Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Mozart, one of my cats, loves Dozer, a foster dog we've been caring for. Mozart follows Dozer around, giving him love bites, rubbing against him and standing on his hind legs to give him hugs. It's not uncommon for animals to form close bonds with different species. In 1998, a dog named Ginny was honored as “Cat of the Year” by the Westchester Feline Club, sponsor of the annual Westchester Cat Show, because of an extraordinary desire she had to rescue stray cats in desperate need of help.
Ginny and her three pups were discovered locked inside the closet of an abandoned apartment. She and her pups were taken to a shelter, but when vets saw her, they were afraid she was too far gone to be saved. They concluded it would be kinder to put her down. But something made them change their mind, and they decided she should be given a chance to recover, and did what they could to help her. Ginny did recover, and she and her pups were put up for adoption.
Philip Gonzalez had been wrestling with depression after he was injured on the job while working as a steamfitter in Manhattan. His right arm had been severely injured in the accident and he could barely use it. A determined neighbor told Gonzalez he should adopt a dog from the local shelter. He finally gave in and agreed. As they looked over the dogs at the shelter, a purebred Doberman caught Gonzalez's eye. But instead of pulling the Doberman out for Gonzalez to take out for a walk, a shelter employee handed him a leash attached to Ginny, a two year old Siberian Husky/Schnauzer mix, and invited him to walk her first.
Gonzalez wasn't happy; he wanted the Doberman, not some scruffy looking mixed breed, but he did what the worker asked. He tried to hurry Ginny along so he could get back to the Doberman. Now, you can call it fate or something else, but Ginny wasn't going to be rushed. She sat down in front of Gonzalez and refused to move. Sometimes it's the dog that picks us. As he stood looking down into her eyes, something tugged at his heart and he forgot about the Doberman. He walked out of the shelter with Ginny. Gonzalez didn't know at the time how that little dog would change his life, and the lives of countless homeless cats.
It wasn't long, however, before Gonzalez discovered that Ginny had a unique ability to find stray and feral cats in peril. Three days after he brought her home, Ginny suddenly darted down an ally to rescue a kitten being abused by some men. She had a remarkable instinct to locate injured, sick and disabled cats living in feral colonies, in abandoned buildings, alleys and around construction sites. She could locate kittens and cats trapped in drain pipes, dumpsters, glove compartments in cars, and in hard to find places. She even dug through a pile of broken glass, ignoring her cut and bleeding paws to reach a kitten trapped under the glass. An astounded vet said the injured kitten would have died if Ginny hadn't found her.
The cats Ginny searched for, and found, were trapped in life and death struggles, and she was the only one who heard their cries for help. She led Gonzalez to them so he could rescue them, and he followed Ginny as she searched for cats in need.
Cats living in feral colonies are skittish. They don't give their trust to a human feeding them let alone a dog. The amazing thing about Ginny was her uncanny ability to instill calm and trust in a colony as she searched out the cats that needed medical attention for one reason or another. The cats acted like they knew her, and showed no signs of fear. Ginny sought out cats that were sick or injured, blind, deaf or had other disabilities. Somehow, she knew if they weren't found, they would die.
No one really knows why or how Ginny was able to locate cats in peril. Animal behaviorists believe it's possible her maternal instinct was overactive, and that's how she was able to create trust among the cats. Maybe it was because Ginny had been a stray herself, trapped in an abandoned apartment building trying to feed three hungry pups while she was starving. Gonzalez put it more simply as “her radar of the heart.”
Gonzalez estimates he and Ginny rescued 900 to 1,000 lost and feral cats, many of them disabled or close to death. That's why Ginny was honored by the Westchester Feline Club as their pick for Cat of the Year in 1998. She risked her life at times to locate kittens and cats in dangerous situations.
Angels come in many shapes and sizes. Philip Gonzalez adopted Ginny in 1990 and found his calling because of her, and she saved stray and feral cats that society had turned its back on. Ginny did what she did on her own and without any training. She died August 25, 2005 at the age of 17.
Read more articles by Linda Cole