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Teaching a Lesson in Gratitude

Harllee Middle School students remind us of why becoming a No Kill Community matters.

After three litters of puppies and a chaotic fall, I decided to take a break from fostering.

That break was short-lived.

I don't have any puppies right now, but I do have a foster cat who is available for adoption. I took the cat reluctantly when Paige Suhay's friend called Lucky Dogs to plead for help. She foud an injured cat in her neighborhood and brought the cat to animal services.

The cat had been abandoned by someone who had moved from he neighborhood. His name was Nalia and since the family had gone, he had been trapped and neutered and his ear had been clipped. The cat had recently been injured and had a large wound on its back. Animal Services said it was unlikely the cat would make it out of the shelter unless the women could find someone to foster the cat until his injury healed.

I didn't know the whole story when I agreed to foster. I just knew a woman had called looking for someone to take care of the injured cat.

I called Animal Services and arranged to pick him up from Beach Vet where he was being treated. When I got Nalia home, he climbed out of the pet carrier and snuggled up on my lap. He was friendly and seemed to crave human contact.

So the cat settled into his own room, away from my dogs so he could quietly recover.

Suhay called Lucky Dog to check on the cat and said she told her reading students at Harllee Middle School the story about the cat and how two people helped to save the cat. She told the students they could write us thank you notes if they wanted.

The story inspired the middle school reading students. The students embraced the writing assignment, one even wrote a book for the cat to entertain him while he was recovering. Suhay recently brought the thank you notes to Lucky Dogs, where I met her and was able to read them.

The students never met Nalia, but hearing the story of the injured cat and seeing a photo I snapped of Nalia once I got her home moved them to write thoughtful notes, most of which were illustrated too.Many of the notes suggested that I bring the cat to meet them in person. Also many of the students wanted me to write back.

I'm no hero — in fact I can name at least a dozen more people that do far more to save animals than I can ever imagine —  but those cards sure made me feel like a hero. The students were unabashed in thanking me and telling me stories about the animals they loved. One drawing even showed a cat wearing a cape with the words super Whitt.

Inside the card Julio Ceaser wrote: Thank you for saving that cat. You were an angel when you decided to keep her because you saved her life.

A boy who signed the car simply, your friend Ladarius wrote: Thank you for saving Nalia. We are really proud for what you have done.

Marah wrote: Thank you for saving that cat. May God bless both of you. Even though I did not know that cat, I know she is thankful for still having a life.

Demetrez Buckley wrote: Thank you Ms. Sherry and Ms. whitt for helping the cats and dogs. I love you ladies for that.

Those are just excerpts of messages in the cars. Most of the cards include personal stories and thoughts about Nalia and their own pets. They taught me that

When you're fostering an animal it's sometimes easy to forget the big picture — it's not hard to get lost among each individual task or working to get one or two animals in good homes. But the Harllee Middle School students reminded me why it matters that Manatee County strives to be a no kill community.

The goal is the humane treatment of all creatures. By treating animals with kindness, we hope that we can treat one another with respect. The students wrote me stories about abandoned kittens, neighbors who mistreated thier pets and about the everyday dangers cats and dogs face.

The message in every card showed compassion and care. They reminded me that one small act can make a difference and serve as an example to others. They knew that Nalia's life mattered. Someone had loved the cat once and he needed a second chance at a good home.

Their thank yous are really meant for all of those advocates who are working so hard to make Manatee County a No Kill Community. They are also to all of those people who foster dogs and cats, to the vets who volunteer their time and services and to the people who clean cages and wash dogs and answer phones. And most certainly they are to all of those animal services employees who have worked extremely hard over the last year to increase adoptions and save more animals.

Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Kimberly and Mary Jo: Thank you for taking care of Naila. We are so glad that you wrote back to us at Harllee Middle School - Ms. Suhay's Reading Class. Keep Naila safe! (Love you guys very much)! Me and Mary Jo still want to meet you, and Ms. Suhay told us in January you will visit us and teach a writing workshop to us! That's going to be so cool! We are just so happy that you read all of the "Thank You Cards." It's so cool to hear that you care about all kinds of animals. Me "Kimberly" I have always wanted to help the animals since I was a little girl? I just want to say that I want to help the animals just like you guys do. I also want to be a vet and make a animal selter for all of the animals. Love, Kimberly and Mary Jo P.S. love you!
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Thank you for saving Nalia and I can't what to see you January when you come and help us with our reading/writing workshop! After reading your articleI learned to help animals that are in need of help. Also to help homeless animals out and give them a warm and safe home. It is also important to show them how much you love them! I love you Ms. Whitt and Ms. Sherry! Sophia (Harllee Middle School - Ms. Suhay's 6th grade Reading Class)
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Natalie and Erik, We are thankful of you for saving Nalia's life.Thank you for giving Nalia a wonderful foster home. We are so thankful and we love what you did (Your heart is really really really really bright and huge)!. I was so excited what you had done for Nalia.I felt really really really bad for Nalia when she had injured her tail. We are happy for everything you did for him so he can get better and go to a great home that will spoil him. Thank you so much Ms.Whitt and Ms.Sherry, Love Harllee Middle School. Natalie ,and Erik have a great holiday and we will see you in January when you do a writing workshop with us. Thank you Ms.Suhay for this really neat project and to let us help our school and community out! Thank you Mr. Hird - Principal here for Ms. Suhay! After reading this article we learned that we should take care of pets so they don`t get hurt.
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Sindy and Fernanda from Harllee Middle School - Ms. Suhay's Reading Class. We are thankful for you helping Nalia and we are so EXCITED!!!!!!!to see Ms.Whitt in January.Thank you!!! Again thank you for helping Nalia because if it wasn't for Ms.Whitt, Ms.Shelly, and Ms. Suhay, Nalia wouldn't be alive. After reading this article we learned that saving animals is a good thing to do. Their are some pets that needs help and we hope you and Ms.Shelly could rescue all dogs and pets that need to be in a safe place. From;Ms.Suhay's class :) Thank you so much!!!!! love you!!!
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Marah and Veronica - 6th grade Reading Class at Harllee Middle School: We are so thankfull for you saving Nalia's life I'm sure that Nalia is thankfull also for still having a life. Imagine if that was you, how would you feel to be hurt, alone, homeless, and almost die all because the home owners moved and left the you, the cat for the streets? To read what I wrote makes my heart beat really really fast and it makes me sad and want to cry. Seeing my name - Marah and my words from my card makes me feel successful! I was more suprised than excited at first when I heard my name was in the article because I just could not believe it! Then after I saw my name I had a huge proud smile on my face:) Thank you so much Ms.Whitt and Ms. Sherry and best wishes to the both of you!!!!! Sincerly, Marah, and Veronica.!!!!!! :) After reading your article I learned that we should care more about animals and be more carefull to watch out for cats or any other animals that need help and we need to help them out. Thank you again......:)
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Alex and Andrew - Harllee Middle School Ms. Suhay's Reading Class Thank you for saving Nalia! I got worried that the cat wasn't going to make it. I was so glad to hear that you saved the cat. When I found out I was so happy I ran home so fast I tripped then I told my dad he decided to adopt three baby pups just born. THANK YOU MS.WHITT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. After reading your article I learned about the government and the [no-kill comunity] and now I feel like getting all my family members to adopt dogs and cats. I loved your article thank you.
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Luis and Jason - 6th graders at Harllee Middle School - Ms. Suhay's reading Class - It's a cool class - we read and write a lot! Thank you for taking care of Naila Ms.Sherry and Ms. Whitt. After reading your article I learned to adopt, foster, and/or help out a cat or dog in need of help.
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Francesca and Jose - Harllee Middle School - 6th Reading students in Ms. Suhay's Classroom. Thank you for saving Naila and I hope that she gets well really fast! We were happy to read the article and when Ms. Suhay told us the story every body was quiet to hear it and it was a sad story that was made into a happy story. We can't wait until you come in January we are all happy that you are coming. We hope she gets better pretty soon. I hope we could see Nalia with you so I could take a picture of the him. I hope when you come in January you could bring the cat with you - I will tell my teacher Ms. Suhay to tell my Principal Mr. Hird that this must happen so it just has to! Nalia is my classroom Kitty, I think about petting her in my mind when I am reading and it helps me.THANK YOU SO MUCH. After reading your article I learned that you have saved a poor and ill cat that was about to die if no one came to pick her up. You got her so she wouldn't die. You are a hero..........you are my hero!
