Blog the Change for Animals - Laura Zaccardi and the Squeedunk Gang - #BtC4A | Lola The Rescued Cat
Friday, July 15, 2016

Blog the Change for Animals - Laura Zaccardi and the Squeedunk Gang - #BtC4A

Not long after I started blogging I came across Squeedunk, Whiskers and Warehouses and I immediately added it to my list of favorite blogs.  Last fall when I had dinner with some fellow bloggers who were in town for the Purina summit, I was very happy to find out that the woman I didn't know sitting at the end of the table was Laura Zaccardi, the person behind Squeedunk. We made a connection that night and got to spend some more time together at BlogPaws last month.  I'm happy to feature Laura, her rescue organization PAD PAWS (and of course her cats!) for my Blog the Change for Animals post. Read on for Laura's story...

#BtC4A|Blog The Change

My compassion for animals comes from my mother, who openly displayed her love of all creatures,  and throughout my childhood I can remember her consistent support of various animal welfare causes including saving seals, wildlife and the rescue of street cats in our local area. She did not surrender to the fashion convention of wearing fur coats, and taught me at a young age the importance of standing up for those without a voice. So much of what I do is born from her example. While she is still with us and her love of all animals has never waned, she is no longer capable of making herself heard. It’s no surprise to anyone that I inherited her desire to make a difference for “all creatures great and small”.

I grew up in a household with at least two cats at all times. The first time I lived without felines was when I moved to Jersey City in 2006. I had no way of knowing that the decision to adopt a rescued kitten in 2008 would be a pivotal moment in my life; and absolutely unaware that I was about to dive into subculture of feral cats in my neighborhood. Adopting Coco reignited compassion that had long gone aground due to the confluence of losses and disappointments that punctuated that chapter of my life.

Funny how some memories are so clear…I can still picture the scene: a September morning after celebrating Coco’s 1 year “Gotcha Day”, I was outside and saw a beautiful grey kitty scamper past me and crawl into a hole under the restored warehouse where I live. Jerome (our building Superintendent) was there and I asked if he had ever seen the cat before. He told me that there was an entire colony of cats in our neighborhood, and that the open spaces in the underbelly of our building served as shelter for them. I was astonished.

This discovery set into motion a series of events where I was introduced to a wonderful woman named Natalie Stiefvater, and together we teamed up to care for and rescue multiple colonies of cats and kittens. Over time, our fingertips reached the tips of similar groups in other parts of the city. It became clear to us that we needed to organize ourselves as a non-profit and band together with the other rescues for the benefit of the cats in need in our community. It’s powerful to leverage the collective wisdom of several groups so that we can better serve the cats, the neighborhoods and our families who adopt. One of the cat rescuers we met, Denise Labowski, had undertaken many a rescue in her part of our neighborhood.  Today Denise  is not only a board member of PAD PAWS but an integral part of every aspect of carrying out our mission.

Rather than write about our achievements as a rescue organization—efforts that for our size and resource limitations are laudable—I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how this journey has enhanced my life.

#BtC4A|Blog The Change
Bessie, Valentine and Coco
Adopting Coco, and 10 months later her half-sister Valentina, was a huge responsibility at a time when I had lost my full time job and was commuting several hours a day to a work on a long term contract assignment. These two furry critters were the best companions, and the fact that they needed me broke my heart wide open. I’m so grateful that they showed up at what seemed like the worst possible moment. I was showered with unconditional love while also having to learn about their unique personalities and diverse health concerns. My heart and head expanded tremendously in the first year of our time together.

I met 3 month old Manhattan on a September evening not long after seeing the grey kitty run past my feet. Natalie showed me the “secret code” to getting the feral cats to emerge from the subbasement of my building for food at night and I fell in love with her right away. My heart was broken open again. We rescued Manhattan five months later and it was a close call as she was suffering from a bite wound that went through her body.  Watching her will to live as she was starving and in pain then witnessing that same constitution during her recovery was a reminder to me that despite any setbacks, any burdens—this life has many gifts. She joined Coco and Valentina and I thought for sure three was enough…

Manhattan, Lulu, and the Jersey City Powerhouse
Fast forward: In the summer of 2011 (after multiple rescues and placements), we trapped Bessie and Lulu. I agreed to foster them and despite my exclamations that I had to get them placed, I cried and cried when I gave them away so I pleaded if I could take them back. It wasn’t easy as they didn’t mingle well with Coco, Valentina and Manhattan, so I had to do a lot of research on cat behavior. We are almost at the five year mark and there are still disagreements and turf battles. Yet we’ve come a long way and I’ve learned valuable information about how to introduce cats, how to manage their anxieties and the reward of earning the trust of feral cats. I love all five beyond measure. If you are interested in why I call my blog Squeedunk—check out my blog and read What is Squeedunk?

