Remembering Animal Friends’ Cat Whisperer, Lillian Abernethy

By Maddie Aicher, Volunteer Coordinator

If you have surrendered, adopted, fostered or volunteered with a cat or kitten at Animal Friends in the past 15 years, chances are Lillian Abernethy touched your life in some way.

On any given day you could find her behind the Adoption Desk matching adopters with the perfect feline friend, moving and evaluating cats or rushing around to ensure that each and every cat was comfortable and settling into their temporary home.

For more than 15 years, Lillian was dedicated to the cats and kittens at Animal Friends, spending over 23,275 hours volunteering in the Adoption Department. She assisted with thousands of adoptions during her time here and was lovingly known as “the cat whisperer.” Lillian ensured that every resident – no matter how, big, small, shy or fierce – received loving care. There was not a cat in the building who Lillian did not know and she was always happy to discuss at length their needs, quirks, personalities and progress as they waited to find their family.

When Lillian passed away in August after a long battle with cancer, staff, volunteers and cats alike mourned her loss. The Adoption Desk felt empty without her and the cat condos lacked her laughter and calming presence.

“One of the things that I miss the most about Lil is what a good teacher she was,” says Katie Vecchi, Director of Behavior & Placement. “When I started, I was pretty new to cats … I cannot tell you how many times I would be nervous to show a cat [to an adopter] and Lil would just say, ‘c’mon,’ and take me into the condos. She would coach me through getting a cat into their carrier, and when I would panic, she would be there to help me.”

Katie also recalls how Lillian knew every feline resident. “It was amazing how she could track so many cats and set each one up for success.” Lillian’s way with the cats was truly unmatched – the special way she could become friends with even our most fearful, despondent and aggressive cats made her an incredibly valuable member of our Adoption team.

Her love of cats was apparent to anyone who met Lillian and her sense of humor was contagious. Erin Butkovic fondly remembers her time as a volunteer and Adoption Counselor alongside Lillian. Erin recalls one instance when the two discussed how to use their new training clickers. “She started clicking and then handing me potato chips … it took me probably an hour to realize she was practicing clicker training on me and not the cats! I called her out on it and she smiled and belly laughed.”

It’s difficult to put into words the depth of the impact Lillian had on Animal Friends. Her passion and dedication to our residents will live on in those she inspired and taught during her time here. While it’s hard to think of how we could possibly continue without her guidance and wisdom, we may find comfort in knowing that many of Lillian’s animal friends were waiting for her just over the Rainbow Bridge, and that she will continue to watch over each and every one of our residents as they wait to find their new families.

Thank you, Lillian, for everything.

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