The CAT RESCUER
BY KERRY FIRTH
At the sound of “roll call,’’ dozens of cats awake from their slumber or cease their play and scamper from all directions for their hand out of treats and affection from Cindy Whistler, owner of Nanny’s Fur Kids Cat Rescue, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. One by one, she addresses each cat by name and strokes it affectionately. The cats lovingly purr and rub against her as if saying thank you.
Most of the cats are housed in large comfortable cages that fill the room like a labyrinth. Others are gleefully cavorting with other felines in communal kennels equipped with climbing trees and resting hammocks. At least a dozen are roaming free, balancing on the tops of cages, greeting visitors and helping create floral arrangements in the back of the shop where Whistler still runs Abagail’s Florist.
It all started about five years ago when Whistler was visiting her mother in Queens, New York. Whistler’s mother begged her daughter to bring one of her cat ‘babies’ so she could hold it and love on it until she passed. Knowing that there might not be enough time for another trip from Florida, Whistler made a promise to her dying mother that she would continue her mission of rescuing unwanted cats and fostering them for as long as it took to adopt them out. As fate would have it, her mother died before she could bring her a cat but she has kept her promise.
“Some people may think I’m crazy,” Whistler said, “but I still communicate with my mother and she told me that in heaven she had a house big enough for all the cats, so when I lose one of mine to just send it up to her. Ever since then, when one of my ‘babies’ dies, I write a note to my mother about him so that when his soul goes to heaven, my mom will know his name and his history.”
Knowing that her deceased rescue is being taken care of by her mother helps Whistler overcome the grief of losing one of her family.
Some of the cats arrive at the shelter injured and traumatized. One came in with 26 stab wounds, another mangled after being used as bait in a dog fighting ring, and she even received one that had been cruelly sexually abused. Most are simply abandoned and discarded like trash on the side of the road or born into the wild to fend for themselves. They come in frightened, hungry and defensive.
“These cats are not used to human contact when they are brought here,” Whistler explained. “They have never been petted or loved and have no idea how to trust. They are more than feral, they are downright mean. But with gentle coaxing and a lot of love, we rehabilitate and socialize them so that they can be adopted into a forever home.
“I didn’t start out as a cat rescue,” Whistler said with a laugh. “I’ve run a successful floral shop for 25 years, but over time people found out that I would take in cats and it just evolved. Now I run the flower shop solely to support all the cats.”
Whistler confided that she spent more than $43,000 last year alone on cat food, vet bills, employees and rent. With no outside funding, these costs have nearly depleted her retirement saving and 401k but it’s her passion. “I literally exist on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so my babies can have a full belly,” she said.
HOW TO HELP
Visit www.nannysfurkids.com. All contributions are tax-deductible and go directly to feeding and care of the cats. Donations of cat food, litter and old towels are greatly appreciated and can be dropped off at the rescue:
6542 NW Selvitz Road (Parkway Plaza) in Port St. Lucie. For further information, call 772.249.4726.
Stretching a dollar is nothing new for Whistler. She grew up dirt poor in Queens, sleeping on newspaper for a bed and using buckets for toilets at times.
“I’m not complaining,” she said. “Adversity has made me what I am today. I remember going to rummage sales and being overjoyed at getting a new pair of hand-me-down shoes. I honestly didn’t know better.”
She married young and raised three children in Queens. While they slowly climbed out of poverty and into a better social economic status, she opened her home to foster children.
“I’ve always had a heart that could stretch as far as it needed to and there was always room for one more,” Whistler explained. “I felt that if I could just give these children a start in life and the love they didn’t have, that it would affect them for the rest of their lives.”
Whistler estimates that nearly 500 foster children came through her house over the years, ranging in age from infants to teenagers. One teenager that came to her pregnant, ended up living with her family for eight years and birthed two children under her care.
“I still keep in touch with those I can,” she said. “But by now they’ve grown and moved on and I’ve relocated to Florida so it’s difficult. I will never forget a single one and they are forever in my heart.”
Now that her own children are grown and busy with lives of their own, Whistler shares her home with her husband and 14 cats. “My husband has Alzheimer’s now,” she said as she stroked a cat perched on her desk. “I get up early to feed and care for him and once he’s settled I come over to the shop to take care of all my babies. When they’re cared for, I go back home and make dinner for him and get him to bed. I think I was born to be a caretaker.”
Whistler employs four cat-loving employees to help her at the rescue and a florist to keep the flower shop business. A couple of volunteers come in a few days a week to get their fix of cat purring and rubbing. “I invite anyone who is having a bad day or is in need of a little loving, to come in and play with these kitties. They are sure to bring a smile to your face.”
There is never an adoption fee at Nanny’s Fur Kids Cat Rescue. “Our ultimate goal is to find these cats a forever home and I don’t see any reason to deny anyone ownership because of their financial status,” she explained. “A cat may be just the right prescription to help someone climb out of depression or overcome an illness. All of our babies are spayed, neutered and up to date with vaccines, so the big vet bills are already covered.” She does stipulate, however, that if an adoptee doesn’t work out for any reason that it be returned to her and she will care for it.
If you’d like to help Whistler help these discarded kitties, she has set up a website listing ways you can help.
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Family: Husband and three children
Education: School of hard knocks
Hobbies: “I just love my furry kids so I’ve made my hobby collecting unwanted cats.”
What inspired me: “Animals are so innocent and pure. They are my biggest inspiration. But I am also inspired by anyone who opens their hearts to help others and those who follow their dreams regardless of what others think.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “Before I moved to Florida I fostered hundreds of children in Queens, New York.”