I had loved hearing Joanne McGonagle's story at BlogPaws 2012 of how her life took a dramatic turn with a very young kitten being thrust upon her unexpectedly. She and her husband were at the local dog pound looking for a friend's lost dog. The assistant begged them to take the kitten since they were not equipped to handle an unweaned feline at the dog facility, and her survival was uncertain. Joanne and Paul welcomed the kitten home and named her Gracey.
Gracey charmed Joanne, causing her to marvel at her tiny tiger-like features. Pondering the link between our domestic felines and their wild counterparts inspired Joanne to write a book called The Tiniest Tiger about a lost kitten (Gracey) who squeezes her way into a zoo and meets various wild cats and tries to figure out where she belongs. The story cleverly inspires readers to enjoy the wonder of our own cats and expands that towards big cat conservation.
Joanne changed her life course after being inspired by little Gracie. She got a masters in zoology to help cats big and small. Soon Joanne was becoming a world traveler to actively be part of big cat conservation and education. In spite of having every right to be proud of her accomplishments, Joanne still seemed well grounded, and the warmth she extended to me at my first conference was greatly appreciated. I suspect that Joanne would agree with me that the very nature of being staff to a cat manages to keep one humble.
Naturally, Joanne's absence at BlogPaws 2013 was readily apparent, and I was concerned about her.
I heard one of the conference attendees talking in one of the classes and she shared that Gracey, the mascot for The Tiniest Tiger Cub Conservation Club had just passed away due to complications from diabetes. Specifically, she'd had a urinary tract infection and organ failure. It was bittersweet when Joanne was given an award at the closing ceremonies and someone else had to accept the honor on her behalf.
I continued to carry these thoughts of Joanne and Gracey as I returned from the conference, feeling slightly guilty knowing that, unlike Joanne, I was about to be greeted by my little feline friends.
As I walked in the door, Cali the calico appeared to be waiting for me and unexpectedly squatted at my feet leaving a blood-tinged puddle. Now with the knowledge of the young Gracey's fate and armed with another speaker's comment that sick cats rarely show symptoms unless it's serious, I knew we were headed to the vet's office.
Luckily, Cali is improving with antibiotics, a diet change, and a new water fountain to entice her to drink more. But I'm now aware that things can change quickly as we care for our cats. I'm sure Joanne has seen this is true for caring for their big cat cousins.
I'm sure Gracey would want us to treasure moments we are given with our cats. Additionally, she would want us to keep looking afer her big cat cousins who are also vulnerable in this fragile life. Joanne won't forget the gift of Gracey and how she changed her life path. The legacy will continue.
To find out how you can help with big cat conservation, visit and subscribe to The Tiniest Tiger's Conservation Cub Club. While you're there, read the tributes to Gracey. For those of us who've ever lost a beloved pet, Joanne's raw yet beautiful words commemorating her life and impact will ring true.