Marc-André 8 – 10 minutes
Grab some tissue because the ARM & HAMMER™ Feline Generous program just announced the winners of the ‘Unsung Heroes’ Awards and shared several inspiring stories of staff and volunteers who go above and beyond to care for purrfectly impurrfect cats at cat welfare organizations.
As for prizes, a total of $30,000 will be donated to the winning shelters, plus each unsung hero will receive a year’s supply of ARM & HAMMER™ cat litter. The campaign ran from October 29 – November 20, 2021 and brought in nearly 4,500 nominations from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Alaska.
“Purrfectly impurrfect cats are often overlooked for adoption due to their age, illness, appearance or misunderstood personalities so the Unsung Heroes Awards were designed to honor the staff and volunteers at shelters who work behind the scenes performing miracles to make sure these cats have their physical, medical and emotional needs met,” said Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant. “My fellow expert judges and I had the impossible task of selecting the winners from the thousands of wonderful nominations and we’re proud to share the incredible stories of our unsung heroes.”
Here are the 2021 Unsung Heroes Awards winners.
AdvoCAT of the Year Award (Prize: $15,000)—A staff or volunteer who exemplified BOTH compassion and creativity towards purrfectly impurrfect shelter cats and served as an outstanding advoCAT for this cause beyond their shelter.
Winner: Kris Kaiser
Shelter: Bitty Kitty Brigade
Location: Maple Grove, MN
“Kris fosters disabled kittens, many of whom have moderate to severe cerebellar hypoplasia (aka CH, and aka wobbly kitten syndrome). She doesn’t just take care of disabled cats, but she helps them thrive and live their very best lives. Specifically, she has been fostering a disabled cat named Snapple. He has CH and other neurological and physical disorders. His front paws are bent and have limited movement, so he is unable to walk without assistance. His CH has his head wobbling the majority of the time, so eating can be very difficult. Her creativity in helping him overcome his walking and eating challenges are stellar: She got him a cart to allow him to move around more independently and build strength in his back legs. In his cart, he runs around like a sweet little rocket. Aside from the cart, he is sometimes carried in a comfortable sling on Kris’s chest or belly, so Kris can get work done while keeping Snapple engaged and monitored.
She also created some imaginative eating set-ups for Snapple and other severely wobbly cats to help them eat: the set-up is much like a small horse stable or corral, with walls to keep the cats from falling side to side, and also some padding up front to steady their heads and keep them from face-planting in their food. She keeps some wonderful Instagram accounts (@tuxonwheels) to document the progress of specific foster cats, highlighting the importance of caring for and loving disabled cats, and teaching her followers how to creatively support such kitties. She is making it more attainable for disabled cats to find loving homes by destigmatizing and demystifying what their lives are like. As a pet parent to a mildly CH cat myself, I am in awe of her epic compassion and creativity.”
Compassion Award (Prize: $7,500)—A staff or volunteer who showed tenderness, patience and extra care to purrfectly impurrfect cats to make sure they received specialized comfort and attention.
Winner: Erin Insinga
Shelter: Delaware Valley Humane Society
Location: Sidney, NY
“91 cats and kittens were in an abandoned trailer. Erin, the manager of DVHS, got the call and brought together two other shelters to help since DVHS is a small shelter in upstate New York and did not have the capacity to take in all the cats. These cats were sick, pregnant and scared. They had many health issues like upper respiratory and neurological problems, since they were inbred. Overwhelmed with grief for these poor cats, Erin did what she does best for them. She pampered the sick ones that would probably not survive. She held them dearly and spoke to them telling them that she would not leave their side. Many of the females had kittens shortly after arriving, and the mothers did not survive. Erin found nursing moms within her own shelter and through her Facebook page to give the kittens a chance. I watched Erin resuscitate kittens that were just born and never give up. The 91 cats were saved because of her efforts. The ones that lived were vetted, spayed and neutered and adopted.
There is also the story of Joe, an adult tomcat found by a woman on the side of the road hit by a car. She called Erin and brought that cat to DVHS. Paralyzed from his abdomen down to his legs and unable to walk. Joe was examined and the vet told Erin, if you work with him he will probably walk again. The staff and Erin, massaged him, wiped his butt and gave him free rein of the corridor. After three weeks Joe started wobbling. Then began walking like a pro. He was adopted by a local business and is the store mascot. Erin saves so many cats from horrific conditions and nurtures them until they are ready to find forever homes.”
Creativity (Prize: $7,500)—A staff or volunteer who executed the most creative solution to comfort a purrfectly impurrfect shelter cat or to find them a forever home.
Winner: Ashley Mazrin
Shelter: Cats League & Assistance of the Western Slope
Location: Grand Junction, CO
“Ashley is one of those people with a special touch that catches and socializes feral cats to make them adoptable. She builds trust in the cat by being patient and caring. She is creative in finding new ways to communicate and reach these cats. She creates interactive games with the cats using toys or creating ramps/devices to assist the cats in becoming comfortable with staff. In the wobble baby room, she has helped to make it a safe environment that allows the cats to be free from injury but then takes them out on supervised runs through the shelter to ensure they are stimulated and active. The cats really seem to enjoy seeing other cats and areas of the building that they would not normally see due to their disability.
Ashley has a special bond with several of the special needs cats, but Reed is unique. Due to a severe injury, his back legs were removed. Every day he needs to have his bladder expressed and requires special bathing and play interaction. Ashley provides him with social interaction and physical therapy. He will have to live out his life at the shelter, but he knows he is loved and cared for on a daily basis. When there was a special needs transfer out of state, Ashley and her family made the trip out of her time and pocket to get the cat the care they needed. Ashley is a paid worker, but spends way more time than she could ever be paid for by taking cats home that need special care, coming in whenever needed and dropping things just to help out. Ashley has helped design and manage events to help raise funds and find new ways to help the cats and the clinic. Ashley also dedicates her free time outside of working at the shelter and helping cats in the community.”
“The ARM & HAMMER™ Feline Generous program is thrilled to congratulate all our 2021 Unsung Heroes Award recipients,” said Rebecca Blank, Group Brand Manager, ARM & HAMMER™ Pet Care. “The work that they each do day in and day out takes dedication, compassion, creativity and a huge advocat heart. With the enormous response we received in nominations we’ve decided to name four additional Honorable Mentions and each recipient will receive a year’s supply of ARM & HAMMER™ cat litter as well.”
2021 Unsung Heroes Awards Honorable Mentions
- Scott Person, The Cattery in Corpis Christi, TX
- Jean Craig, Wee3Beasties in New Prague, MN
- Shannon Basner, Mojos Hope in Anchorage, AK
- Arlene Atkins, Barn Cat Buddies in Frederick, MD