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Eishinner and Yisell, Yisell: Thank you for taking care of Nalia and saving her life. You are a life safer and if Ms.Suhay if she would of never found Nalia, we would never be writing pen pals! Plus maybe Nalia would not be here now. Thank you Ms.Suhay and Ms.Witt for saving Nalia. Eishinner: You say you are not a hero but you really are, you saved a life and you are just amazing. I wish I could do something like that and I am looking foward to meeting you in janurary and can you please bring Nalia or could you come on December,14 because December,15 is my birthday but it is on a Satuday. Also that is so cool that you saved Nalia, oh and tell Nalia that me and Yisell said "hello '' meow''! After reading your artical I learned that you have saved a poor and sick little cat that was about to die and if no one came to pick her up she would of died, but she didn't because of you thank you! by Eishinner sanon and Yisell rivera.
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Jaylan and Jesus from Ms. Suhay's reading alot and writing a lot Reading Class at Harllee Middle School. My principal is Mr. Hird and he is really cool! Thank you for saving Nalia. I would of done the same thing with saving Nali and I hope Nalia gets well. After reading your article I learned to help abandoned animals who needs help and have no homes.
Carolyn and Cricket December 05, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Toni, I am glad to know others know what we your friends and neighbors know. That you are warm, kind and loving human being! I am proud to call you my friend! Love from the girls (Cricket and Heidi) and me.
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Thank you for taking the cat in! I'm Charles and I'm the one that made the 5 page book for Nalia. Can you please let me or my teacher know if he liked my book? I think was book was all about Nalia and I really like my book. My book had a great poem in it. I love cats. I have a baby kitten at home and his name is mittens. It is all black fur and has white on its paw mittena. I hope Nalia recovers. Your article was great. I learned a lot. I learned how you took care of Nalia. That was very good of yourself. Is she getting enough food and water now that she is back inside and off the streets. I don't like seeing cats on the streets because they might get hit by a car. My cats live inside. Thank you for putting my book in your article. It made me feel excited and special. I feel good to help out a hurt cat. It made my day! I think my teacher is the best teacher and we work hard and alot. This is long writing.....................told you I work hard. When Nalia is better can I see her? I read with my cats, she might love being Ms. Suhay's reading cat. My cat's love being read to. I like reading to cats. It helps me to read better. I love you Ms. Whitt and Ms. Sherry! From you best friend Charles I am a studnet of Ms. Suhay's Reading Class 6C Cheetahs at Harllee Middle School
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Teo and Julio,Dalton -6th graders at Harllee Middle School-Ms. Suhay Thank you for saving the cat and saving his life. After reading your article I learned that after one small act everyboby makes a difference in the life. You gave Nalia a second chance and a second home!
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Miguel and Alejandro Thanks for saving that cat's life! Your a life saver and a hero to that cat and us. 6TH grade Harllee Middle School Ms. Suhay's class. I learned that it is important to help out .And have a good day.....or night save a cat if you can. :D
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Alex -6th Grade student in Ms Suhay's Reading Class at Harllee Middle School Thanks for saving lots of cats and dogs and importantly Naila. Keep doing a fantastic job! Ms. Suhay' s 6C Cheetah student. I bet cats and dogs even us are so proud of you: ) You should be proud of yourself those cats and dogs do and I love you beacause you are the ones who save them and their life! GOD BLESSSS YOU!!!!`
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Harllee Middle School 6th graders from Ms.Suhay's Class Thank you for saving that cat. After reading your article I learned to help save animals. This is Gerardo,Chris ,Demetrez and Antonio This is Demetrez. Hi again! Cool picture of us! I came running into Ms. Suhay's room because I run and I shouted at her, I am loud but not bad loud, but not in a bad or mean way because I was excited. I made your article! All the kids at my school know that I met you, Nalia's savior and Ms. Sherry who also saved her. They all know if I get A papers then Ms. Sherry will let me have a delicious barkque hot dog and Ms. Suhay promises if I don't have a bad day that she will also visit me and my booth at the farmer's market just like she and Ms. Whitt did last week. I met you at your awesome resturant last week and I love the hot dogs. So far I have not had a bad day, but I'm close, but Ms. Suhay reminds me of your delicious hotdogs so I change my behavior because your hotdogs are so good! I am lucky to have Ms. Whitt and Ms. Sherry as my friends! Love D:)
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Harllee Middle School Daniel, John 6th Grade Students in Ms Suhay's Class - Awesome Class!!! After reading your article I learned that you care for pets & you are nice person because you do not like when animals are hurt and you do not like when animals are in pain. I thank you are a richnesss and kind personality. We thank you for everything you have done for the animals. By: Daniel & John
