my tax refund hit my bank account, I blew that little windfall on shoes. I am only five-foot-six but would love to be five-foot-10, so I snatched up a pair of platform shoes or four and considered it money well spent.
I felt pretty good about myself — I was super tall, and I hadn’t yet rolled my ankle or faceplanted into the concrete — until I heard how a woman named Mary spent her tax refund. The 75-year-old retiree lives in a trailer park near the Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter, a nonprofit, cage-free, no-kill facility that cares for more than 200 homeless cats in Tucson, Arizona. Mary is on Social Security, and she uses her limited funds to feed, spay, and neuter stray cats in her neighborhood.
"I’ve been saving animals ever since I’ve been out here," she says.
If that weren’t already enough, when circumstances demanded, Mary really went above and beyond. When one of her friend’s daughters found a kitten who had been bitten by a dog, Mary took it upon herself to save the two-week-old cat. At the time, she didn’t have the money for veterinary care, so she borrowed the necessary funds from a friend. Luckily, the kitten, named Medusa, did not require stitches, but she did need antibiotics to prevent her wounds from becoming infected.
Medusa also needed foster care. She had not yet been weaned, so she required bottle feeding, which is an intensive, round-the-clock endeavor. Mary has health concerns of her own, so she felt caring for Medusa herself was too much to take on. To ensure the kitten got the best possible care, Mary took her to the Hermitage.
By this point, Mary had received her tax refund. She used part of it to repay her friend who had loaned her the money for Medusa’s veterinary care. She donated another $100 to the Hermitage.
"I’m 75, and I have a hard time bottle feeding every couple of hours and getting up all night," Mary says. "That’s why I brought the kitten down to the Hermitage shelter, to see if they could help me."
Thanks to Mary’s actions and the care of Medusa’s foster caretaker, the kitten is now three months old, healthy, and ready for adoption at the Hermitage. According to Jennifer Reeve, office manager at the Hermitage, strays like Medusa are common in Pima County, where Mary lives.
“Pima County has the worst stray/feral cat problem,” she says. “We are regularly overwhelmed with requests to take in stray cats, and Pima Animal Care Center, our local county shelter, is as well.”
As a longtime Pima County resident, Mary has witnessed the problem of cat overpopulation firsthand. She does what she can to care for the cats in her trailer park — right now, for example, she is caring for a litter of five kittens in her backyard. But Mary’s efforts have been undermined by park managers, who are trying to rid the community of stray cats. Mary says they accomplish this goal by “dropping them off in the desert” to fend for themselves. More than once she has been caring for a cat one day only to have it vanish the next.
"We have a lot of cats in here," Mary says. "I had one fixed — then she was gone, and she hasn’t come back."
That’s why no-kill shelters like the Hermitage that give so-called “unadoptable” cats a chance play such a vital role in the animal rescue community — and why Reeve says that when it comes to donations, “no amount is too small.” When money is a concern, shelters always need volunteers willing to donate their time.
“You don’t have to be wealthy to help animals in need,” she says. “You can even donate items in-kind, such as food, beds, blankets — and some shelters even need office supplies or appliances. You can volunteer your time, or even volunteer professional services. You can also become a foster. Many shelters, especially ours, are always in need of fosters.”
This is a message Mary has taken to heart. Later this month, she is planning to visit the Hermitage and drop off a number of items she has collected, including litter boxes, scoops, toys, and blankets.
"I’m just an animal lover," she says. "I can’t help it. I won’t stop."
According to Reeve, even seemingly small contributions can make a big difference in the lives of kittens like Medusa.
"Everyone can help animals in need," Reeve says. "Call your local shelter — hey, everyone in Tucson, we’re here! — and ask what they need help with. You’ll never know how much you can help the lives of these animals if you don’t ask.”
Visit the Hermitage’s website.
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