The Kindness of Strangers


Photo of author

By Karen Harrison Binette

A special needs kitty was rescued from certain death at a shelter; then, in a remarkable journey, she was transported over 1000 miles to her new home, thanks to a network of dedicated women. A writer and friend of the new petmom observed the heartwarming effort from start to finish and tells the tale.

Guest post by Colleen Fishter.

Wednesday morning I was sitting at my desk in my office at work. And I was crying. Never in my life have I been more overwhelmed by the kindness of complete strangers. And why this great show of emotion? It’s all because of a 2.5 pound disabled kitten who needed to get to her new mommy. And the angels who got her there.

This girl was found Wednesday, November 2 trying to survive on the streets and was taken to the local shelter. There, Debbie Musil immediately recognized this kitten’s strong spirit and will to live. But the truly amazing thing about her was that despite her rough start in life, this little girl still found the desire to love and be loved. She purred up a storm. And Debbie made the call. Angel.

And you know [Ed: or may have guessed if you are part of a certain online community] who was on the other end of the communication… Wendy Michelle Matthews. We’re all familiar with the stories of Willow and Adlai Grace and their precious mommy. Having just created the Adlai Grace Foundation, Wendy decided to follow her heart yet again and agreed to take on another incontinent kitty with paralyzed back legs, just weeks after losing her precious Adi. As her friend, I asked if she was ready for this. So soon? But Wendy was born to take care of these babies. She said, “I have known myself for a long time… and I have learned that I am the person who jumps in front of the bullet. It hurts. I bleed. I scream. I complain. But I always end up getting back up again and doing the same thing. I know I need to bring more shallow things in to my life to balance out the dark, sad stuff… I need to work on that… but I will continually gravitate to the hurting, to the suffering, to the underdogs in this world.” How can you argue with that?

There was one challenge however. And it was a big one. Little Miss Sunshine, as she was being called due to her sunny disposition, was in Granbury, TX. Wendy is in Mancelona, MI. That’s over 1,330 miles worth of a dilemma. Worry only occupied about 10 minutes. And then, the angels began coming to the rescue. Messages began flying across Facebook pages and plans were taking shape.

And so, the journey began. First, Nancy Degenkolb stepped up and pulled this little dear from the shelter the evening of Thursday, November 3. Once safe from the certain death she would have found, Nancy offered to foster Sunny at her home. She immediately realized what a precious soul she had in her midst. “She weighs less than 2.5 pounds, paralyzed back legs but once she found the staircase, she went up and down repeatedly. She didn’t want to pose for photos, so she kept jumping off of the platform that is about 2.5 feet high. The girl is fearless and doesn’t realize she is ‘special,’” Nancy said. Angel.

But then we realized Nancy had another commitment. She had to go out of town in just a few days. Now, the pressure was on. As messages again began to fly back and forth, thousands of people discussed who could drive how far and when. At the same time, others were emailing all kinds of organizations to see if flights or transport could be arranged. Meanwhile, Wendy was talking with commercial airlines. She had almost decided to fly Sunny up to her… and then, Jack died. If American Airlines could lose one cat, they could lose another. There was no way Wendy was taking a chance.

And that’s when the second miracle occurred. A woman named Faye Wilson Medley stepped up and offered to use her personal airline miles to pick up Little Miss Sunshine and fly with her to Michigan. Wow! But that’s not the half of it. I wrongly assumed she lived in Texas. Nope. Faye lives in Tennessee. Yes, this woman agreed to fly from Tennessee to Texas to Michigan and back to Tennessee for a cat she would never hold again and a woman she had never met. Angel.

This all happened so quickly, the next challenge was to get a hold of Nancy and let her know the flights were set up and she’d need to get Sunny to the airport the next morning to meet Faye. But Nancy had to work. So up stepped yet another miracle-maker named Karen Starr-Dellolacono, who agreed to pick Sunny up from Nancy and meet Faye at her hotel. Plans were made, and the next morning the two woman were happily taking pictures of the beginning of the journey while they worked to get Sunny accustomed to her diapers. Angel.

By the time Eliana made it home, she was getting quite used to those diapers.

And before long, Faye and Sunny were in the air, flying toward home. Two stops were planned on this long travel day on Tuesday November 8. It was going beautifully. And then, it all fell apart. Because of heavy cloud cover, the last leg of the trip from Chicago, IL to Traverse City, MI was redirected to Green Bay, WI. The flight back out was not scheduled until morning. So Faye and Little Miss were put up in a hotel by the airline, and Wendy drove all the way back home without her baby.

