Patricia H. Ladew Foundation, Inc. is an organization that understands the value of Pets on people’s lives. Founded by artist and sculptor Patricia Happie Ladew, the organization was created to look after animals, especially the beloved stray Cats that Patricia loved to care for. In 1975, Patricia established the non-profit “Oyster Bay Cat Foundation, Inc." which she ran for twenty-seven years until her death in 2002.

Although Patricia is gone, the organization lives on and continues to spread her mission of love. Among other things, the organization helps pair older cats with people who need them and even helps to provide funding for basic medical care through their new Seniors for Seniors program.

The Patricia H. Ladew Foundation, Inc. features a sanctuary that includes a very home-like atmosphere where cats can lounge on couches, beds, window ledges, and even trees due to a handy “catio.” Space is filled with toys, tunnels, cross-rope bridges, and more.

The organization is now helmed by veterinarian Susan Whittred, who had a career in the music industry throughout the 1980s where she worked with famous musicians including Rory Gallagher, Pat Benatar, Billy Idol, Blondie and many more. In the 1990s she switched careers and became a vet. Susan has won awards for her skills working with felines. Now residing in Long Beach and working at the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, Susan is also the proud co-director of the Paw Project-NY, another non-profit organization that was formed by veterinarians who have a goal to educate the public about the dangers of declawing cats.

Susan is a member of numerous feline-oriented organizations, but she regards her work with the Patricia H. Ladew Foundation, Inc. as being especially worthwhile.

Dr. Susan Whittred granted an exclusive interview on August 14, 2018, where she discussed her work with animals and the organizations that aim to make a positive impact.

Cats, programs, success stories, and adoption

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in animal rescue and why do you focus on cats?

Susan Whittred (SW): I love all animals, but have a special place in my heart for kitties. I can't remember a time when I didn't have a cat! I was rescuing cats when I was a kid; I think it's something that is just innate in me.

I'm just fascinated and drawn to the species. I remember rescuing a litter of kittens when I was probably just ten years old. I spent my allowance on cat food for them. At the time, my mother was petrified of cats. Little by little I worked on her, and she hasn't been without a cat in 50 years. She is nearly 100 now and still has a kitty by her side!

MM: How did you hear about the Patricia H. Ladew Foundation, Inc. and get involved with it?

SW: In 1987 I worked for a prominent entertainment attorney named Elliot L. Hoffman (who was horribly allergic to cats). One of his clients was Pat Ladew. Pat was doing her will and wanted to leave the Foundation to someone who wouldn't turn it into a bunch of cages -- someone who would run it with a home-like atmosphere.

Elliot said there are only two people that make his eyes water (due to his allergies) -- Pat and I, so he put us together in 1994. I also moved to make a career change at this point, so at the age of 33, I went back to school to start the journey to becoming a veterinarian. I graduated from Hunter College in 1999, and in 2003 I graduated from Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. I had already become deeply involved with the medical care of cats by then, and in recognition of that, the Association of Feline Practitioners presented me with an award for Outstanding Interest and Ability in Feline Medicine and Surgery the same year I graduated from vet school. With this education under my belt, I was well equipped to carry out Pat's vision for the Ladew Cat Sanctuary.

I returned to Long Island to do just that and Pat, and I were friends until her death in 2002. In 2003, I took over as Director.

MM: Seniors for Seniors is such an amazing program! Who thought it up and what are some of the most memorable stories to emerge from the program?

SW: I have always wanted to do something for the senior cats. Day after day they are relinquished to municipal shelters by their owners, or by their owner's family after the owner has died. They're the first ones to be put on the euthanasia list because they are the hardest to adopt out. They almost ALL need dental surgery and medical work-ups which can be expensive for folks. When Girl Scout Jodi Yeh approached me last year about working on a sustainable project for her Gold Award, I thought this project was perfect.

