BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Our Hand It On this week started out to be a fun story about a mother and daughter tag team that adopted kittens from Cat Haven in Baton Rouge.
Their adult cats had recently passed away quietly in their sleep of old age. They wanted new kittens as pets, so they went to Cat Haven.
But then their story turned extra special.
Once they spent some time at Cat Haven and adopted the newest members of their family, they were so touched by the sanctuary Cat Haven offers cats and kittens alike that the two wanted to become volunteers at Cat Haven. And, they did.
Kaylee Pellette and her mom, Vicki, originally started volunteering on weekends only. Then, that changed to several times per week. That was several years ago and they are more involved with Cat Haven now than ever.
But, when Kaylee first started volunteering, she was almost non-verbal.
"She'd just wave and say a soft, 'Hello,' then go play with the cats." Cindy Ray with Cat Haven said. "But, we quickly noticed she had a really unique bond with the kitties. She'd sit in a chair, all the cats would jump in her lap and over time, we started seeing her bring books, her school work. She's even brought an easel and does her math homework with the kitties. They just gravitate to Kaylee. They love every minute of it."
And, it didn't take long for the Cat Haven staff to begin noticing a change in Kaylee. She became more talkative. She began to interact with not only staff but potential adopting families as well. And why is this important?
"Kaylee has Apraxia of Speech, which is a speech disorder," her mom, Vicki, said. "She didn't talk until she was five years old. Her biggest challenge is following conversations. She knows what she wants to say, but it sometimes doesn't come out correctly or she doesn't have the exact word she needs."
"When she started volunteering at Cat Haven, she started talking to the cats. She noticed they would all line up and listen to her. And then, she began
reading books to the cats. And, largely because of this interaction, Kaylee's speech improved greatly. I like to think of it as free therapy," Vicki explained.
Candy Ray worked at Cat Haven when Kaylee began volunteering and remembers why Kaylee was so shy.
"She used to get picked on all the time; laughed at or made fun of because people just didn't know. She found a place of comfort here with the kitties cause these guys don't' laugh at her. They don't make fun of her. They're very excited to see her and so are we!" Candy added.
Candy saw Kaylee's transformation first-hand.
"Kaylee will come and sit in my office now and talk, talk, talk. She's invaluable to Cat Haven. She makes everybody smile and makes the cats happy. We even have some cats that we as staff labeled as unfriendly, super shy, scared. And, we'll walk by, peek in the room and see that scared little cat in Kaylee's lap!" Candy said with a smile.
Usually, volunteers nominate a charity for Hand It On. This week, the charity, Cat Haven, nominated a volunteer.
"So Kaylee, you know how much all of our cats and kittens love you?" Candy began as she interrupted Kaylee's story-time with the kittens. "So, I have a surprise. I nominated you for WAFB's Hand It On 'cause I wanted everybody else to know how awesome you are. Here's $300 to do whatever you want with it!" Candy added as she handed Kaylee three crisp, new $100 bills!
Kaylee's response was not what you'd expect from a 14-year-old who had just been given money.
"Thank you, but I want to give it to my favorite cat in room eight," Kaylee said.
And that's exactly what she did without hesitation. She gave the Hand It On money right back to her favorite home away from home, Cat Haven. This brought Candy to near tears.
"Give me a hug. Awe! Thank You!" Candy said.
Kaylee smiled, handed Candy the $300 back and resumed storytelling and book reading with 'her kittens.'