Crazy about Cats

Crazy+about+Cats

Allison Mi, Co-Editor-in-Chief

With a Haagen-Dazs vanilla chocolate ice cream bar in hand and calloused palms from a morning of kayaking, Huron teachers Melissa Herskowitz and Sarah Wroblewski were passing the River Rat Stadium the Friday before the first day of school when they saw a shadow.

“It must be a groundhog,” thought Herskowitz. “It must be a squirrel. Who knows?”

Under the handicap ramp of the freshman bleachers, buried in the groundhog-suspected burrow, were three furry faces staring back at her. 

“Oh my goodness,” Herskowitz said. “They’re kittens.”

It was clear the mom had abandoned them. The Humane Society would not take them because they were considered healthy. However, Herskowitz and Wroblewski knew they would not survive under the bleachers. The next action was obvious: the kittens — small, scrawny and solitary — needed a home. 

Herskowitz sent out an email to all teachers, informing them of the situation. While waiting for responses, Huron Office Professional Angela Gill took the responsibility of leaving out water and tuna for the cats, and even temporarily taking them in. 

But she didn’t have to do it for long. Many Huron faculty members responded to Herskowitz’ email, wanting to adopt a kitten. They ended up going to the homes of Veronica Choe, Courtney Pusta, and Belinda Balli. Here are their stories.

 

Choe and Techno

Until 2020, Veronica Choe was a teacher at Huron for AP Chemistry. However, she then moved to Slauson middle school and taught there until the fall of 2021. 

Around that time, three kittens were found under the River Rat Stadium.

“Ms. Herskowitz knows me well and she knows that if I’m aware of baby animals in need that I will cave and take one in,” Choe said. “As soon as I saw the pictures she sent, I was like, ‘Alright. All hands on deck. Let’s get these babies rescued.’”

On the Friday before the first week of school, after coaching the women’s volleyball practice, Choe stopped by to check on the kittens. Her soon-to-be cat? “Just a really happy kitten.”

Right after bringing the kitten home, Assistant Principal Michael Sumerton called Choe letting her know about a job opening at Huron.

“Huron is a very special place to me,” Choe said. “I student-taught here. I keep in touch with a lot of students and former students, I have lots of friends and good experiences here. It’s just a really special place. It’s hard to describe how special it is. And getting this kitten made me feel like, ‘Okay, I’m still a part of this community.’”

Choe describes it as kismet: “Everything is aligning in the universe. This cat comes into my life and I get to go back to Huron, which is super exciting for me, even though I’m still sad about leaving Slauson.”

After taking notice of the cat’s wild, super hyper, up-all-hours-of-the-day personality, Choe and her partner decided to name it Techno, a genre of music that has a very fast beats per minute. Not to mention, the name fit with the name of the two other cats she owned.

“Potato, Disco, Techno!”

Choe, who will be teaching web design, personal project, and credit recovery at Huron, says Techno looks part Bengal but has very unique physical markings: a giant leopard print on his sides, what looks like targets on the other side, and stripy parts all over.

“I think that’s my favorite thing about him,” Choe said. “He just looks so different from any other cat I’ve ever seen. He feels like a really special cat.”

 

Pusta and River

When Courtney Pusta got her kitten, she had every intention of not keeping the kitten and giving it to her neighbor. 

During the weekend before school started, Pusta was playing with the kitten at Huron. Since two kittens were already in temporary homes and this one did not have anywhere to go, she was asked if she could take this one home.

“She was too cute and I was like, ‘I’ll take her until we can find her a home,’” Pusta said. 

That afternoon, when she picked up her son from kindergarten, Pusta said, “I got a surprise in the car, and we’re gonna take it to the vet.”

Even though her son knew the kitten would be staying with them temporarily, he insisted on naming it.

“All of his names were something bizarre,” Pusta said.

“Black Panther!” he exclaimed with a slew of other superhero-inspired names.

“‘If it’s a girl, what do you think of –’ I had put our girl names and he was like, ‘No,’” Pusta recounted. 

“One of the teachers I work with suggested ‘River.’ What do you think of that one?’” Pusta asked.

“Hey, I like that,” he said.

At the vet, it was confirmed that the cat was a girl. And her name was River.

River, who turned out to be a maine coone, was only two and a half pounds. 

“She was very undernourished and liked to hide a lot,” Pusta said.

River was often found in small crevices, like the space behind the toilet.

“She was this little itty bitty thing, but she is getting bigger,” Pusta said. “It’s becoming harder and harder for her to get back there so I’m like, ‘Well, you’re obviously putting on some weight.’”

Though it is not always positive territory between River and Pusta’s other cat and dog, River started warming up to the family.

“She doesn’t like it when I stand up because I’m too big for her, but she circles around me,” Pusta said. “She just wants to be held, and cuddled, and show you how she can play and do all the tricks with the toys.”

Pusta’s neighbor did not respond to her about the cat for a while and eventually was too busy to bring one in.

At te beginning, though Pusta’s kids loved River from the get go, her husband agreed that “it’s not for us.”

A weekend later: “We have the coolest cats,” he said.

“Cats? With an ‘S’?” Pusta clarified. “Okay, we’re keeping her.”

 

Balli and Franky

Belinda Balli is a cat person. Always was. Always will be.

“I’ve always liked black cats,” Ballie said. “They are the least likely to be adopted.”

For a while, at the animal clinic Balli’s sister worked at, all the cats would get adopted. The Black and white ones. The little tiger ones. The grey and striped ones. All but the blacks cats.

“Take them,” Balli’s sister would say to Balli. “Here’s two more.”

Over the span of two decades, she had adopted about a dozen black cats.

Though most of her cats were black, Balli’s son used to own a fluffy one with tiger stripes named Atticus. When Balli saw the email from Herskowitz, along with the kittens’ picture, the first thought that hit her: “My son would love that cat. It looks just like his Atticus.”

Because they were not sure of the cat’s gender, they decided to name him Franky. 

Especially because of her veterinarian sister, Balli has a lot of experience housing various animals, including a 12-year old one-eyed pug, with a protruding eye, and a three legged cat. So, Franky, a four-legged, two-eyed cat, was no new territory.

Overtime, Franky warmed up to the three cats in the house and the german shepherd. One worry that the family had was that Franky would be feral. With past feral cats, it was difficult to domesticate them and they did not like to be around people, share food, and had issues with the litter box.

“But this little cat, you would never know he spent a day of his life outside,” Balli said. “He is so domesticated, loves people, and never hides. He’s just always looking for somebody to hold him. Pet him. Love him.”