In the morning we were all greeted by a message from the tiny girl herself. She said, “Good Morning Willow, Mommy and friends! I is leaving on a jet plane! I hope. I made sure Miss Faye got up nice and early by giving her kitty kisses… in the ear and in the nose. I slept with one paw curled under her chin, another touching her face with my chin resting on her face. How’s that for a thank you? I’m a little sleepy now and Miss Faye has ate a healthy breakfast and we are ready to go catch the shuttle. Sadly, Miss Faye woke up with the realization that she probably won’t get to meet you, Willow because of her flight out and she’s not too happy about that, but I will give you lots of love for her. Paws in prayer that we get into Traverse City this morning. Yay!” You could almost hear the collective “awww” from all over the world.

The plane took off at 7 am as scheduled the morning of Wednesday November 9 and we breathed a sigh of relief that very soon this trip would be over. But it was far from over. The plane was diverted to Detroit, MI, which is a good four or five hours from Mancelona. But wait, then it was going to be diverted to Chicago, IL? Yes, it ended up landing back in Chicago, IL, which is where they started the previous night! Heartbroken, Wendy again drove home alone from the airport in Traverse City.

The first order of business was to figure out what to do with Little Miss, who was stuck in Chicago with Faye, who was to be on plane home at 4 pm? The airline talked to Wendy and offered to hold Sunny overnight and fly her in cargo Thursday morning. Uhhh no, we don’t think so!

So the next thing you know, a miracle named Gina O’Connor, a vet tech who lives in Chicago, offered to pick up Little Miss and keep her until new travel plans could be arranged. We started questioning why so many delays and reroutes and challenges were happening? But then, the answer? “On the way to O’Hare airport, right before the exit, there is a road. That road is called Willow Road. I think this was all supposed to happen this way… the roads lead to Willow,” Gina said. Angel.

Eliana was very cozy in her travel bag as she rode those final miles to her Mommy.

But we still had to get Sunny from Chicago to Mancelona. Sherri Howell finally got the nod to pick the kitten up the next morning and deliver her to Wendy. I watched Sherri posting her desire to drive all afternoon on all the Facebook walls and it brought tears to my eyes. This woman so wanted to help. And she did. She took the final leg.

So, how does the story end you ask? Well, Thursday morning November 10 Sherri got on the road before the sun even came up. She was driving from her home in Bay City, MI to Chicago, IL to pick up Little Miss Sunshine. I checked on a map… that’s about 315 miles… one way. She met Gina sometime after 10 am and the precious cargo was transferred. Then the long journey back to where Little Miss would meet her Mommy began. About halfway, the snow came. And still Sherri moved forward.

“I’ve been through three states, numerous counties, rain, sleet, snow, slush, and finally… a bloody nose.” Sherri told. “This has been, by far, the best day I’ve had all year.” Angel.

Thousands of people all over the country… all over the world… sat glued to their computer screens or phones all day because they cared too much to tear themselves away. They prayed, they hoped, they offered suggestions, they cried, they smiled, they loved. And then, the moment we had been waiting for so long finally arrived. Shortly after 4 pm EST, Sherri and Wendy found each other. And Little Miss Sunshine was in the arms of her Mommy. The tears sprang to my eyes all over again as I sat at my desk at work. A post was made on Facebook and then the most amazing thing started happening. People from all over the world began checking in. It started with, “Welcome home Eliana from North Carolina.” And before you knew it, the same message was popping up from New Jersey; Ontario, Canada; Lexington, KY; Bend, OR; Virginia; Aynor, SC; Granbury, TX; Monongah, WV; Sweden; Florida; Las Vegas, NV; Ohio; Honolulu, HI; the mountains of North Carolina; Wales; Horwich Bolton UK; Abingdon, MD; Chicago, IL; Miami, FL; and on and on.

A half hour later I opened the door and walked outside to the most gorgeous sky ever. Stripes of pink cascaded across it like a welcome home banner for a sweet kitty. And I burst into tears. I try to comprehend the kindness of the people involved. And yet, I can’t really wrap my mind around it. Thursday, a woman drove 10-plus hours through all kinds of weather to hand a kitten to a woman she doesn’t know. And in the days before, another woman flew in numerous planes for two days for the same reason. In between, others just stepped up and stepped out of their busy lives to take care of what needed to be done. Does love win? Oh yeah it does! To most of us, these women are heroes.

