I recently learned that a remarkable advocate for cats and animals had passed on. Vivian was far too young to die, and she was one of those people with such energy and passion that you thought she would never die. When I learned of her passing, my heart sank a bit. When a bright person like this leaves the world, it’s hard not to think that the world has gotten a little dimmer. But maybe Vivian’s passing made the world a little brighter — because we can realize the impact she made, and we can carry it forward. I know she impacted me.
I met Vivian when she was a staffer at the Mesabi Humane Society in Minnesota and I was a volunteer. Vivian was super busy, and like many shelter employees, had way too much to do in too little time. But she always had time to talk to me, and she always had time to give love and attention to the animals. The shelter is small, with as much room allocated to the animals as possible.
When Vivian finally did get a badly needed office for her administrative duties, she often shared it with an animal or several animals during the day, to get them out of their cages and give them some love and interaction. I remember being in the office with Vivian, as we cared for and petted a senior female black cat named Licorice, who had been in the shelter for quite a while and had a slim chance of being adopted. Vivian fed Licorice bits of a sandwich. I wanted Licorice and came close to taking her home, but very shortly after, Licorice died from issues related to cancer.
Vivian oversaw several of my cat adoptions from the Mesabi Humane Society, and it moved me that she remembered all these cats in great detail, many years later. Vivian had a real soft spot for special needs animals. When I adopted Kali (my tripod) years ago, Vivian was overjoyed that Kali was going to her furrever home, since Kali had been passed over by people fearing “big vet bills.” I stopped volunteering at the Humane Society for a few years, but I’d occasionally run into Vivian in town, or if I stopped by the shelter. She helped me adopt Target and Rama, my two black cats. I shared photos of how my cats were doing at home, and I remember Vivian crying a bit and being happy that the cats looked so well and content.
Vivian had medical issues herself and retired in 2009, planning to take some time for herself and attend to her big animal family at home. But within 12 hours of retiring, she was offered a position she couldn’t refuse at a nearby veterinary clinic. Vivian was an mixture of high energy, down-to-Earth practicality, and compassion. She was a hard worker and I can understand why the veterinary clinic reached out. She took the job.
Mesabi Humane Society staff said that Vivian was an extraordinarily hard worker, and ran a tight ship. She would often come in on holidays and work for the entire day, rather than taking time at home, so that the animals in the shelter could get additional attention and love.
I spoke to Vivian’s daughter, LuAnn (who also remembered my cat Target). LuAnn said that Vivian’s love of animals came from Vivian’s mom, who is in her 80s and entirely devoted to animals. Vivian’s mom uses a mechanical walker, and once stood for an hour so that one of Vivian’s cats, who loved the walker seat, could sit on the walker.
Vivian had 14 animals, including nine cats, at most in her household at any time. She rescued and kept injured animals and cats that had little chance of being adopted — cats with bad backs or missing eyes, missing limbs, or other injuries or ailments. LuAnn said Vivian was a stickler for cleanliness and kept the house super clean, even with many animals. Vivian had a real soft spot for cats, and felt like the purr was a lullaby. Vivian especially admired the way of a cat and how you had to earn a cat’s love and affection.
A few months before Vivian passed, I had just done a book signing in a nearby town. After the signing, I walked to the post office in the town to mail some review copies, and ran into Vivian, who I had not seen in years. She remembered me. I showed her the pictures of my cats in the book, including Kali (who had just passed on). We had a bittersweet but happy cry there in the post office — happy with love for these animals that we care about, and sad, of course, at a recent passing.
Vivian wanted a copy of my book and I dropped it off for her at the vet clinic the next time I was driving through that town. A month later, she died. I learned of it a few weeks ago, and I still can’t believe it.
People like Vivian are an inspiration. We can all make a difference, whether we’re only able to give one cat a home, or foster several, or care for a feral colony, or spread the word about kindness and humane behavior toward animals, or advocate for spay and neuter. We all have a way, and a path. There are a few people in my life who are bright lights and “mentors” even though they may never know it — Vivian is one.
Who inspires you? Who has been a bright light in your life for you and your cats? Let us know in the comments.
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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of a short story collection about people and place. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.