Jodi polled about 150 seniors and found that the biggest barriers for seniors adopting pets were cost and the fear of the cat going to a shelter if they couldn't care for it any longer. Since we already take back ANY of our cats if an owner is unable to care for them, I approached our board about covering reasonable medical care for adopted senior cats, and they agreed. The program is fairly new, but here are a few great success stories:

RED--Red is a 15-year-old diabetic cat who was brought by the owner to his vet when the owner went into a nursing home. After several weeks, the family called the vet and told them just to euthanize him because the owner wasn't coming back. The vet is one that we work with often and was unable to euthanize this big sweet boy.

We found Red a home, we provide insulin syringes and insulin, and he went from nearly being euthanized to loved by his new family.

SAGE--10-year-old Sage's owner died, and he ended up at the Town of Oyster Bay Animal Shelter. He wasn't doing well there and was transferred to us. Sage has early kidney disease and needs a special diet so is harder to adopt out. 85-year-old Peggy lost her husband and was looking for a kitty companion. She met Sage and fell in love.

MM: What are some of the challenges of keeping a non-profit animal rescue afloat?

SW: Our biggest expenses are the medical care and staff. We do everything for these cats to get them ready for adoption and now with the Seniors for Seniors program, continue to do everything that is reasonable for them.

Donations and volunteers are crucial to keeping this going! We are so fortunate to have an entire house left to the cats by Pat, but as everyone knows, keeping up a house - and now an onsite medical clinic as well - is costly. We have all of the same expenses as homeowners -heat, electricity, maintenance - as well as food, medicine and litter for 100+ cats! The overhead is significant, and for that reason, we always have to continue to fundraise.

MM: To date, how many cats and other creatures have you rescued and how many staff members do you work with?

SW: We've rescued somewhere between 2000 and 3000 since I started. I have three full-time staff and three part-time, including a Sanctuary Manager who lives on site in the house so that there is someone there 24/7.

With that amount of cats, we're all pretty much stretched to the limit - but we love what we do!

MM: How many cats are presently available for adoption and what do you require from potential “pet parents”?

SW: We currently have about 110 cats (it changes daily). We have an adoption application online that we ask people to fill out. We check references and then get a feel for what kind of cat will be best for their household. Sometimes adopters have a specific cat in mind because we share our cats' stories widely on social media, but we always invite potential adopters into the sanctuary to meet the other cats while they're here. Sometimes they fall in love with a different cat - or a different cat falls in love with them!

Sometimes they even wind up adopting two!

Highlights of animal rescue and organization goals

MM: Generally speaking, what are the highlights of your involvement with the Patricia H. Ladew Foundation, Inc. and animal rescue in general?

SW: The biggest highlight for us is finding a home for a cat that was on a euthanasia list or needed medical attention. Tommy Pickles had three broken legs when he was found by the NYPD and taken in a police car to Animal Care Centers in NYC. Most shelters, faced with an owner-less cat in that condition would have likely scheduled him for euthanasia because it is not their mission or in their budget to repair and rehab seriously ill or injured cats. So, to adopt him out would mean that his adopter, if they could find one, would face several thousand dollars in the orthopedic surgery alone.

Fortunately for him, we heard about him, and it IS in our mission to rescue and rehab cats like him. So, we called the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals, and they sent their "Wheels of Hope" transport team over to ACC to rescue Tommy and bring him to us. Once we had him, we arranged for surgery to have Tommy's limbs repaired through one of our veterinary partners, we did his physical therapy at our on-site clinic, and today he has a forever home and his own Instagram page! Seeing his posts every day are a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do!

MM: What are your biggest goals for the future of the Patricia H. Ladew Foundation, Inc.?

SW: I would love to help more cats. Right now, we only take in from municipal shelters, but if we had enough staff and more space, maybe we could open it up to helping the public.

MM: You belong to a number of organizations that do awesome things for animals, so would you like to mention some of them and their missions here?

SW: The Paw Project is near and dear to my heart. Founded by a veterinarian, Jenny Conrad, The Paw Project is comprised of a group of veterinarians across the country who are trying to end the inhumane practice of declawing cats through education and legislation. I hope to see this happen in my lifetime. Also, if you want to donate to the organization, please visit our website by Googling “The Ladew Cat Sanctuary.”