Amidst the stories of PAD PAWS successes and my daily life with 5 felines, lie tales of friends adopting cats because they were inspired after seeing me with my girls or by one of our rescue missions. I’ve been able to offer advice to help people understand the behavior of their cats so everyone can live in harmony. I started a blog and have been moved by the fabulously talented community of people who advocate for adoption, help spread the word to educate families and neighborhoods to promote a better life for animals, and everyone’s desire to highlight the good that comes from adopting an animal.

I do believe in “be the change you want to see in the world”. My personal contributions may be small, but I feel strongly that every life I’ve helped save, every life I’ve enhanced is valuable. The process of having my heart broken open multiple times has illuminated for me how multiple small victories can ultimately have a better impact than one grand gesture. It took me a long time to learn that lesson…and it all started with saying yes to adopting a little kitten with swirls on her coat in 2008.

I’ll close with sharing a quotation that my mom used to recite that summarizes my core value: “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?’  ~Jeremy Bentham

I hope anyone considering adopting a cat or dog (or other domestic animal) will be moved into action. Your life will be enhanced in ways that you can’t imagine, and you may inspire someone else to do the same. They’ll tell two friends, and so on. Together, we CAN make a difference.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Ploger
Laura Zaccardi is the blogger behind Squeedunk-Whiskers and Warehouses. She lives in Jersey City, NJ in a restored warehouse building nestled in the Powerhouse Arts District (the PAD) with her 5 rescue cats Coco, Valentina, Manhattan, Bessie and Lulu. She also has one foster kitty, Mimi, who was pulled from the ACC kill list last fall. By vocation, Laura is a Change Management Consultant. She is also a board member of PAD PAWS, a 501c rescue group focused primarily on cat rescue and rehoming along the NJ and NY waterfronts. Check out Laura’s blog to read rescue stories and to learn more about how each of her kitties became a member of the Squeedunk gang.

Photos of the Squeedunk Gang courtesy of Laura Zaccardi. 

Would you like to comment?

  1. How awesome to see Laura's story here! Paws up!

  2. Loved this story. I connected with Laura recently about some black kittens.

  3. Wow, what a great story.

    I know rescuing my dog Delilah helped open my eyes. When I look at where we are, and look back to where we started...there were tears (LOTS of them) but there was also so much learning and patience and joy. Her sweet little face makes my heart swell, and I never miss an opportunity to share that with someone.

    Thanks for sharing this on BTC.

  4. wonderful to read Laura's story of the beginnings of Pad Paws. I met her at BlogPaws and had some great long chats. Hope to visit her area one day. Thanks for showcasing her on this special day

  5. Thanks for featuring Laura's story and introducing me to another great cat blog!

  6. Excellent post, I recently started following her blog so it is nice to learn more about what an amazing woman she is.

  7. Thank you, thank you for sharing this AMAZING lady with all of us! I am in total awe!!!!! What a gem!!!! catchatwithcarenandcody

  8. Thanks for sharing Laura's story. TW says you all have to get together someday since you're all so close. Thank you for being the change.

  9. The mom met Laura at BlogPaws this year and was so impressed with her and what she does for cats.

  10. We've been honored to be friends with Laura since we met her at a Architects for Animals event in NYC some years back. She is amazing, and we loved seeing her story here!

  11. I love how she described rescuing Coco and how that opened up and changed her life in so many ways. We had a similar experience after rescuing our cat Daisy way back in 1997. She is no longer with us, but she changed my whole life.

  12. That was a terrific post! There are no contributions that are too small when it comes to helping others!

  13. What a wonderful post. I was fortunate enough to meet Laura at BlogPaws and I loved learning more about her here. What an amazing person and rescuer!

  14. Great story. Fanks fur sharin'.

    Luv ya'

    Dezi and Raena

  15. Lots of great information here. Seems like a great person.


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