A retired Spanish teacher went viral after falling asleep brushing cats.

They say that not all heroes wear capes. But some do come equipped with their own magic cat brush.

Internet, Meet Terry, a retired Spanish teacher from Wisconsin whose favorite hobby (and pro-social volunteer activity) has turned him into a celebrity and the unofficial patron saint of all cats who need a cuddle, a brush, and a nap with a friendly human.

A few months ago, Terry appeared (as if by magic!) at The Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Green Bay with one request: He wanted to stop by and brush the cats on a regular basis. Soon, Terry was showing up every day and spending up to three hours at a time with the cats.


And all that brushing can get kind of tiring, so Terry would sometimes have to take a nap (understandable). But then other people at the sanctuary started taking photos of Terry napping with his feline buddies. And when those photos were posted on Facebook, well...

Here's a photo:

Image courtesy of Safe Haven Sanctuary.

And, in the immortal words of DJ Khaled, "another one":

Image courtesy of Safe Haven Sanctuary.

And one more, because 2018 has been a year and, boy, do we need this:

Image courtesy of Safe Haven Sanctuary.

You can guess what happened from there. After Terry's pictures hit social media, they were viewed hundreds and thousands, and, by now, probably millions of times. A fundraiser for the shelter in Terry's name has already hit more than $16,000.

And there's a great reason why the internet's going buck wild for Terry and his animal pals.

What Terry's doing is incredibly special. Because Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary is a place for incredibly special cats.

In a phone call with Upworthy, Elizabeth Feldhausen, the founder and president of the shelter explained that Safe Haven takes in cats who might not have had a home anywhere else.

"We rescue cats with disabilities and special needs — anywhere from anxiety to paralysis to diabetes to thyroid problems," she said. "Anything that could put them at risk at another shelter."

Sometimes, Feldhausen told us, the sanctuary takes on cases where an owner might have felt like they had no choice but to put a cat down because their medical care costs too much.

If the pictures above look like they might have been taken in someone's home, there's a reason for that, too. The shelter's a therapeutic and cage-free environment. The cats have bedrooms and a living room. And they wander about freely so that they can get used to being around people and feeling safe in their space.

"It helps them a lot to be socialized," Feldhausen said. "So we've set it up in a way as to be psychologically pleasing to these animals who have been through so much."

Live with Terry 😻❤️🐾 #catnapterry #catgrandpa
Posted by Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary Inc. on Thursday, September 20, 2018

"I've always liked cats," Terry told me when I spoke to him. "And I didn't have cats as an adult. But when I retired I decided to do something fun and this place emerged. I had been volunteering at other shelters, but this place is special because no cages and the cats can feel taken care of in a friendly environment."

According to legend (Feldhausen), Terry brings his own brush to groom the cats. And it's just one more thing that makes them feel special.

"He says it's his magic brush," Feldhausen laughed. "That's why the cats love him so much. He's not just a grandpa to the cats. He's the grandpa to everyone at Safe Haven."

("I just bought the brush at a local department store, but it's a nice brush," Terry laughed.)

Terry just wants the cats to be happy. And you can help.

Terry was brushing cats when I called the shelter (natch), but he took a couple of minutes away from brushing his one special cat to send a message to anyone out there who's thinking of getting involved with cats who have special needs.

"It's well worth it, if you have the patience. It takes a very special type of person to work with a special needs cat."

Terry's lifestyle — he takes several months off a year to do research in Spain — doesn't allow him to adopt a cat right now, but that doesn't mean he's not making special connections. His favorite cat is a domestic short hair named Buckhorn who's recently lost his brother to FIP.

"He was so scared. He hid behind a counter for weeks and I didn't know he existed. Now he's come out and he's become my special friend and that's going to stay with me forever."

Terry and Buckhorn. Image via Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary.

While not all of us can expect to go viral ("I just fell asleep!" Terry says) for doing good, all of us can do more. And that doesn't always mean a donation. If you've got extra time and the desire to give cats (and dogs and all other domesticated animals) the love they deserve, look up your local shelter and volunteer. Both you and the animals will be better for it.

As for Terry? Feldhausen says that the sanctuary's been overwhelmed with calls for volunteers. And while the facility's too small too accommodate everyone, there's no chance that anyone's going to take over for the shelter's number one grandpa.

"He's going to be here forever!" Feldhausen said.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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