Tombi, Olive, and Mutt-i-grees
Life Lessons from Two Felines on
Opposite Sides of the Earth
Opposite Sides of the Earth
It seems I always have cats on my lap…and cats on my mind.
For the past few weeks, two very different cats have dominated my thinking, one a cat in Turkey and the other a kitten in California. They’ll never meet, except in my thoughts, but each has so much to teach us about ourselves and about how we might — just might — make the world a better place for animals.
I’ll start with what sounds like a feline fairy tale.
One day a handsome orange Tabby marched into a third grade classroom in Izmir, Turkey. This guy had all the charisma of a movie star and the self-confidence to match. The 33 kids fell in love. They named him Tombi, and it was clear he’d found his home.
Their teacher, Özlem Pınar Ivaşcu, was already a cat-lover. But even she was surprised at the almost magical connection that sprung up between her students and this sweet “kedi.” (I’ve discovered the word for “cat“ in Turkish!)
Once he was vaccinated and declared healthy, Tombi became a delightful part of the school day, and his positive effect on his classmates was immediate. They were quieter and calmer so as not to disturb Tombi. They arrived early for extra playtime with their school buddy. They fed him and cared for him. And they paid more attention to their studies, laughed more, and were nicer to each other.
Then, one of their parents, who was worried about allergies, complained. Sadly, Tombi was “expelled,” and Özlem had to find him another home. When that home didn’t work out — Tombi was lethargic and depressed and the adopter’s cat didn’t like him — Özlem brought him to her house. But Tombi was still depressed, and Özlem’s students were completely heartbroken. They wrote notes to Tombi and drew pictures to cheer him up. But he was just too sad.
Eventually, the school superintendent revisited his decision and after talking to the complaining parent, who’d already had a change of heart, said, “Welcome back, Tombi!”
You might already have read about Tombi, because once Özlem posted her story on Facebook, it went viral. I discovered Tombi on The Dodo, but since then I’ve learned that his fame has traveled to Spain, Italy, France, Slovakia, Greece, China, and even farther. In Izmir he’s become a local celebrity. He and some of his classmates were recently guests of honor at an event hosted by a group called One Team, which builds outdoor shelters for homeless cats in Izmir.
If Tombi’s story is a feline fairy tale, Olive’s is an unspeakable nightmare.
Homeless and hungry, little Olive wandered into the wrong apartment in Fontana, Calif., in early February. Below is the local police department’s press release, which tells her story more compellingly than I ever could.
I heard about Olive when her story popped up on Howard’s news feed. He told me about her and said, “We have to get her.” He was right! At that very moment, Team Olive sprang into action. I contacted my colleagues at Animal League America who learned where Olive was being cared for, and on Friday, March 9, I flew to California to pick her up and bring her home. She’s healing beautifully, although it’s hard to believe that this little girl could even have survived such brutality.
While I was there, Olive and I got to know each other at the pet-friendly Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. I couldn’t help thinking that all cats deserve such pampering. Naturally, Olive agrees.
I also had the honor of meeting and thanking the California members of Team Olive: Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren, Animal Services Officer Jennie Fisher @chroniclesofafostermom, Officer Jennie Venzor @fitnessmama911, the Fontana Police Department Animal Emergency Clinic, Inc., Dr. Ronald L. Beeley, D.V.M., and the team at The Valley Animal Hospital, and Jamie Simmons. It took a village, and she is worth it.
Tombi and Olive: two cats on opposite sides of the world. I can’t help but think that Tombi is teaching those children in Turkey lessons about kindness, empathy, and humane animal care that might well benefit cats like Olive. Education is so important, and humane education can do so much to strengthen our connection to animals.
All of which makes me think about North Shore Animal League America’s amazing Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum, an internationally recognized program that brings shelter pets into classrooms, both literally and through books, activities, and conversation. This powerful program, which was developed at Yale University, teaches students that animals are just like us in all the important ways. They feel, they love, and they need us. And they deserve our care and respect!
Now in thousands of schools and libraries across the country, Mutt-i-grees is helping students develop empathy, compassion, and resilience. It gives them the knowledge they need to advocate for shelter pets as well as the self-confidence to report abuse when they see it. And just as important, students take these lessons home to their families and into their communities.
Mutt-i-grees also encourages shelter adoption and teaches kids why spay/neuter is so important. With kitten season beginning once again, these are lessons that desperately need teaching.
I’m not saying that humane education can protect all pets like Olive from abuse, but I do believe that the more we sensitize children to the value of animals, the better their — and our — lives will be.
P.S. Well. Look at this! Another cat on my lap, this time Olivia — new start, new name! — after her flight to New York. She’s a great little traveler. I’ll keep you posted on her progress, and I promise she’ll be safe and loved for the rest of her life.