Magnificat Cat Rescue and Rehoming is a small nonprofit organization in the Bronx, but it has helped many cats in a big way. According to co-founder Mary Elliott, the group’s turning point came in May, when it rescued an orange tabby named Tiger Tim from death row after his owner surrendered him. The reason for the surrender? She got a new couch.
On its Facebook page, Magnificat Rescue shared an open letter to Tiger Tim’s former owner:
You said you got him when he was just three months old, and that he was now seven. You said he was a good cat, well behaved and affectionate. That he followed you around and kept you company. That he waited at the door for you every night, and that he was so happy when you came home from work. You signed the … paperwork, which states that a surrendered animal may be euthanized. Then you left him there and walked away, even though he cried.
Shortly after Magnificat rescued Tiger Tim, the cat was diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, treatments were unsuccessful, and he passed away in June. But his story touched cat lovers across the globe.
“For reasons we can’t quite understand, our posts about Tiger Tim exploded, reaching up to half a million people at one point,” Elliott says. “Thousands of people around the world were following his story and sending him get-well cards. We were swamped by the torrent of messages and gifts. When he died, they mourned with us. To this day, we still get people asking about Tiger Tim.”
Reaching a worldwide community of supporters has been an incredible experience for Elliott and Cary Aminoff, the group’s co-founder and president who began rescuing after adopting a cat named Pumpkin in 2008. Aminoff says his experiences with Pumpkin changed his life and helped him manage a debilitating bout with chronic fatigue syndrome.
“These animals – these little people — become very important to the people who adopt them,” Aminoff says. “There is a mountain they understand. They understand when you’re happy, they understand when you’re mad – and they know when you’re leaving or going away.”
Since Magnificat formed in 2012, the organization — which has no central shelter location, operating as a network of foster homes — has grown more than its founders ever anticipated. It hosts monthly spay/neuter events in partnership with the ASPCA, fixing as many as 31 cats and four dogs. In 2015, it rescued more than 167 cats and adopted out at least 118 — more than twice what it did the previous year.
“Cats are sort of like potato chips – you can’t just have one,” Aminoff says. “You know at the end that you’ve saved a lot of lives, and you don’t think of them as animals. They’re like little people, and they all have souls. They’re very important in a lot of people’s lives.”
To make it work, Elliott says Magnificat and other area rescues help each other.
“We are a little rescue, with very few volunteers,” Elliott says. “Since we do not have a shelter of our own and there are never enough foster homes for the cats we want to save, we teamed up with dog rescues in the Bronx and rented space where we could temporarily board cats. We’ve been very lucky, forming close ties with other local rescues. We all help each other out as much as we can.”
Facebook has been another valuable tool for driving donations and adoptions. Lacking a marketing team or professional photographer, Magnificat instead relies on storytelling to introduce people to adoptable cats. Social media has allowed the group to foster cats in Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and New Hampshire — and the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City Animals’ Wheels of Hope program helps with transportation for animals who are adopted in other states.
“Thanks to Facebook, we have friends and followers around the world who donate to our fundraisers, share our stories, and take a lively interest in the cats we rescue,” Elliott says. “It never fails to astonish me how we have connected with cat lovers in the Netherlands, in Singapore, in Australia, not to mention every state in the union.”
This broad reach — thanks largely to the story of Tiger Tim — has created a large community of people ready and willing to help the kitties at Magnificat — and boost the volunteers’ morale. According to Elliott, a woman in Texas embroidered dish towels with Tiger Tim’s image. A seventh-grader in upstate New York organized a fundraiser, and someone from the Netherlands sent the group a laptop when its computer died.
“We’ve never met any of these people, and yet they go out of their way to help us,” Elliott says. “We are truly fortunate.”
Read more from Angela Lutz:
About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.