It's not unusual for cats to be seen in or around a home improvement store. As avid hunters who help reduce rodent populations, they're even welcome as regular staff.
But not in all stores. Checkers and her siblings — born at a Home Depot in Fort Worth, Texas — were often considered a nuisance. Born as strays with feral tendencies, they avoided human interaction as much as possible, finding both safety and food in the shadows of the garden center. But Checkers, a petite Tortoiseshell, was different. She allowed people to touch her, and the cat-loving staff worked hard to build on that trust.
Over time, Checkers grew close with some of the employees at Home Depot. She'd even follow them around the store as they worked. One day, they noticed Checkers' belly looked a bit swollen. The active kitty's body kept growing, and it was soon clear that Checkers was pregnant.
Just a few weeks later, Checkers gave birth to four kittens in a box of blankets in the same garden center where she was born. Staff eventually discovered her mewing babies, their eyes just beginning to open.
The night manager didn't want more cats around the store and asked that they be euthanized, but the staff who had grown close to Checkers refused to let that happen. Jessica, a store employee, brought Checkers and the 3-week-old kittens into the safety of her home. The little feline family acclimated quickly, and the trust the store employees had worked so hard to gain was strengthened even more.
Two weeks passed, and it was time for Jess and others to say goodbye to Checkers and her litter of four. It was a difficult and tearful farewell.
“It was a very sad thing for us (my husband and co-workers) to let her go. Giving them to the shelter after getting close to them was so hard,” Jessica says. “I don’t think I’ll be able to forget the look she gave me as I drove them to the shelter.”
Jess didn’t know it then, but her timing was just right. As she pulled into the Fort Worth shelter parking lot, a plane that would bring 140 animals to Minnesota was landing at a nearby airport. Checkers and her four tiny kittens — along with dozens of other cats and dogs (and eight pigs) — were loaded onto that plane. The flight was paid for and organized by Wings of Rescue, a California nonprofit organization that facilitates transport and second chances for animals who might otherwise face euthanasia.
The plane landed in St. Paul at 2:30 p.m. on a chilly Sunday afternoon. Animal Humane Society and its partners at Feline Rescue and Ruff Start Rescue worked quickly to load the animals into transport vehicles. More than 60 of the 140 animals aboard the flight received medical care and behavior evaluations at AHS before being adopted.
For animals in the south, where shelters are often crowded and already overwhelmed, the future can be grim. Every year, thousands of dogs and cats journey from southern states to Minnesota. Many of these animals spend months, even years, in the shelters they came from, yet they are adopted within days after crossing the Minnesota border. For animals like Checkers, it’s a lifesaving trip.
After initial medical exams by AHS staff, Checkers’ kittens went to foster care to grow stronger before coming back to our adoption center. And as the young mama cat said goodbye to one family, she said hello to another. Checkers’ long journey from a Fort Worth garden center to a Minnesota shelter to the loving arms of her new adopter was possible thanks to you and the support of our animal-loving community.
Checkers is a shy and quiet kitty, but we’re certain if she could speak she wouldn’t hesitate to tell you one thing: thank you.