Michele Jennings has always known she’s a cat lady.
After volunteering for her local SPCA in high school, Jennings worked for an animal rescue and was the volunteer caretaker of the Oklahoma Training Track’s feral felines for 10 years. When one thing led to another and she became the executive director of Homes for Orphaned Pets Exist (H.O.P.E.) this year, it seemed meant to be. Now devoted full time to saving the lives of orphaned fur babies (yes, dogs, too), she was in the midst of a 20-cat crisis when she took our call.
Jennings—who has no fewer than 13 cats herself—has taken over H.O.P.E. during an unusually challenging year, when most rescue organizations are simply chock full. “We’ve seen a lot of owner surrenders,” she says. “With the horrible inflation and the cost of everything skyrocketing, many people have been hit hard and just can’t take care of their pets anymore. It’s so sad.” As an example, she points to the 15 kittens in the H.O.P.E. center, eight of which were born there. “That’s a first for us,” she says. “Usually we send all the moms to foster care, but our foster cares have been so full.”
Luckily, in animal rescue, with the bad comes the good—the stories that steal a piece of your heart that you don’t want back. Just ask Gordon, a friendly but sometimes-difficult street cat, who had spent a length of time un-adopted. Then a single mother and her autistic daughter entered the chat. “Gordon just wound around the daughter—we’d never seen him take to a child like that,” Jennings says. “We were seriously worried we weren’t going to be able to adopt him out, but he found his people and it was perfect.”
Join Michele and the nine other 2023 honorees at our annual Capital Region Gives Back event on December 6 at Putnam Place.