Homer’s Odyssey to Finding the Home of His Dreams

June 6, 2024


In the summer of 2022, the ASPCA Community Engagement team in New York City offered assistance to an overwhelmed caregiver who had dozens of cats living in their home.

One of these cats, named Goose, was brought to the ASPCA Adoption Center (AC), along with 28 other cats. While in our care, received a full medical workup, including treatment for dental disease and ear infections. Since he was previously living in an overcrowded home, 5-year-old Goose was initially fearful of people, which was not a surprise to our staff.

“Being in a home with many other cats seemed like it affected Goose’s ability to properly socialize with people,” says Stephanie Illescas, ASPCA Admissions & Placement Specialist. “This made it difficult for him to be confident around one's typical human movements and noises, such as opening a door or walking towards him.”

Realizing that the move to the Adoption Center was quite a big change for Goose, the move into someone’s home might be an even bigger hurdle. Our behavior team worked closely with Goose to help set him up for success in his future home.

“Goose showed moderate fear during his interactions with my team and was not interested in food or play,” says Jacqueline Ramirez, ASPCA Behavior Specialist. “However, over a course of three months, we were able to make steady progress.”

One way that the behavior team helped Goose become more comfortable being around new people was by setting up his living space in an office. A staff member would work in the office during the day, which helped him acclimate to sharing his space with human friends. Goose also received daily treatment sessions to learn that touch from people isn’t so scary, which is an important step in becoming ready for adoption.

Goose, inside of a cat carrier, which was set up as a cozy resting spot for him in the office.

Making Strides at His Own Pace

After Goose graduated from his behavior treatment, he was ready to be adopted into a loving home! However, while he was beginning to grow comfortable with the friends he saw every day, it was still difficult for new people to build a relationship. For shy cats like him, that can be a challenge when looking for a new home.

When adopting an independent kitty like Goose, there are a few helpful tips that their new families should know. They might take some time to adjust to their surroundings, and it’s always a good idea to recognize and respect their boundaries as they get to know their new family.

“Baby steps are key in the adjustment period, and even the smallest of baby steps can add up over time,” says Stephanie. “It's important for adopters to not be too hard on themselves!”

As our placement team spoke to potential adopters about Goose, his tendency to run away from new people was a hard selling point. His meet-and-greets also included a consultation with our behavior team, so that the adopter could speak with a specialist who worked with him directly. This extra step sometimes led to more hesitation from adopters. Regardless, our teams knew that someone special would take a chance on this special boy! 


Goose’s Odyssey

Growing up, a shelter cat named Kitty was Kate O.’s best friend, and since then, it has been important to her to take care of furry companions. Now that she was an adult, Kate was finally ready to adopt a cat of her own.

In December 2022, she began to search for her new feline friend, and our Adoption Center was her first choice.

“I had lost my rabbit Clover a few months prior, and I felt like New Year’s 2023 would be a wonderful time to welcome home a new friend,” says Kate.

She found Goose’s profile on the website, and was called back just a day later.

“It was a super simple process, and the adoption team assists in matching you with the right companion,” says Kate.

Kate was specifically looking for a cat who might have had a hard time finding homes, such as senior cats or those with behavioral challenges.

“I work as a clinical social worker in psychiatric settings with individuals who have experienced trauma and neglect, and I knew I could provide a safe home,” explains Kate.

After consulting with Jacqueline and going over Goose’s behavioral needs, they decided that this would be the right fit for him!

As the adoption was being processed, Kate decided to rename him Homer. It was the name of her great-uncle, as well as the author of The Odyssey – just like the story, Homer had been on a great journey and was now coming home.

Homer hiding in Kate’s home – her first photo of him.

A Year of Hurdles

Bringing Homer into Kate’s home was not without its challenges. In fact, his transition would take over a year of incremental progress.

For the first few weeks, he stayed in hiding, and the only sign of him was that food and water was being consumed, and the litter box was being used.

“I was confident that with time, patience and understanding it would work out,” Kate says. “I understood that Homer would take time to trust me and assured myself that I would never rush him.”

Kate also knew that she had the Adoption Center’s behavior team as a resource as well, and she checked in with them a few times throughout the first year to discuss how things were going. She was reassured that they were available for questions as they came up, and that they could provide assurances that she and Homer were on the right path. 

Kate used treats to help Homer get more comfortable in her presence. This photo was the closest he had sat with her and was a big moment for them! 

One step that Kate took was making little spaces for Homer to hide around the home, with hidden treats that would reward him when he explored. Soon enough, he chose to set up a home base underneath her bed.

“The first night I heard him purring in his bed, I called my mom!” exclaims Kate. “He became a family project – everyone was rooting for him and would ask how Homer was doing.”

Kate spent time lying beside the bed, singing him some love songs and strategically placing treats to help encourage him to get closer to her. He even began to eat from her hand, but he still did not show interest in physical affection and remained hypervigilant to his surroundings. She believed in him, and continued helping him make progress, no matter how long it took.

For a while, Homer only verbally communicated with hisses. They weren’t mean hisses – they were usually just to ask for food or treats. After about nine months, he finally let out a meow!

“Even Homer looked shocked,” Kate says. “It sounded like a bird chirping.” She now hears more meows than hisses, but he’ll still let out the occasional hiss for added emphasis.

“When he’s feeling extra, he likes to strut and hiss. It’s adorable,” says Kate.


The Light Switch Moment

About a year after his adoption, Kate became very sick, and was bedridden for a few weeks.

“This was the turning point,” Kate says. “I would wake up with Homer sitting over me, watching closely, and I even woke up with his paw in my hand!”

After she recovered, he even approached her to ask for a pet. Kate was stunned! Homer used to be overstimulated by pets, and now he was lying on his belly demanding cuddles.

“He is so smart and sensitive that he even retracts his claws when he touches me!” says Kate. “Now, my biggest challenge is being woken up by him for cuddles.”

These days, Kate and Homer are fully bonded to each other, and he’s blossomed into a wonderful feline friend. Kate feels that the shift in his behavior has been like he’s making up for missed time, cuddles and play. He’s also begun to show interest in toys, so she’s now added enrichment activities to their routine, so that he can stay stimulated and active.

To Kate, this odyssey that began two years ago has affirmed the grace of time and the power of unconditional love.

“Homer is one of the most affectionate and trusting cats I have ever encountered – even more so than the cat my family raised since a kitten,” Kate says. “He’s my guy, and I love him dearly.”


The Rescue Effect

There are countless cats and adopters across the country that share Homer and Kate’s heartwarming story of love and patience. Shy and fearful shelter animals often just need one person who believes in them, and who can offer them the time, space and structure that will help them open up and thrive.

“Watching him come so far, and being able to offer him a safe home has been a true pleasure,” Kate says. “It was a very faith-affirming experience to witness his recovery, and to experience shared interspecies joy!”

Additionally, when one animal is adopted, more shelter space is created for another animal in need. By adopting Homer, Kate was participating in what we call The Rescue Effect.

This month is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, so there’s no better time to consider participating in The Rescue Effect by adopting your own kitty soulmate. Visit aspca.org/TheRescueEffect to learn more about how you can make an impact that ripples throughout shelters nationwide!