Woman Starts Nonprofit to Help Senior and Terminally Ill Animal Lovers Find New Homes for Pets

Angela Rafuse decided to start My Grandfather's Cat as a tribute to her late grandfather, who resisted going to the hospital because he didn't want to leave his wife's cat behind

cat nonprofit
Photo: Southtide Photography

In 2018, Byron Rafuse had just lost his wife of 59 years to a brain aneurysm and was facing health issues himself, but he refused to go to the hospital because he was worried about who would care for his wife's feisty elderly cat.

"That cat was all he had left of my grandmother, and he didn't want Mackenize to end up in a shelter," Byron's granddaughter, Angela Rafuse, told PEOPLE.

The family lives in Halifax, the capital of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.

When Byron died in late 2019, Angela, a 27-year old marketing executive who works for the Salvation Army, told her family she would take Mackenzie the cat, even though the feline never seemed to like her.

"I can remember her hissing at me when she was just a kitten, but we couldn't let her go to a shelter. It would have broken my dad and my grandpa's hearts," Angela said.

cat nonprofit
Southtide Photography

When the pandemic hit, Angela had more time at home to bond with Mackenize. During one of her bonding sessions with the pet, the cat batted Angela across the face. It was a moment she caught on video and posted on her TikTok (@angrafus3).

The video received over 75,000 views in a matter of hours and had people asking for details on the sassy pet. Angela told new fans how she started caring for Mackenzie after her grandfather died. Many followers responded in the comments that their grandparents' pets had ended up in shelters after their relatives could no longer care for the animals.

"So I started trying to find resources for this, and I realized nothing existed for seniors to arrange homes for their pets. I couldn't believe something like this didn't exist," Rafuse said of how the idea for her nonprofit sprouted.

In response, Angela created My Grandfather's Cat. The nonprofit helps seniors moving into assisted living and terminally ill people find new homes for their beloved pets, so the animals don't end up in shelters.

cat nonprofit
Southtide Photography

"We can empower seniors to decide who adopts their animals," Angela said.

She officially launched My Grandfather's Cat on May 18, 2021 — her grandfather's birthday. Angela's sister took a few photos of her and Mackenzie on the beach for the launch. Angela edited the shots into a thirty-second launch video, posted it, and went to her day job.

"Three or four hours later, I checked my phone, and I looked on TikTok, and it had 30,000 views in a few hours," Angela recalled.

More than 5,000 people visited the nonprofit's website in its first days, and donations poured in.

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"Our first donation was for $500, and I thought it was a mistake. We weren't even a registered charity at that point, so I called him to make sure, and he said someone needs to be doing this," she said.

My Grandfather's Cat has found homes for 25 cats and one dog so far.

"People apply, and we have volunteers handle each case. We vet everyone, but then the seniors themselves decide who is going to adopt their pet when they're gone," Angela said of the process.

Angela hopes to expand the Canadian nonprofit to serve the U.S. soon.

"It is the most rewarding thing in the entire world to be doing this, and I know my grandfather would be proud," she added.

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