Thirteen years ago, a tiny tabby kitten arrived at Mid Hudson Animal Aid, a no-kill shelter in Beacon, New York. Shelter workers named the feral kitten Archie, and Archie grew up at the shelter, befriending the other cats, socializing litters of kittens and watching his feline friends leave again and again as they found their forever homes.
Archie was a staple at the rescue. It wasn’t until December, when the shelter shared a photo of him on its Instagram account, that volunteer Jennifer Blakeslee learned Archie had spent his life at the shelter.
“I had no idea,” she said. “See, he's very feral. He does fine with other cats, but is terrified of people, which vastly reduces the likelihood of his getting adopted.”
Blakeslee had recently adopted one of Archie’s closest furry friends, a deaf, toothless, half-blind Siamese named Eddie, and Eddie’s departure had left Archie lonely and depressed. So Blakeslee, determined to find Archie a home of his own, helped Eddie write a letter to Santa. “I posted a photo of [Archie] and Eddie cuddling at the shelter to Instagram with a "Dear Santa" letter, and it went viral,” she said.
"Dear Santa, " the letter reads. "I’d like you to meet Archie. He was my best friend when i was at the shelter that saved my life ...He's been at the shelter for THIRTEEN YEARS, ever since he was a kitten. That's a human's entire time in school, plus kindergarten. He's very shy, but he's also very sweet and gets along with other cats. And he really, really, really, really wants to find his forever home. And that's what I want for Christmas, Santa."
The power of social media
The photo of Archie and Eddie was shared hundreds of times on Instagram, and seen by people across the nation, including Chicago resident Jennifer Baird. “I understood that Archie socialized the majority of kitties at the shelter but was never chosen for a home. It broke my heart,” she said. “I saw that he was in New York and waited a day or so for someone to speak up as I live in Chicago.”
After a couple days of seeing people post again and again that they wished they could do something but couldn’t, Baird stepped in. “That's when I responded to Jennifer and said I'll take him. I'm in Chicago. I need help in getting him here to me.”
Baird has rescued numerous cats, often taking in abandoned ones she found on the street, and Archie was going to be her 14th rescue. The fact that he was feral didn’t faze her. “I have had feral cats and have a great understanding of their needs and embrace that,” she said.
It took several weeks for the shelter to coordinate travel, but soon a plan was in place. Archie would take a road trip to Chicago, as this would be better for the skittish senior cat. A couple of people volunteered to make the drive, and Archie passed his pre-transport vet check with no problem. The only hurdle left was the transport costs.
Blakeslee set up a YouCaring campaign with a goal of raising $750, and she shared it on Instagram with the hashtag #OperationBringArchieHome. “It got shared like mad, and we met our goal in less than an hour,” she said. “In fact, people kept donating, and as a result, we'll be able to donate $250 to the shelter.”
With the money raised, Archie left New York on April 3 and slept for most of the two-day drive to his new forever home.
“During the weekend of the transport, I posted updates and photos throughout the day, and we had fans and followers all around the world rooting for this one little old tomcat,” Blakeslee said. “It was glorious.”
Home at last
Archie has been home for a few days now, and Baird says he’s making good progress in adjusting to her and her other rescue cats. “I see that he wants to be friends with his new sisters and brother so badly, and I know this will happen over time. Everyone is getting adjusted, and right now we have time on our side,” she said.
Archie is no longer hiding very much, and he enjoys spending time in his new cat bed. He’s even come within a few inches of Baird while eating his treats.
“Archie is like my other feral,” she said. “They want their love and affection to come from their siblings — not humans. He has to develop trust, and I want him to know that this relationship is about his safety and creature comforts — not about me having an affectionate kitty.”
Baird says she’s still shocked by the outpouring of support she’s received on social media, but she’s grateful for all the kindness being sent her way. “My biggest thank you is to Jennifer. She stood up and told Archie's story. She's the hero. Without her, Archie's life may as well have ended in the shelter where it began.”
Blakeslee hopes that Archie’s story will inspire other people to adopt shelter cats, especially those that are often overlooked. “The message here is that every cat deserves a chance — the senior cats and the special-needs cats,” she said. “The effort involved in caring for them becomes completely worth it when they start to trust you and start treating your home like it's their home.”
As for Archie, he won’t need anyone to write a letter to Santa on his behalf this year. He’ll be spending the holidays at home with his family.