Written by Donna Walker/American Red Cross
Superstorm Sandy put 70 miles and one month’s time between a woman and her cat, but American Red Cross volunteers took only a day to reunite them.
Bob and Gretchen Warwick heard about Sharon Le Coeur’s problem through a Red Cross case file. Le Coeur was referred to mental health services because she lost her cat when the hurricane forced both to evacuate their home.
As volunteers in Disaster Mental Health, the Warwicks are familiar with how to ease feelings of emotional distress to those affected by disaster. To the husband and wife team from Michigan, the solution was clear.
“We thought if we could find the cat, it would go a long way to solving the problem,” Gretchen Warwick said in a telephone interview as she and Bob traveled to Wildwood where they would reunite the cat, Little Guy, with Le Coeur.
What they didn’t know was that Little Guy was trained as a seizure-alert animal. When the Warwicks delivered Le Coeur’s pet, she told them Little Guy was a “very important cat.” The Warwicks assumed any owner would say as much, but Le Coeur explained the cat’s skills.
“He paw dances me,” she said in a subsequent interview. “He jumps on my lap and kneads my stomach” to warn her of an impending seizure.
In the case file, the Warwicks found a hand-written note detailing where Little Guy had been sheltered since the day Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey shore. Once found, his microchip verified his identity, but it couldn’t tell anyone where to find Le Coeur.
“The cat had been moved from shelter to shelter to shelter,” Gretchen Warwick said. “And she had been moved from shelter to shelter to shelter. They ended up 70 miles apart.”
At first, they stayed together in a shelter where animals were allowed, Gretchen Warwick said, but when they had to relocate, documentation didn’t identify Little Guy as a service cat. He stayed at animal shelters that were temporary and had to keep relocating. When the Warwicks finally found him, he was in Barnegat, N.J., at another temporary facility scheduled to close in three days on Nov. 29.
“She said he’s the only thing she has. He’s her family,” Gretchen Warwick said. “We’re so glad to be able to reunite them.”
Her husband agreed. “It was a very touching scene,” Bob Warwick said. “She was just ecstatic with joy.”
A few days after their reunion, Le Coeur remained incredulous and grateful.
“This is tantamount,” she said. “The Red Cross coming through for me was absolutely outstanding. (Little Guy) has saved my life.”