Salt & Light: There's Always Room in the Inn

Before becoming the director of Nonprofit Professional Development at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, most of my life has been involved in providing humanitarian services. It began in Catholic Charities in Pittsburgh, Penn., and reached a peak when I served as president of Catholic Charities USA, the national association that serves upward of 1,000 social agencies of the Catholic Church in the United States.

In light of this professional commitment to make resources available to those with special needs—whether these needs involved disabilities, mental illness, economic dislocation, addiction or the challenges of dealing with natural disasters—it was hard to distinguish my personal commitments from my professional responsibilities.

That is not so true any longer.

In recent years, my altruism has dramatically expanded to include a unique and personal outreach to helping various animals, but especially cats. This shift emerged as the values of my wife, Karen, increasingly influenced me very personally. Karen, a vegetarian for most of her life, is compassionate in her concern for her fellow human beings, but has a special interest in helping animals in general, and specifically, in helping those animals that are vulnerable or injured.

An example will make the point. We live on a small lake in South Bend that is quite inviting to all sorts of water fowl. Inevitably a goose or duck goes lame due to some sort of accident. Neighbors who find an injured bird rarely will take it to a rehabilitation center. Instead, they will bring it to Karen, who in turn, will get it to the proper treatment center. And sometimes, our home becomes the rehab unit!

A few years ago, a very upset woman came to our front door. She somewhat hysterically described how her pet black cat jumped out of her daughter’s car while driving through our subdivision. She asked if we had seen her beloved pet. Karen had seen a cat fitting the description near our lake recently. It was Dec. 2, and the temperature was below freezing. My wife set a trap near where she had seen the cat. 
Somehow, as I watched the trap being put in place, I knew we would not catch the lost pet! I was right. After a couple of hours, we checked the trap only to find a beautiful, but wildly feral, black cat that showed a mastery of hissing long and loudly!

On that very cold evening, we took the feral cat into our home and successfully domesticated the little beast. In fact, after a few months, he not only became tame, but acted more like a dog. He loves to play with me from the time I get up, when I come home in the evening, and right up until bedtime.

A few months ago, I mentioned to my wife that we should begin to plan who will be coming to visit us for which ND football weekends this year. Karen suggested that we should put off deciding that guest list because she was approached by a group that arranges foster care for pets owned by the homeless. It was no surprise to me that we now had a long-haired calico female cat occupying our one guest room. The good news is that this cat is already tame and absolutely loves to play. As a result, I can visit my own guest room without being welcomed by hissing, scratching or other symptoms that I had to work through with my earlier special “catch.”

My reward for the altruism of providing shelter for a homeless cat of a homeless person has had real measurable results. I do not have to provide this guest with a free ticket to a Notre Dame football game! With results like this, I may make such pet foster care an annual event in my home for the entire football season!


—Thomas J. Harvey is the Luke McGuinness Director of Nonprofit Professional Development, Mendoza College of Business