“It’s so much more than me,” Faye said. “Whether someone was able to do something to actively help or just sent prayers and well wishes, it all came together for the best for Little Miss. She is going to the right home and will probably be creating a big stir with the other kitties wondering exactly what this little girl is doing! I don’t feel like a hero or anything. I can’t even say why it happened. It was an awesome trip with Little Miss. To watch her play without any worries was priceless. I think she may be the hero here. She has already shown just how much she touches people. She would pop that little head out of the carrier and it was on. She soaked up the attention from everyone. She touched the security guard who encouraged her to stay in her bag (after he helped me put her back in that bag) while I got my shoes on, the soldier who touched me with his sad eyes, and lots of other people. And she touched me with her little paw on my face when we slept at night. I can’t explain it except that it showed me you can be happy no matter what your disability. Anyone who gets to see her live her life and how happy she is, is a very lucky person, and I got to share that. I think Little Miss Sunny is our true hero!”

But no one is more thankful right now then Wendy, “Huge thank yous to Miss Debbie for getting LMS out of Animal Control, Miss Nancy for fostering her and the amazing photos, Miss Karen for getting her to the airport, Miss Faye for using your awards points and sacrificing so much to make this treacherous journey, Miss Gina for picking her up at the Chicago airport, Miss Sherri for bringing her home to us… and EVERYONE else for your donations, thoughts, prayers, and presence beside us in this journey. Sunny is home.”

Sherri and Wendy with Eliana and Willow… home at last.

And she never looked so good in the arms of her loving Mommy. Only now, her name is Eliana. Why did Wendy choose this name? “The informal meaning is Sun (as in Little Miss ~), and the formal interpretation into Hebrew is God has answered me… and I feel He did answer her,” she explained. Sounds perfect to me.

Just one more thing I must share. During the day on Wednesday, we also found out what might be the most unbelievable generosity of the whole trip… the thing that first brought me to tears while sitting in my office at work. Faye’s daughter told us that her mom had been saving her airline points for something special. She had planned to go visit her son in Italy before he is to be deployed to Afghanistan. She chose to give up that trip to do this. I’m a writer and there were no words that came to me. Even now, I don’t know what to say. It has to be the most generous act of goodwill I’ve ever witnessed. The total and wholehearted kindness this act took is truly unbelievable. Faye is an angel. Plain and simple. We can’t let this woman not see her son before he goes to a land far away to fight for our country. He’s risking everything. Faye gave up everything. Now we have to make it right.  [Editor’s note: two ChipIns were set up; one to raise funds to send Faye to see her son, and one to pay for Eliana’s medical bills. Both met their goals and have been closed.]

“Eliana, I knew the minute I saw you that you where one very special kitty,” Debbie said of the day she first saw the kitten in the shelter. “I couldn’t let that light be extinguished from your eyes. And how right I was. Look around and see what you have done and all the people you have touched in a very short period of time… you are and always will be a special girl.”

The kindness of strangers. Forever, those words will bring tears to my eyes. They will make me think of a week in November 2011 when six woman who didn’t know each other, gave of their time, their finances, and their hearts, to help a woman they had never met get a tiny disabled kitten home. They will remind me of the Facebook messages flying between thousands of people all across the world offering suggestions, prayers, thoughts, tears, smiles and love. And you know, when I think about it… we may have all started this journey as strangers, but we now have something that binds us forever in this moment in time. We saved a life together. Don’t tell me there aren’t good people in this world. I was lucky enough to be part of the best humanity has to offer.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

This story was originally published as The Kindness of Strangers at Colleen’s blog, Write On. Reprinted with the author’s permission.

About Author

9 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. What a beautiful story! Every time I think this world is just TOO messed up, I read something like this and I am renewed!

  2. What a wonderful story, special needs cats are so sweet. I love this and its so nice to see so many people getting together to help these cats!!!

  3. I was fortunate to be able to be a part of Eliana’s transport. When I started that journey, I had no idea that I find so many friends along the way. Plus I got to spend time with this special little girl who has touched so many lives!

  4. Thank you so much for the loving and heartwarming story. I just loved it awhole lot. I cried myself reading this story.

  5. Contact the Underground Kitty Railroad page on Facebook, they will add you to their list of volunteers to help transport kitties in need to their forever homes! It is wonderful of you to offer your help. <3 You can message me via Facebook if you have any trouble. <3

Leave a Comment