During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the impact of volunteer service in our communities, and recognize extraordinary individuals who are at the center of social change – like Daily Point of Light Award honoree Terry Lauerman. Read his story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.
Terry Lauerman never expected to become internet famous. But when a few photos of the retired teacher taking naps with shelter cats were shared on Facebook last fall, that’s exactly what happened.
Nicknamed “Cat Grandpa,” the 75-year-old volunteer spends about 20 hours per week brushing and caring for cats at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter and adoption center in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“We are so lucky to have a human like Terry. Terry just came along one day and introduced himself. He said he’d like to brush cats. Eventually it became every day,” Safe Haven shared in a Facebook post last September. “He brushes all of the cats, and can tell you about all of their likes and dislikes. He also accidentally falls asleep most days. We don’t mind – cats need this! Terry is a wonderful volunteer.” The shelter’s Facebook post received nearly 100,000 likes and was shared more than 26,000 times. Terry’s story caught the attention of local and national news outlets, making headlines in The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, USA Today, The Today Show, People.com, and many more.
Terry was initially drawn to the Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary because of the freedom the shelter gives to its animals. All cats and kittens are free to roam the space, and he is free to lounge and nap with the cats. Safe Haven specializes in rescuing kitties with physical or psychological disabilities, so many of their furry residents have special needs, such as diabetes, missing limbs, blindness, asthma or behavioral problems. Yet, all of the animals are up for adoption and Terry is dedicated to caring for each of them until they find a forever home. He spends extra time socializing the shy cats, and has become an expert in learning and communicating their likes and dislikes to other volunteers.
Terry has grown particularly fond of one cat, named Buckhorn. For weeks, he didn’t know Buckhorn was roaming the shelter because the timid cat always hid behind counters. Now, the cat sees Terry as his best friend, and finds him every day on the couch when he’s ready to be brushed and loved on – or when he’s ready for a nap.
“I’m not the only one, I’m inspired by other people. I just want to be there to nourish them back to health,” said Terry. “You can do something fun and useful with your retirement. You don’t have to sit at home. Volunteer time to share what you love with other people for a good cause.”
THE DIFFERENCE HE MAKES
Elizabeth Feldhausen met Terry on the day he first visited the Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary, a little more than a year ago. As the shelter’s founder, she shares Terry’s love for every single animal and has been happy to welcome him into the Safe Haven family.
After Safe Haven’s photos of Terry taking cat naps went viral, the organization received more than $20,000 in donations in just two days. “I could never have imagined that so much money would be raised by simple photos,” Terry said.
Elizabeth says he money Terry helped Safe Haven raise has allowed them to bring in even more cats with special needs. They also added more rooms, and renovated other parts of the building that had previously been used for storage.
Terry continues to volunteer at the shelter five days per week, and his ability to uniquely care for and understand the animals has not gone unnoticed.
“Terry takes his volunteer time very seriously,” said Elizabeth. “He goes into every room and visits every single cat to give them a treat. You can hear him talking to the cats, he’s very dedicated.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Terry? Search local volunteer opportunities.