Changing the false stigmas about black cats requires patience, knowledge and a lot of love
"Black cat" by @Doug88888 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Black cats. For centuries, they've been the target of conflicting reputations. Some say they're bad luck. Others—sailors and actors, most notably—wouldn't dream of launching a ship or a theater production without at least one dark-furred kitty along for the ride.

Superstition aside, Leah Lyman--owner of Jagger's Journey Cat Rescue in Oregon—simply finds them beautiful. She devotes her life to fostering and finding permanent homes for abandoned black cats and kittens. "I rescue them all, but black cats are my top priority," she says. "Some people are still ignorant about them. The phobia's out there."



In early October, I didn't need another cat. I had two indoor kitties, plus a barn cat outdoors. But I walked into Petsmart in Springfield, Oregon with my 13-year-old daughter and stopped in front of three cages of black kittens and cats on a table. Lyman stood beside them wearing a tee that read "Rich people have brand logos on their shirts. Happy people have cat hair on their shirts." I introduced myself, trying not to look at the silky four-month old kitten next to me—a carbon copy of my late lamented Alger Hiss.

Over 17 years, first as a volunteer with other rescue organizations and then as founder of her own non-profit, Lyman has pulled wet filthy kittens from canals, rescued flea-infested dehydrated felines, and set her alarm to bottle-feed orphans every four hours around the clock. Last year, she found a cat suffering from a broken jaw, with glue smeared in its eyes and nostrils. "He was nearly dead, but I rushed him to the vet who repaired his jaw and used mineral oil to remove the glue," Lyman recalls. She syringe-fed the cat, whom she named Damien, and found him a loving permanent home with an elderly woman and her grandson.


Leah Lyman and Jagger, photo courtesy of Rich Cassady Photography


She traces her passion for helping abused animals back to a Southern California childhood spent with an alcoholic father who abused her mother and their pets. The family moved often. "We always had a bunch of animals that I was attached to and we always had to get rid of them or leave them behind," she explains. "I developed a strong bond with them, regardless."

After high school, she worked as a show girl in Las Vegas before returning to California. Seventeen years ago, she was volunteering at a Gurrs and Purrs adoption event in Rosemead when someone walked in with a black kitten locked a birdcage. "They'd been keeping him on their front lawn," she says. "He had a bad respiratory infection, and he was covered in ear mites. We picked off all the mites, and he followed me everywhere. He was the best little cat I'd ever met."

The cat, Jagger, moved to Oregon with her and an older black kitty 13 years ago, and became the inspiration for her rescue organization. "I saved up all my bartending tips for four years to hire a non-profit lawyer," she says. "Now I've got a circle of people I trust—foster parents, adoption event staff, and an amazing trapper who works with feral cats and kittens. Cats are my world."

Jagger's Journey is one of a handful of organizations across the country that specializes in black cat rescue and adoption. There's also Black Cat Rescue in Boston, and Black Cat Holistic Rescue in Los Angeles. The women behind each agree that cats can be difficult to place in permanent homes. They don't always show to advantage in adoption pictures, unless they're photographed in natural light or brightly lit indoors. And superstition--as Lyman points out--persists. "Black cats are less likely to be adopted than other cats," she says, "though when the movie Black Panther came out, everyone wanted them for a while."

But that trend has slowed. And so, every Saturday, her cadre of foster parents bring cages of rescued black kittens and cats to an Oregon PetSmart, and she displays them on tables for shoppers to consider adopting. She's there to answer questions and help potential cat-parents through the application process.

She answers all of my daughter's questions about the silky black kitten, and then—when I allow that we probably have room in our home and our hearts for another cat—she interviews me extensively about our current pets and our veterinarian and my plans for the kitten if I unexpectedly ascend to that great litterbox in the sky.

"People are starting to consider the underdog," she says as she approves my completed application and congratulates my daughter on the acquisition of a new friend. "This a lot of work," she says, "but on the flip side, I see more and more people opening their hearts to black cats."

Melissa Hart is a writer based in Oregon and the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less
via David Lavaux / Facebook and Google

A farmer in Belgium has caused an international incident by inadvertently redrawing the border between Belgium and France. The farmer moved a border stone that stood on the grounds for over 200 years because it was blocking his tractor.

The two countries share a 390-mile border that was established under a treaty signed in 1820.

The stone, marked 1819, was put in place four years after the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Nearly 50,000 soldiers died in the battle that would determine the border.

Keep Reading Show less
Courtesy of CeraVe
True

"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

Keep Reading Show less