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Sue Mahar: A Stray Cat’s Best Friend

April 4, 2011

by Kelly Pfeister

Every day for the past few months, one cat lover returned to her old Hamilton Street neighborhood to feed the strays. For 22 years, Sue Mahar lived in a modest green house on Hamilton, but a few months ago she moved to a house in Delmar. She sold the Hamilton Street house to a landlord, after she decided that she couldn’t take anymore of the college town atmosphere. The cats are now cared for by a neighbor.

Mahar put her house on the market after multiple cases of vandalism. Garden tools, a cell phone, and a laptop bag had

A cat from Noah’s Kingdom in their cage during an adoption day. (Kelly Pfeister)

been stolen off of her porch; paint was poured on her car, and her side mirror was damaged three times. Plus, a group of stray cats have collected by what was then her house.

After she moved out, she still stopped by Hamilton Street to feed the seven or eight stray cats that live near there. She said they’re part of a cat colony –  groups of stray cats. In the Pine Hills, Mahar said there’s “one on every block,” and at least two distinct colonies on Ontario Street and Madison Avenue.

Another specific cat colony familiar to Albany’s Animal Control officers is one on Central Avenue behind the Hannaford supermarket. Animal Control Officer Jason Hogan, from the Albany Police Department said that colony has around 20 cats, housed in cardboard and plywood shelters.

Hogan gets anywhere from 10 stray cat calls a day, to none in a week. Typically, the cats are sick, or are dangerous. Spring is more popular for stray cats to be reported, when people are outside more.

Unlike dogs, there are no specific laws about cats on the street. They also have no real predators here, aside from cars, so it’s easy for cats to survive in the Albany area.

Anyone who knows anything about Mahar can attest to her strong dedication to helping cats.  Ironically, she is allergic to them. She’s currently the president of Noah’s Kingdom, a humane society at PetSmart in Guilderland, a position she’s held for nine years and counting. About 25 active volunteers help her there.

A regular day during adoptions at PetSmart can include surprisingly touching moments. Mahar recently helped a woman adopt a gray cat, just after her old one passed away. Mahar offered words of reassurance after the woman asked in earnest, “you don’t think it’s disrespectful?” because she was concerned about the amount of time between her cat’s passing and an adoption. Mahar’s theory: the best thing to do after a cat dies is to adopt another; it’s a way to honor the deceased.

Sue Mahar with a cat up for adoption at Noah’s Kingdom (Kelly Pfeister)

Mahar can recollect almost every cat’s story that has been adopted during her nine years at Noah’s Kingdom. Each animal has a distinct history, which Mahar can tell on the spot. Pointing from cage to cage, she recounts how each cat got to the adoption center. Ninety-nine percent of the cats that end up there have been taken off the street, or were abandoned by owners who have had health issues, lost their house, or passed away, Mahar said.

She rattled off interesting facts as well. Black cats are less likely to be adopted, as well as white ones, because of superstitions concerning bad luck. The most popular colors of cats that are adopted are orange females, Mahar said matter-of-factly. Since Noah’s Kingdom can hold only a limited number of cats, volunteers foster them, including Mahar.

Mahar won’t say how many cats she has at her new house in Delmar, but she will say “more than 10, less than 14.” This doesn’t include two foster cats that are waiting to be adopted from Noah’s Kingdom that live in Mahar’s house, or the pit-bull she adopted a few years ago.

“If you’re on the street and have four legs, Sue will take you in,” said Diane Kessler, a volunteer at Noah’s Kingdom. Once Mahar was visiting a humane society, and she walked past a line of cats in cages, waiting to be euthanized. One cat stuck out its paw and tapped on Mahar’s leg – she adopted the cat on the spot.

Another volunteer who works with Mahar is Johanna Witt. She described a time when Mahar helped her deal with a particularly hard foster case. Mahar “walked me through three kittens dying of distemper.” Witt said that Mahar finds equal time for everything, “if you call, she will give you her undivided attention,” Witt said.  Witt started volunteering at Noah’s Kingdom as soon as she became old enough at age 15. Mahar was her mentor from the beginning. Witt said Mahar is “old enough to be my grandmother, but probably one of my best friends.”

Mahar retired in 2004, and since January  she cares for a woman with Alzheimer’s through a program called Home Instead, after working as a training and development specialist for the state of New York for 37 years. She thinks of the job as sort of “pay it forward” concept, she said.  She hopes that if she never needs any assistance when she gets older, someone will take care of her.

At 62, has the spirit and quick wit of 20-year-old. She attended Albany High School, and graduated from Empire State College. She has a 40-year-old son that she sees little of, because lives in the Lower East Side in New York City. Mahar also has an “occasional significant other,” she said sarcastically.

When Mahar was a girl, she always wanted to have “just one cat.” She turned 10, and she got her wish, via her mother

Cat cages in Noah’s Kingdom. Each cat is given a blanket for their cage, and to take home with them. (Kelly Pfeister)

getting a kitten from a friend. As for how her love of cats grew into being an almost full time job today? Mahar said she can’t really explain any definitive traits or characteristics of cats that she loves. When she moved out of her house at 18, she got another cat, and it just “kind of mushroomed.” Years later, she’s accomplished her original goal of opening a low cost spay and neuter clinic, the Cat Care Coalition, and hopes to expand it. Much can be said about what the large amount of work that Mahar has done for cats in the area, and as Witt said, “she’s like my little kitty angel.” -30-

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