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A Vietnam vet and a support cat formed an 'amazing' friendship at a local retirement home

Gary DuLude doesn’t remember everything these days. But he remembers his best furry friend, a cat he calls Rascal.

WAYLAND, Mich. — A lot of people at Green Acres retirement home look forward to the arrival of the Country Cat Lady, a non-profit organization which visits the community about two times each month.

"Usually we have a really big crowd. Probably about 12 residents at least," said Life Enrichment Coordinator Serena Lewis.

Jennifer Kuyt, who owns the Country Cat Lady, loads up about a dozen cats and drives to the home to put smiles on people's faces.

Kuyt started the organization a little less than two years ago after she learned cats helped her son, who has special needs. He actually learned to better communicate with people because of his interaction with cats.

“He wanted that animal to be with him so bad,” she said. “He started playing quieter. He would stop chasing the cat around. He would sit, and let the cat come to him instead. So all of this ended up turning into his human side of communication.”

The Country Cat Lady trains cats to be support animals through exposure to people. After their training, one group of cats will be adopted out as support animals.

“Just those ones that one want to be lap sitters—that really want to have an emotional connection with your human,” Kuyt said.

Cats who don’t quite make the cut still make great pets and are adopted out to the general public.

The top tier cats, though, stay with Country Cat Lady and they travel to places like Green Acres to bring joy in a group setting.

That’s how Gary DuLude met a black cat who the Country Cat Lady had named Trailblazer. Gary calls him Rascal.

Credit: Country Cat Lady
This photo marks the first time Gary DeLude met Rascal at Green Acres in Wayland during the summer of 2019.

“That relationship is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” Kuyt said. “I said, 'this one’s shy and Gary says oh I’ll take him.' So I handed him off and he just stayed on his lap for the whole two hours that we were there.”

“We just hit it off, and we’ve been together ever since," Gary said.

When 13 ON YOUR SIDE visited Green Acres to see the cats in action, it was as if time hadn’t passed between Gary and Rascal. As soon as his carrier opened, Rascal went straight to Gary's chair and put his front paws on his friend’s seat until Gary picked him up.

“It may sound weird. But we actually share that friendship between us,” Gary said. “Sometimes I’ll walk in there a little depressed about something. And sitting down with that Rascal I feel better all over. I think he can sense ‘well the old man isn’t quite there today. Maybe I can get him out of it.'”

“We’ve promised Gary his cat’s not going anywhere,” Kuyt said. “He’ll stay here so that he can always have visits from his cat.”

"I wish other people would be able to have that ability to reach out and touch an animal and let them know that you genuinely care," DuLude said. "I think that's the building block on any relationship, even with your family or with other human beings and with animals. Let them know you care."

The Country Cat Lady hopes to help build more amazing friendships like the one between Gary and Rascal. But Kuyt says she doesn’t want to have to start charging places like Green Acres for the service she provides. To do that, she needs to grow her support system. The organization is looking for sponsors to help with facility maintenance and the purchasing of cat food and veterinary services.

To help the organization or to share it with someone who could benefit from its services, visit their website.

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