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House Full of Cats a Comfort to Seniors Without a Pet

By Benjamin Woodard | September 26, 2013 7:29am
 For 30 years, Sister Marijon Binder has filled her home with adopted pets to help seniors who can no longer care for them.
Touched By An Animal
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BOWMANVILLE — Howard Smith took two buses to see his diabetic pet cat.

The 71-year-old veteran was evicted from his home earlier this year and his new subsidized apartment only allows him to keep two of his three cats.

"There's 'My Boy,' " he said when he walked through the front door of Bowmanville's Touched By An Animal cat sanctuary and saw his old feline friend.

He stops by once a week.

Sister Marijon Binder, 74, has worked to help seniors like Smith for the last 30 years.

"She's an angel for helping me like this," Smith said.

Eighty cats wander through her home, a licensed animal sanctuary, and about a third of them are being cared for on behalf of seniors who can no longer care for their companion pets.

Binder, her small staff and volunteers also make house calls to walk and feed pets in the homes of the elderly.

She moved to the "old Swedish neighborhood" in the 1970s and found many of her neighbors nearing the age when a single-family home was too much to care for.

She would ask them why they didn't move from their house to a senior home.

"Inevitably," she said, "the answer was, 'Well, I can't do that until my little dog or cat dies because I know no one in my family would take it, and I couldn't live with the idea that my pet was euthanized because I couldn't take care of it.'"

"That's how it all started," she said.

Since then, the former Catholic nun said she's taken in pets.

One homeless man, she recalled, wouldn't let go of his cat after falling over in a park after a heart attack. The paramedics took him — and his pet — to the hospital, but the doctors couldn't operate on the man while he was clutching the feline to his chest. He refused to let go, fearing the animal would be euthanized.

A social worker then called Binder, who was able to persuade the man she would take care of his pet until he got better.

She can tell hundreds of similar stories. Someday, she says, she wants to compile them into a book.

The sanctuary is almost entirely funded through personal donations.

"It's always close to the wire, but the cats have never been hungry," she said. "How we've kept going for 30 years is by the grace of God."

Smith hurt his ankle in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive after he "landed wrong" jumping from a chopper over tall grass. When he came home, his dog — called My Girl — died of a heart attack.

Before he and his wife divorced, they got two cats. He kept them and took in My Boy later on, he said.

"Let's face it," said Smith, while feeding My Boy treats, "everything is a gift. I made it to 71 — and I still got my cats."

Touched By An Animal plans to hold a 30th anniversary gala on Nov. 24 at the Holiday Inn in Skokie, 5300 W. Touhy Ave.