Summer 2009 Newsletter

Cat Chat

A Heart as Big as New Mexico

By Nancy Marano

Kari Winters cared. She cared deeply and passionately about every animal who hurt and every person who ever needed her friendship, love or help.

When Kari moved here from California three years ago, New Mexico gained an animal advocate and champion. One of the first events she attended was the Mayor's Dog Ball. She was excited about the event and its mission to raise money for Kennel Kompadres, the fundraising arm of the Albuquerque shelters. She couldn't wait to volunteer to help them. That first year Kari won an auction bid to take her dog on television with Steve Stucker. But, instead of taking her dog, she asked to take a shelter dog and consequently got him adopted. This year she won lunch with Mayor Chavez and his dog Dukes. Kari was very excited about this prize. Unfortunately, the lunch was scheduled four days after Kari died.

She worked at getting sponsors and auction prizes for future Dog Balls. "If someone said they weren't able to sponsor the event, she asked them to donate an auction prize instead," said Rick DeReyes, Marketing Director for Albuquerque Animal Welfare. "She believed in the cause and gave more than 100% of her time and talent."

DeReyes, who always supported animal groups, knew of Kari when he worked in Los Angeles. He heard about her rescuing animals with The Amanda Foundation and her activism with the Los Angeles City Council on behalf of animals. After the first Dog Ball she called the Albuquerque shelter and asked, "How can I help?" He knew the shelter animals had found a friend. "If something needed to be done, she did it softly," he said. "She knew how to work with people for the good of the animals. When there was a question of cutting the Animal Services budget, Kari wrote letters, attended Council meetings and talked to everyone. No one celebrated more happily when the budget remained as it was."

Fostering animals was one of Kari's passions. "Kari had over ten years of fostering experience when she came here," said Jeanine Patterson, Director, Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department. "She did the same thing for us. One of her recent successes was with a mother poodle named Carly who'd been dumped at the shelter with her five puppies. Mom and babies remained in the shelter for eight days, the hold period mandated by the city."

Since Kari was an advanced practice psychiatric nurse, she was very familiar with isolation periods and always isolated foster animals for 21 days. Her experience taught her animals from shelters always got sick. When these dogs didn't, she wrote to the Mayor, a city councilor and Patterson telling them how amazed she was and how good it was the city hired a nurse to run the shelter. Kari didn't just let something happen without giving praise where it was due. Kobi, one of her Oriental Shorthairs, helped raise the puppies and, according to Kari, they learned to purr before they learned to bark.

"Kari cared about the volunteers at the shelter. She told me volunteers would stay longer and do better if they felt appreciated. To help with this, she set up a Yahoo! group so volunteers could communicate. We could thank them, educate them and show our appreciation of their efforts through the group," Patterson said. "She said she wanted to help me make them feel appreciated and answer their questions as she knew we were all too busy to provide that type of quality support."

Teri Austin once starred in the nighttime soap opera, "Knots Landing." Now she stars as an animal activist in Los Angeles and is the founder of The Amanda Foundation.

"Kari volunteered with us. She wanted to learn everything she could about how to best help the creatures she loved so much. Over the years I taught her everything I knew about running a rescue. She took that knowledge, expanded upon it and became a well known animal advocate in her own right," Austin said.

Kari's first visit to the Los Angeles city shelter was profoundly moving for her. "We found a small grey toy poodle in very sad shape, neglected to the point of abuse. Remi, as she named him, was her soul mate," Austin said. "She nursed him back to health. Her love transformed him from a dirty, scraggly, shivering orphan no one wanted to the healthy, happy, little bundle she so loved."

Remi became a symbol and reminder for Kari that any animal could be changed for the better if a person just looked beyond the dirt and neglect and gave an orphan dog or cat some 'Remilove.'

She went on to apply her rescue knowledge with Southern California Siamese Rescue and other national Siamese rescues. Kari continued her work with them even after she moved to Albuquerque.

As she learned more about rescuing animals and animal advocacy, she also turned to writing about animals for several publications and her own website ( She joined the Cat Writers' Association (CWA) and through that met many authors she knew only from their books. Kari was never one to promote herself because she was only interested in helping animals. When she won awards from CWA, the ASPCA and Cornell University for her articles on a cat-rescuing dog and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), she couldn't believe it. She didn't think her writing was in a league with that of the authors she admired.

Wuffy, the cat rescuing dog she wrote about, was a rescue dog she convinced her friend Gary Rohde to adopt 14 years ago. One day when Wuffy was a puppy, she carefully brought four abandoned kittens she'd found to Gary. The veterinarian told him he would have to bottle feed them and help them learn to be cats. Gary loved dogs but cats weren't on his radar. He needn't have worried because Wuffy, who must have been a nurse in a previous life, nurtured the kittens and kept every one of them alive until they could be adopted.

When Kari learned of Wuffy's talent, she started calling Gary to say, "Send Wuffy, I need her help." Wuffy would arrive and help Kari care for foster kittens and cats. She always seemed to know which kitten was the sickest and who needed the most help. Together Kari and Wuffy saved and rehabilitated over 600 cats and kittens. They were true soul mates in the healing department.

Darlene Arden, a close friend of Kari's and one of the authors she admired, explained Kari's ability with animals like this.

"A chosen few have a special gift for rehabilitating special needs animals. Kari was one of those people. Her ability to help dog after dog, cat after cat, was more than impressive. Kari had the patience and love to gain the trust of orphans of all ages, and turn them around. Whatever problems they had developed from unknown situations before finding their way into rescue, Kari could change their lives, taking something broken and making it whole."

Kari and I knew each other through CWA and our friendship grew when she moved to Albuquerque. None of her large network of friends will ever know how many animals she saved, rehabilitated and re-homed although it probably is well over 1000. She did her work quietly despite her own health issues and pain.

But those animals who knew her voice, her touch and above all her patient love, will always remember the angel who helped them when they needed it most. And the ones who preceded her will be waiting to welcome her home. One can only imagine the thunderous purrs, barks and clapping paws on her arrival with her dearly loved Remi, Nicky, Kobi to name but a few.

Perhaps Teri Austin captured all of our thoughts when she said, "I picture her sitting on a big, comfy couch with various 'four footers' snuggled around her. This is how I often saw her in her home and it's how I'll picture her now."

As Luciano De Crescenzo so aptly said, "We are each of us angels with only one wing. And we can only fly embracing each other."

Kari soared embracing the whole world.

(If you with to remember Kari Winters, a donation to Treasurer - Kennel Kompadres, 139 Palacio Rd., Corrales, NM 87048 would be appreciated.)

Nancy Marano is an award-winning author who is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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