Maybe you’ve seen those videos of our Animal Rescue Team saving animals from hurricanes, floods and large-scale neglect situations. 

We HSUS staffers who toil in front of computer screens and aren’t directly involved in rescues have seen those videos too. And sometimes we feel a little left out and wish we could do more.  

But when word went out last year that the HSUS needed foster homes for cats seized from two properties in western Pennsylvania, more than a dozen staffers jumped at the chance to get directly involved with rescued animals (and nine of them wound up adopting their new feline friends). 

In our biggest time of need, HSUS staff blew us away by opening up their hearts and homes by fostering and adopting some of our friends.

Shalimar Oliver, THE HSUS

It all started in October 2019, when HSUS rescuers and local law enforcement and humane officials saved 184 cats, three dogs, two mice and 18 chickens from overcrowded, deplorable conditions. The animals spent several months receiving medical care and TLC in a temporary shelter as the court case played out. The rescue team issued the call for foster volunteers shortly after COVID-19 shutdowns began in 2020.

“In our biggest time of need, HSUS staff blew us away by opening up their hearts and homes,” says Shalimar Oliver, animal crimes manager for the HSUS. “There are no words for how grateful we are to them.”

A kitty is fed treats from rescuer Jenn Cherry.
A kitty gets attention —and treats—from rescuer Jenn Cherry at the temporary shelter.
Kevin Wolf
AP Images for the HSUS
Ear-tipped cat sitting on a soft chair.
Mattie enjoys soft spots to sit and nap in her new home.
Kelly L. Williams

Meet the parents

Editorial manager Kelly L. Williams says she’s “always been a dog person” who was cautious around cats, finding them enigmatic and unpredictable. But the pandemic gave Williams and her husband, Steven Yenzer, a perfect opportunity to see if a trial foster cat could coexist with their two dogs.

Enter Mattie. 

Rescuer Jenn Cherry noticed during the seizure that Mattie was a bit older than the other cats and had an ear tip, indicating she likely had been a community cat at some point. “When the opportunity for HSUS staff to foster cats came up, I asked that Mattie be on the list due to her age,” Cherry says, adding that she thought Mattie would benefit from the comforts of a home. (Cherry, who describes herself as a “total cat person,” couldn’t resist fostering and adopting Dula, a Chihuahua from the case.) 

Mattie soon won Williams over. “She has this appearance that looks like she’s displeased or angry or something, but she’s just incredibly sweet underneath it, which I find very endearing,” Williams says. “She warmed up to me, and I to her, very quickly.”

Conflicts with the resident dogs didn’t materialize; wary of the occasional swipe, they tend to give Mattie a wide berth. When Mattie became legally available for placement in January 2021, Williams and Yenzer made her a permanent member of the family. 

Welcoming Mattie into her home has given Williams a new perspective on animal rescue work. Over the years she has often gotten emotional watching our rescue videos, but seeing a photo of Mattie at the squalid Pennsylvania property was even more of a gut punch. 

A black cat playing with a paper grocery bag
Fauci models a “cape” created after he jumped into—and crashed out of—a paper grocery bag.
Karissa Dysart

“It was a different level of a guttural, visceral reaction—just like, ‘Oh, I know that cat. I know what she likes to do: She likes to run around the house really fast after she uses the litter box, but here she is in a cage with another cat, and it’s messy and dirty, and she can’t run around that cage at all. She can’t flop over and get pets on her belly,’ ” Williams says. “It brings it home in a different way.”

Other HSUS staffers who fostered and adopted cats include legislative counsel Jimmy Metcalf, who calls the new addition “totally a COVID baby.” The cat had been christened Peter at the temporary shelter, but Metcalf and his girlfriend, Karissa Dysart, renamed him Fauci in honor of their pandemic hero, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. 

Fauci (the cat), who’s about 2 years old, has proved to be a high-energy distraction for the couple as they work from home. His favorite activities include playing fetch with zip ties and jumping into his humans’ arms while they’re standing. He also likes to be carried around the house, stretched out upside down in a “cat yoga pose,” Metcalf says. Fauci even swats at the pull strings on light fixtures, which Metcalf concedes is “something I probably should not have taught him to do.”    

HSUS senior staff attorney Rebecca Cary, who already had two cats with special needs in a one-bedroom condo, hesitated to bring another cat into her limited space. But she knew the Pennsylvania cats were coming from a “really egregious, heartbreaking situation,” and she felt a deep pull to help. After deciding the “my place is too small” argument wasn’t compelling enough, she welcomed foster cat Grady. 

If you foster fail by adopting, that’s still a love win.

Rebecca Cary, THE HSUS

White cat sitting on a table
Grady poses on a table.
Rebecca Cary

The transition was a bit bumpy, Cary says. Her resident cats were initially hostile to the newcomer, but Grady didn’t reciprocate. “Grady very much from the get-go made clear that he just wants to be loved, and he was willing to let the other two cats take their time with that,” Cary says. “He is one of the calmest, most chill cats I’ve ever met, which is amazing, quite frankly, given the situation he came from.”

Over time, Grady endeared himself to Cary’s other cats. By the time Grady was available for adoption, “I just couldn’t imagine life without him anymore,” Cary says. “He’s been my constant COVID companion throughout this year.”

While Cary loves working on litigation for the HSUS, she notes that her work in the court system can feel technical and far removed from the animals. She welcomed the chance to get a small taste of direct care work.

“I was surprised how much more space there was, physically and emotionally, for one more cat in my house and in my life,” Cary says. Fostering rescued animals can be challenging, she says, but it’s always rewarding. 

“If you foster fail by adopting,” she adds, “that’s still a love win.”

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