Ray and Azaliah, a Purrfect Pair – Heartwarming Story Contest

This pet rescue story is an entry in the Most Heartwarming Story Contest, by Helen Woodward Animal Center. The Most Heartwarming Story Contest is open to any and all participating Blue Buffalo Home 4 the Holidays pet organizations. The winner will win $1,000 for their facility or rescue! Your organization can become a Blue Buffalo Home 4 the Holidays partner today. This story will now have an opportunity to be featured in the finalist pool in February, 2016. 

A Purrfect Pair

Ray and Manny Together-1

By Easel Animal Rescue League, located in Ewing Township, New Jersey

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This is a story of humans and cats who are not deterred by difficulties and who came together to care for one another.

On a hot August day in Hamilton Township, NJ, animal control got a call about some free-roaming cats in an apartment complex. They reached out to EASEL Animal Rescue League, which manages the no-kill shelter in neighboring Ewing and works with ‘Trap, Neuter, Return’ (TNR) volunteers throughout Mercer County and environs.

With EASEL covering her costs, experienced rescuer Jamie S. took on the task, dealing with a community of more than 20 cats in the heat of summer. Some were healthy, but others needed help. She trapped a mother cat and four kittens who were living in an insulated crawl space in the basement of one of the buildings. They were emaciated with severe upper respiratory illnesses. The worst off was a little tuxedo kitten, who also had eye infections. 

Across town, another cat colony had produced another dozen kittens in a backyard. Besides treating and fixing the adults, the TNR project found the little ones also were underweight and had upper respiratory infections and ringworm. Perhaps it is this area’s significant Italian heritage, or maybe we were just hungry, but when these kittens arrived in EASEL’s medical quarantine area, they got named after types of pasta.

When the wave of kittens arrived at EASEL, Dr. Johnson promptly responded with veterinary care. Many of the kittens quickly improved, but little Ray, the tuxedo kitten with the eye infections, was a particular challenge. Dr. Johnson quickly determined that the kitten’s right eye could not be saved. His left eye was in bad shape with a lesion, but the vet determined to try courses of topical and oral antibiotics. Unfortunately, they did not work, and 6 weeks later, she removed that eye.

Ray and Manny Together-4


In his months at the veterinary practice, Ray had become a staff favorite. His friendly personality came through his surgeries intact, and even blind, he expertly navigated his environment. Unlike many cats, he quickly adopted his name, coming when called.

When Ray finally arrived at the EASEL shelter in late October, cat care administrator Beth B. joined the chorus describing him as “such a sweet cat and he seems to get around well.” But she also discovered a small remaining spot of ringworm on one of his ears and quarantined him from the adoptable cats.

Ray and Manny Together-3


Meanwhile, the pasta kittens’ health problems had cleared up, and the shelter added them to our adoptable animals. Some found homes quickly. But one little black kitten, named Manicotti, lingered. Although friendly and playful, he was just basic black with no other markings to distinguish him. Visitors passed him by, some commenting that they didn’t want a black cat.

Two months after these TNR projects, Melissa F. was forced to say goodbye to her long-time feline companion. A handsome black cat, Wiggi had been at her side through major life events for almost 14 years.

A lifelong cat lover, Melissa, knew she would find room in her heart for another. But she also wanted to accommodate her daughter Azaliah, 8, who is deaf and suffers neurological problems including cerebral palsy. Although her issues are so mild in their expression as to be scarcely noticeable, Azaliah often is reluctant to interact with animals.

Azaliah and the boys copy.jpg

Azaliah and her furbrothers

From co-workers who are EASEL volunteers, Melissa heard tales of the many animals available in that busy season at the shelter. She was particularly sympathetic to Ray’s travails and undeterred by his blindness.

“I’ve worked with children who are blind,” she said.

A pediatric occupational therapist at Children’s Specialized Hospital outpatient center in Hamilton, Melissa entered the field because of her experience growing up with a brother who has disabilities. Now, that background colored her thinking about the blind kitten.

But first, when Ray was finally out of quarantine, she brought Azaliah to the shelter to have a look at him. That important meeting was a success.

“She’s really taken to Ray,” Melissa said. “He came over, right up to her and introduced himself, and they hit it off from the start.”

“I was considering adopting two this time, because I thought having a companion would be good for Ray,” she said.

As a believer that “black cats are the best!”, Melissa herself could not overlook Manicotti, still in need of a home. She agreed to adopt him as well, nicknamed Manny as less of a mouthful. He joined the family a week before Ray, in order to learn the lay of the land so he could guide his new furbrother.

The dynamic did not play out entirely as expected. Although safe in a loving home, little Manny was at a loss. For the first time in his short life, he was not surrounded by other cats. That changed when Ray arrived. Both kittens were thrilled, Melissa said.

Watch Ray and Manny Play Together

“We tried to keep them separate and introduce them slowly,” she said. “But right from the start, they would bat each other under the door, playing, and cry when we took them away. So it was a short separation.”

And just as he has throughout his story, Ray doesn’t need much help finding his way.

“I thought that Manny could lead him around, but about the only thing he leads him to are things like the blinds,” Melissa said. “When he bats them, Ray hears the sound and comes running to see what there is to play with.”

Manny & Ray

Her experience adopting “has been better than I could have hoped for,” she said. Ray and Manny agree. “Those two are the best of friends,” she said.

Nichole M, an instructor at the Marie H. Katzenbach School for the Deaf, describes Azaliah as “an amazing little girl who overcomes many challenges in her life everyday.” She echoes Melissa’s comment that Azaliah has had “no interest in cats,” but added that has changed with Ray.

Azaliah and Ray Logo

Azaliah and her Ray

“Ray is her cat; it is as if Ray senses Azaliah’s disabilities and relates more to her than to her mother,” she said. “Often Ray will be found lying in Azaliah’s lap.  Ray and Azaliah have now become the best of friends.”

Ray & Manny together

During the 2015 Blue Buffalo Home 4 the Holidays campaign (Oct. 1, 2015 – Jan. 4, 2016), participating animal organizations are encouraged to enter heartwarming adoption success stories. Submissions can be made weekly by email or tagging stories with #LightTheirWayHome, and at the end of each week Helen Woodward Animal Center will select a winning story to be featured on this very blog! After the campaign ends on Jan. 4, 2016, the weekly winning stories will be compiled into a pool and voted on by partnered organizations, animal welfare fans and the public. The story with the most votes will win a $1,000 donation for their animal organization and will be announced on Helen Woodward Animal Center’s blog in February, 2016. For more rules and guidelines, please click here.


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