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Friday, May 02, 2008

Play Misty for Me

The nationally syndicated comic strip MUTTS is read in more than 700 newspapers, and fans know that artist Patrick McDonnell turns his attention not only to humor, but also to the cruelties and challenges that face animals. He regularly features the stories of animals in shelters, and his new hardcover book, “Shelter Stories: Love. Guaranteed.,” celebrates these pets and the people who’ve rescued them.

Pow_img_080504_misty The two cats who’ve shared my life for fourteen years, Georgia and Oliver, didn’t come from a shelter, but they were rescued from the mean streets of suburban Washington, D.C. When I was married years later, our blended family included two more cats, Mario and Misty, both of whom my wife, Grace, had adopted from a local animal shelter. I’m proud to say that Misty’s photo was chosen from among thousands of entries to appear in “Shelter Stories” with 70 candid photos of adopted cats, dogs, bunnies, guinea pigs, ferrets, birds, and other pets.

Every adopted animal has a story to tell, but Misty’s story, as told to me by Grace, is especially touching. In 1994, a woman drove down a busy road in Arlington, Va., and glanced at what she initially thought was a splash of black paint against the curb. Then she noticed the paint splash had two pointy ears. An animal lover, she pulled over, backtracked, and discovered a very small, terrified, black, female kitty cowering against the curb, trying to make herself as small as possible.

The Good Samaritan scooped up the cat and promptly took her to the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which was just down the road. The whole way there, the kitty stayed balled up against the woman’s chest, shaking slightly. The folks at AWLA took the kitty in and gave her an initial exam. She was running a fever and was still terrified, but otherwise appeared to be healthy. She was slightly underweight, but the shorter fur around her neck indicated that she used to have a collar and was probably, until recently, someone’s pet and had not been outside for very long. It was hard to tell her age because of her small size, but they guessed she was around three years old. She was put up for adoption at the shelter.

Grace heard the story from Sara Amundson, now executive director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, who knew the cat’s rescuer. Her heart went out to the poor kitty, so scared and abandoned, trying to squeeze herself safely out of traffic, and she had to meet her. She visited the shelter that weekend, and the kitty did not initially put her best face forward, instead cowering and balling herself up. When Grace held her in the visiting room, the cat went limp and just looked so defeated. But gradually the kitty started to respond and purr, and Grace knew she had to take the black cat home.

She couldn’t leave the shelter, though, without visiting all the other cats, and she ended up adopting another one, too—an energetic, six-month-old, male, grey tabby (who was known as “Taz” at the shelter, short for Tasmanian Devil). Grace thought the extroverted grey kitty would help the introverted black kitty come out of her shell. A good plan, in theory, but it was not as simple as that. Cats are complex and have their own views of the world. But, eventually, they struck some kind of kitty peace treaty and embarked on a long journey of ignoring each other.

Shelter_stories Taz was renamed Mario, and the black kitty was named Misty. Ironically, Misty’s appearance in “Shelter Stories” is not her first brush with comic strip fame. Her name is short for “Mister Peterson,” a stick-kitty character in a comic strip called “Jim’s Journal.” Misty is still pretty shy, and she hasn’t really warmed up to anyone except Grace. She tolerates me from time to time, when I am closest to the kitchen and can give her corn or green beans.

Misty is one of a kind, and she found her person—but there are millions like her waiting for love at animal shelters across the country. Pick up a copy of “Shelter Stories” and celebrate the lucky animals who’ve been given a second chance. And support your local animal shelter, where the caring workers, rescuers, and volunteers are saving all the Mistys of the world. One of them might just be waiting for you.

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