Spread the Love Y’All

Given that more than 130 cars came through our most recent PetAid event, it’s not surprising that I don’t remember meeting Emily.  That day was a blur of masked faces belonging to pet parents who were having difficulty making ends meet and caretakers who are constantly trying to scratch together enough money to feed as many as 70 homeless cats daily in their spare time. They’d pull up and together with the folks from Regency Relief, we’d load their cars with whatever dog or cat food they needed and because of the generosity of Weruva, that meant caretakers left with trucks and SUVs packed with cases-upon-cases of premium food. 

However, having since met Emily face-to-face, it’s hard to imagine anyone forgetting someone so full of energy and passion for all living things.  It was her Facebook post tagging Soft Side that first caught my attention. It’s long, but it’s worth the read:

My heart is full. When checking out at PetSmart yesterday there was a worn-out looking gentleman in front of me who just looked so tired and beaten down.

I immediately noticed that his cart was about half as full as mine with the SAME brands of cat food. I made a comment about it saying, “looks like your bunch is just as spoiled and well-cared for as mine!” He turned around and told me that he feeds a dozen homeless cats, doesn’t actually have a single cat indoors of his own and that’s he’s been doing so for ten years since he moved into his new place and started seeing them. He said about half are TNR’d. He said he’s on a low-income disability plan and has really been struggling financially as a result of caring for the cats. Has even been having to eat cereal for dinner so that his cats can eat. Bless his heart.

The universe put this man in my journey and on my path in perfect timing. I still happened to have the cases of Weruva food from the Show Your Soft Side free pet food drive in my car from yesterday.

I told the man to stay at the entrance of the store and I’d be right back. I came back bearing several cases of the food to gift to him. The man had tears in his eyes, he kept repeating “God Bless you, nobody has ever treated me so kindly. No one has EVER helped me. I’m at a loss for words. Just as I was feeling as though I’d given up completely on humanity you stepped in and have given me this newfound hope. Thank you so much.”

Spread the love y’all. Please, let’s all continue to spread the love and uplift one another…

After seeing her post, I tagged Chris Hughes at Weruva to let him know how their generosity had paid it forward.  I also messaged Emily that if she had the gentleman’s contact info, Soft Side would gladly help.  I learned the gentleman’s name was Tim and five minutes later, Chris called me. “Weruva will donate a thousand pounds of food if you all can handle transport.”  

Oh Chris, consider it done.

Since April, Weruva has given us over 18,000 pounds (now 19,000 pounds) of food and for transport, we’ve relied on a Board member’s husband and his company, Erosion Control & Geotextile Distributors to get the food from the warehouse on the Eastern Shore to Baltimore.  They’ve eaten the bulk of the expense, but we still had to cover out-of-pocket costs.  With fundraising at a standstill, those outlays were catching up with us. This time, I messaged Ritchie Brooks, dyed-in-the-wool animal advocate and the guy in charge of Teamsters Local 730.  Any chance you know of someone who might help?

My phone rang a nano second later.  “I just talked to Shawn Rafferty at Giant Foods and if you give him time/day/pick up address, they’ll take care of it.”

I should mention, all this took place on a Sunday and two days later, the pallet was in Baltimore and waiting for us on a loading dock at the Giant Food Warehouse.

Our job was to break down the pallet, pack up our cars and head off to deliver to Tim and Emily.  Of course, that day dawned at 90-some degrees and 100% humidity and four of us headed to Giant Foods in a convoy.

Not surprising, there’s a lot of security at an operation this big (just imagine a warehouse facility that stocks stores across the entire Baltimore area), but when the guards at the gatehouse learned why we were there, they were all in.  One hopped in her truck and said follow me.  She led us to a tunnel of tractor trailers and waiting for us at the other end on the loading dock was Shawn Rafferty, Director, Distribution Operations for Giant Foods and Kendra, their Director of HR.

Truly, this was the kind of day where you melt just standing still, but after hearing the story behind the donation, Shawn and Kendra didn’t think twice before launching into action. Both started lifting multiple cases and carrying them to our waiting cars. 

With their help, loading was done in record time and we said our good-byes and headed off to Tim’s. One of us is directionally challenged, but as I was making yet another U-turn and trying to find the address, my phone dinged.

“We’re here and there are kitties everywhere!”

And here I was worried that we might not get to see Tim’s charges. Sure enough, when I pulled up – I saw my colleagues talking to a gentleman on the street and cats peering out from behind every tree.

We soon learned that Tim bought his house 17 years ago and on night one, heard a lot of meowing.  It seemed the property came with its very own colony of homeless kitties.  Over the years, he’s kept them cared for and fed, and TNRed when possible.  Having gone through quintuplet heart bypass surgeries, he’s now retired and living on disability, but that has only increased his love for his colony of 12.

That love was quite obvious to all of us.  While the kitties were wary of us, they had no such compunctions about Tim – or the safety of his house.  Even in this extreme heat, he keeps his front door propped open so they can find refuge if necessary.  A new one had just arrived a few weeks before and taken up residence in a kitty tube on his porch.  The reason soon became clear as she gave birth to three tiny kittens bringing the total number of his colony up to 16.

Here is a man who had never had a cat in his life and now was scrimping in order to care for 16.  To hear him talk about how they’d changed his life did all our hearts good.  Truth is, we could have stayed there and talked all day, but still had to deliver 60-some cases to Emily.

This time, we headed north and arrived at Emily’s while she was still at work.  We knew the food was going in her detached garage so proceeded to unload while being watched by a number of inquisitive eyes.  Kitties were everywhere.  Big ones, little ones, some lounging on garden chairs, others supervising what we were doing. Emily lives down a very private road, facing acres of open fields so a heavenly place to bring kitties that can no longer exist safely on the streets.  By the time she arrived, we had finished unloading and had made the acquaintance of Zeus, a large black kitty who bore the scars of a hard life and was now self-appointed Mayor of the property.

Having now met Emily in person, I can tell you there’s no way anyone could forget her.  She is boundless energy and all of it directed at saving the forgotten and abandoned. 

After getting off work (no big surprise, helping people dealing with addictions) she comes home to feed her own kitties, as well as Zeus and the rest of her rescued colony that now lives on her property.  From there, she heads out to feed seven other colonies and in between it all, delivers food to three more city caretakers who are on disability and don’t drive. 

Think about that for a minute. This is just a normal day in Emily’s life.

After feeling sorry for ourselves over the pandemic, the lockdowns, the inability to do business or live life as usual – meeting Tim and Emily puts it all in perspective.  Here are everyday people doing extraordinary things with no glory, no fanfare and no expectations in return.  They’re taking care of kitties that society has dumped, abandoned or written off as expendable and they’re doing it at great sacrifice to themselves. I know I speak for Chris Hughes, Weruva, Teamsters Local 730 and Giant Foods in saying how grateful we are to be a small part in this process.  Our hope is that maybe, just maybe reading this blog will inspire someone else to, in the words of Emily to “spread the love y’all.”

Our sincerest thanks goes to Weruva, Teamsters Local 730 and Giant Foods for making this effort happen, and to Sid Keiser for documenting it so beautifully in photos.