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Kailha Jacob Tamiya Harllee Middle School Hi I'm Tamiya and that's was really brave of you and I feel so sorry for that cat. I hope you take care of that cat I hope it have a great home. I wrote the card that said - Get Well Cat! God bless that cat and you too! LOVE TAMIYA. HI my name is Kailha and one time I saw a cat with a big scrach on it's back and it would not let me help him so I gave it food and water I feel so bad for that cat so I kept it and cleaned it.I love you guys. I hope the cat feels better . thank you .
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Antoinette,Pannel,and Lytzy - 6th Grade Students in Ms. Suhay's Cool Reading Class at Harllee Middle School. Ater reading your story it had taught us that its ight to help animals. Antoinette-I have had a dog before and I let her sleep in my room at night. We've had experiences with pets of our own and you taught me to care and be kind and help others out. Thank you for doing this.We love you for saving Nalia.We are 6th graders at Harllee Middle School.YOU ARE A HERO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!LOVE U!!!!!!!!!!YOU ARE AWSOME!!!!!!!!!!
Paige Suhay December 05, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Claudia, Vincent,Justin Thank you for saving Nalia. After reading your article I learned one small act can make a difference and serve as an example to others. When we got done reading your article it made us sad for someone who did that to a cat. Hi it's Claudia I would like to tell you something that happend to me one day me and my mom I were going to the park and we found a baby dog that was hurt very bad we took her to the vet. The vet said that someone need to take care of it. I told my mom let me take care of the dog.The dog is now ok. Hi my name is Vincent I have to tell you it was good that you saved his life! I am thankful that you saved his life because that is like saving a human's life. I learned from your article that little small things can save someone's life and make a big difference! From; Ms.Suhay's class:) Harllee Middle School - :) :) Thank you so much!!!!!!!!! love you. <claudia,justin><vincent>.
Blair Chlebisch December 05, 2012 at 10:38 PM
I think it is really great to take real life situations in the community, and link them back into the classroom setting. Being a teacher myself, it can be difficult to do, but to see evidence of this is really comforting. And to do it in a way that is very inspiring makes it even that more special. Helping animals just leads to better people, and that is what makes this nation so great. Thank you Ms. Suhay and your class for helping out those in need, even if they are just "animals", and allowing your students to be a part of that. Hopefully your students will continue with these lessons, and continue to be active in their community.
Lisa McCreary December 06, 2012 at 02:27 AM
So incredibly proud of Ms. Suhay's reading class. There is nothing like a thank you and to receive it from middle school students makes it more special. Kids keep it up you truly make people's days with cards like the ones you wrote! Way to go Paige! Always impressive.
Catherine Ferrer December 06, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Thank you Toni and thanks to everyone in Ms. Suhay's class for your words of encouragement. So many of us help animals without recognition that it is awesome to see someone get the recognition they deserve. Thanks also to the vet's office, Cheri at Lucky Dogs and everyone in this amazing network we have in Manatee County to support animals. We are blessed to be in such a caring place.
Sheri December 06, 2012 at 03:38 PM
To my new found friends at Harllee Middle School. Thank YOU for the wonderful comments (yes, I cried) and thank you for your concern for animals. Keep up the good work! Love, Ms. Sheri
Toni Whitt (Editor) December 06, 2012 at 09:22 PM
To Ms. Suhay's Class: I can't wait to come visit you. I will see if I can get permission to bring Nalia. I would love to talk to you about what your letters mean to me and to thank you for sharing your stories with me. You are an amazing group of students. Keep up the good work!
Mr December 07, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Hi Harlee Middle School READERS!!! I'm Ms Suhay's Mom. One of my favorite quotes is from Mahatma Gandhi. "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man." How powerful is this thought! Thanks for your involvement in teaching others to care and love and help the animals. ps.....Tell Ms Suhay not to adopt anymore cats for her parents!!! Mr and Mrs Suhay presently have 9 cats living with them....all have been a "gift" from Ms Suhay.
Sheri December 07, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Demetrez, I am happy to hear that you have not had a bad day.
Karen Berner December 07, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Dear Paige, You and your kids are so lucky to have each other! Keep on saving the world, one child and one (or two or three!) animals at a time! Karen
Kris Wise December 07, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Demetrez, I hope you're having a good week in school and are listening to Sergant Suhay! She tells me you have been doing good in class and if that's true we'll treat you out to Lucky Dog again Saturday. Keep up the good work and continue helping to find homes for the animals in need. Your pal Kris
Sheri December 09, 2012 at 05:24 AM
I spent the afternoon with Phillip and Demetrez Buckle. They are now the official spookepersons for Axel. It was such a pleasure to see two A+ papers (hanging on the wall) . They met the City Fire Marshal and a City Council woman. The City Council woman said she would buy ice cream for every A +

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