Approaching the patient lying in the hospital bed, I paused. The man laying there bore little resemblance to the man I call my Daddy.

Daddy with CalicoIt was at his feet, when I was a child that the path I now walk formed. I learned, early on through watching him work with the stray cats and kittens at our home, how to love and care for these wonderful cats. While teaching me all he knew about caring for their needs, I am sure Dad had no idea that this schooling would serve me well throughout my life.

 “Calico” his latest rescue, accompanied me inside her carrier. The carrier clutched in my arms for safety’s sake was suspended above the ground. The rehab center often had a plethora of pets running in the halls. Carefully navigating the maze of wheelchairs and people, I could feel Calico moving restlessly inside. Nearing my father’s room, she quieted suddenly, her anxious state abated. Lowering the carrier on to his bed, I sat it near him, she meowed softly. Daddy’s eyes fluttered awake. He saw the carrier and his eyes for the first time in several days focused into reality.

“Mary Anne, You shouldn’t have brought her.” He croaked. He had lost his voice days before. At 93 years old, active and healthy his entire life, he was now dying of leukemia.

“Of course I should have brought her,” I replied. “You both need to say goodbye.”

I opened up the carrier, Calico slowly slipped out of her kitty confinement. My Dad’s thin arm lying outside the blanket welcomed her. She crawled up and settled in the crook of his arm. The smile overcoming Dad’s thin face is a smile I will remember to the end of my days. Peace invaded the room, love reigned. Calico buried her head into my Dad’s neck and licked his ear. She knew without my telling her - this was her kiss goodbye.

I brought her back to the hospital two more times. Three days before Father’s Day, my father passed. The evening of his death, Calico stopped disappearing for days on end; she ceased banging on the vertical blinds in the morning, meowing incessantly throughout the house as she fruitlessly searched. She knew, she accepted, what I cannot even today wrap my head around that my father is gone.

 My Dad’s legacy lives on today with my rescue work. For thirty plus years, I have been rescuing at-risk stray and feral cats. I take the ones who have no hope, are suspected that they might not live, or have been abused and traumatized and considered “lost causes.” I write about my cats, teach others all I can about safely handling and working with strays and I refuse to call any of these wonderful cats “ferals.” Feral has a bad connotation. I say instead, “They are strays with feral tendencies.” Two years ago, I went Non-Profit and formed CATS Inc., (Caring About The Strays). My cage-free sanctuary is located outside of Sweet Home, Oregon. Someone recently asked me how I manage to maintain a quality level of care for the stray cats who share my home. I never think about how to maintain their care. I just provide what they need. So how do I manage?

I rarely shop at malls anymore (an extreme life-style change for this former Southern California girl). My clothes are second-hand thrift store items. Traveling is a rare occurrence. What pet sitter in their right mind would agree to take care of over two dozen socialized stray cats?  The cats who frequent our home have already been abandoned once. Taking a vacation, however much I might need one, feels wrong. It just doesn’t feel right to abandon them for the sake of a few “get-away days.” I do not work outside the home. My husband is disabled. My work is these cats.

Mike is wonderfully patient with the cats and kittens. He is the one who agrees to drive any distance to rescue a cat in need. A man who would sacrifice sleep during kitten season in order for me to catch some zz’s, while he pitches in to bottle feed orphaned kittens. He spent (during an increasingly difficult rescue) over one hour hacking away on a mat that had formed over a feral cat’s rectum preventing elimination, receiving for his efforts a less than fragrant surprise in the end.

We have a few volunteers who help us out when our numbers increase. But, I do the majority of the work, the worrying and the praying. I care, because so many do not. In my area, stray and feral cats are looked at as disposable. They are feared. They become easy targets of abuse and hatred. I step in to let them know that they matter. That someone does care. I leave them alone, only supplying what they need. When they are ready to trust, I stand there waiting with open arms. We are supported by the kindness of strangers. Currently, we are housing 31 cats. Ten of which are motherless kittens. Do you have any idea how much food ten kittens can eat?

It’s a transit station. Many cats arrive here in time just to die in my arms, breaking me apart afterward. But while they are here, they are loved, cared for, vetted and comforted Cats that were near-drowning victims now scared of the dark, sleep in heated cat beds with night lights burning. Sometimes, it is hard to figure out the trauma triggers. But when I do uncover the key to the cat’s behavior, I’ve hit the lottery!

Understanding stray cat behavior becomes crucial to getting along with these beautiful cats. Not expecting anything out of them takes the pressure off the cats. They relax and trust quicker. Mending broken spirits with soft words, setting up a room and implementing a routine so there are no surprises; no expectations on my end, just pure love.

Policies do not guide us here. Love directs us. I am relentless in my questioning potential adopters. Home checks are preformed, references checked. These cats have been through enough. Their reward: A loving home, where all their needs are met. Spaying and neutering prior to adoption is strictly adhered to. If a suitable home isn’t located, they will remain here with us. I reserve the right to re-claim any adopted cat or kitten if they are in danger. For here, they have their own safe world.

Two tunnels lead from the dining room window to the cats’ outside enclosure. The tunnels consist of two seven-foot irrigation culverts extended above the ground a few feet. The enclosure measures 35x18.’  Inside, is a feral cat’s paradise; trees, ramps, elevated posts and jumping platforms, a feeding platform, water fountains, large, plastic kiddy pools turned into kitty litter boxes, cat posts and condos and tunnels exist in their world. They find the freedom they instinctively crave, the exercise they need and warm beds when the weather turns nippy.

Opening up my heart and home to abused and abandoned cats/kittens comes with a price. The price is not always monetary (though my vet might argue with me on that issue!) The price is learning to live and accept the losses, understanding how to cope with seeing first-hand the darkness and ignorance of humanity and not letting the exposure turn my heart into stone.

So how do I manage? I have managed, thanks to the man who I proudly call my Father to keep his love of these cats going within my own heart. I break down the fear barrier and bond with each one who arrives here. They reward me daily by managing to sing me to sleep with their purrs, leap on my back in greeting in the morning, keep me in laughter daily and drive me to tears when I have to say goodbye. This is a price I am willing to pay. For that first headbump, given by a cat that weeks prior would hiss or hide from me in terror puts me on top of the world. And I owe it all to my Dad; Huey Milton Love, and so I say now a big, heartfelt “Thank you Daddy.”

Mary Anne Miller is a freelance writer and member of The Cat Writers’ Association. Her websites include: and Donations always gratefully accepted can be made through Paypal at

To read more of Mary Anne's work click here












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