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It Takes a Network

Best Friends Animal Society
Best Friends Network - Arizona

April 25, 2008

“I wanted to go to an adoption center and let the cat pick me,” recalls Margee Laubenthal. “I didn’t want to pick a cat from a picture, but I saw a picture of Merit and could not get him out of my mind.” For Laubenthal, it was time—finally—to get a cat. She’d had cats in the past, and now that she was moving into a larger place, she was once again in a position to adopt. The only problem was that Merit, the handsome Maine Coon that won her heart, had come along a little too soon—Laubenthal was still in the process of moving. “By the time I’m ready,” she worried, “he’s not going to be available—he’ll be gone.”

But Merit wasn’t gone. In fact, he showed up again, this time on the Arizona Maine Coon Cat Rescue website. And this time he had company: Pepper. The two had come to Phoenix together, along with 73 other Pahrump Cats (including Flora), as part of the “Best Friends Across America” event in January.

Alyssa Fallert, Co-Director of Arizona Maine Coon Cat Rescue, had heard about Merit and Pepper from Elaine Lyford-Nojima, Director of Maine Coon Adoptions, in San Jose, California. Lyford-Nojima was in Pahrump in December, doing volunteer work and scouting for cats to take back to the Bay Area with her. She was also getting the word out to other Maine Coon rescue organizations. Among those she contacted was Fallert, who was familiar with The Great Kitty Rescue and eager to help.

First stop for the boys was a Scottsdale pet hotel, while arrangements were made with foster mom Kati Koktavy. “They were almost acting like they were feral cats at that point,” recalls Fallert of her first visit with the cats. All that was about to change, however.

First, Gilla Gidlow paid the cats a visit. She probably knew Merit and Pepper better than anybody else did, from all her time volunteering at the Pahrump facility. And it didn’t take long for her affection to get the cats settled down and—eventually—even purring. It turns out all their protests were just for show.

“We are really thankful to have her insights,” says Fallert of Gidlow’s involvement, “having seen them up at the shelter and everything. It was really nice to have her input—that was great.”

The next stop for Merit and Pepper was Koktavy’s cat-friendly guesthouse. An experienced foster mom (in addition to her work with cats, she also works with retriever and pug rescues), Koktavy had impressed Fallert in the past. “Kati is awesome,” she says. “If they didn’t do well with Kati, they wouldn’t do well with anybody. She knows what she’s doing and she understands the fear and trauma they’ve been through, too.” She also saw right through all the cats’ posturing. “I have never seen two cats carry on as much as they did,” she says, “but they never ever, ever, ever tried to take a swipe at you, or bite you, or anything. They just made a lot of noise.”

Although Pepper was slower in coming around, Merit wasted little time. “After about five days,” says Koktavy, “he just started purring like crazy. Every time you’d go and pet him, yeah, he’d growl and hiss a little bit, but then he’d turn around, and he’d purr until he just drooled. He absolutely loved it. He’d lean in, and actually would roll over on his back and let me rub his stomach.”

Still, not everybody has the sensitivity and patience of Gidlow and Koktavy. “I thought I was going to have these two forever,” says Koktavy of Merit and Pepper. There was a lot of interest in the pair, but clearly it was going to take the right person to give them the home they needed.

“I believe in full disclosure as a foster person,” says Koktavy. “Because, number one, you want the animals to go to the best possible home, and with rescues there’s almost always some kind of baggage. And you want to make people understand what they’re getting into when they take something like that on.”

Laubenthal, it seemed, was willing to take on Merit and Pepper. And then, just days before they were scheduled to move in, Laubenthal lost her job. What had looked like perfect timing was suddenly anything but perfect, and she was having second thoughts. Her granddaughter, says Laubenthal, had other ideas. “But Grandma, those kitties need you,” she argued. Laubenthal agreed. She also knew how much she needed the cats—maybe now more than ever.

Three weeks later, things are looking up for Laubenthal. The phone is ringing steadily with potential job offers, for one thing. And Merit and Pepper finally have the quiet home Fallert had hoped for. And they’re together, which was something else Fallert was concerned about. “We really wanted to send them together,” she says. “They’ve been together through so much.” According to Laubenthal, the boys have developed a very strong bond with each other. “They almost knock each other over with the head-butting”, she says.

And—slowly, of course—they are developing a bond with Laubenthal. “I just have to be very, very, very patient,” she says. Clearly, her patience is paying off, as the cats are becoming more comfortable in their new surroundings. Merit has even begun to play a little. Pepper, generally the more cautious of the two, is probably not far behind. Especially once they figure out how spoiled they’re going to be. “I’m just thrilled with them,” says Laubenthal. “I couldn’t be happier that I have them—I just totally love them.”

Getting Merit and Pepper into their forever home took months. Several people were involved, each contributing what they could, when they could. Phone calls were made, e-mails were sent, transportation was arranged—and each step of the way, somebody was there for the cats. “It was crazy,” says Fallert. “It’s like it was meant to be.” Margee Laubenthal calls it “kind of a miracle that it worked out the way it did.”

Crazy? Meant to be? A miracle? Who can say? It could just be the Best Friends network in action.

Best Friends Animal Society

Arizona Maine Coon Cat Rescue

Maine Coon Cat Adoptions

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© 2008 peter j. wolf