June is national Adopt-A-Cat Month, and the perfect time to tell you the story of Norma Milton and her husband, the late Everett Milton of Caribou, and their quarter-century of devotion to caring for homeless cats in that Aroostook County community.
Before Everett’s death in March, the couple had decided this would be the year they would make their nonprofit organization, Halfway Home Pet Rescue, self-supporting.
To do that, Norma explained that she is hoping the miracle survival of 7-month-old Toby, who was near death from an apparent poisoning when the furry feline came into Norma’s arms two months ago, will inspire people to donate to a new, unique gift shop that will serve thrifty shoppers, and also inspire others to volunteer to run the facility.
Toby’s Treasures will celebrate its grand opening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, July 2, at 246 Sweden St. in Caribou.
“We’ve wanted to do this for years and years,” Norma said of finding a way to support the shelter, which is located in her home.
Although her greatest supporter is gone, Norma “just decided this is the year to give it my all” and do away with constant fundraising for the shelter.
She no longer wants to work on bake sales, yard sales or raffles.
“I’m 67,” Norma told me, “and those fundraisers tire you out the week before, the week of and the week after. We need one way to support the shelter,” and she thinks Toby’s Treasures is the way to go.
Norma recognizes money is tight right now and folks have other causes that take precedence in their giving considerations.
“Of course, things like people issues, children and cancer research come first, and that’s why our donation levels have sometimes dropped down to almost zero,” Norma said.
“Some weeks I have no deposit slips to make out unless I go to the returnable bottles; but I may still have a $2,000 vet bill for a cat that needs help.”
When he came to Norma, he “was near death and had lost control of his body,” she said. At the time, she was feeding some orphaned newborns, so she just started “putting formula down his throat, too.”
The veterinarian she took him to found no obvious signs of injury, so it is assumed he was “intentionally or accidentally poisoned, and the vet told me to just keep doing what I was doing,” and that apparently saved him.
“Now he can walk, jump and climb, although he’s clumsy at it, and since he learned how to play with other cats, he almost smiles he’s so proud of himself.”
So, if Toby can make it, Norma believes Toby’s Treasures can make it, too.
“Everyone has a closet full of gifts they don’t want,” Norma said of items she would like to see coming into the store.
“We don’t want rummage-sale stuff,” she said. “We want people to bring in nice, quality gifts” to sell.
There will be no payroll, since those working at the store all will be cat-loving volunteers.
The shop is located in a portion of the old Beaulieu’s Garage at 246 Sweden St., “right beside Burger Boy,” Norma said.
HHPR rescue volunteer Judy Robertson, her son, Jeffrey Robertson, and daughter, Janet Scholfield, gave us two months’ free rent to get the operation up and running in the former Beaulieu’s Garage, which they own, Norma said.
For $300 a month with heat, “it’s the best deal in town, and gives us time to get on our feet,” she added.
“Cash flow for any business is hard, and often for a nonprofit is zero. It’s exciting with people calling and offering things, and even wondering if we’re going to open early.”
Toby, of course, is the official store mascot, and “he will be at the store when I’m there. He’s my little miracle,” Norma said.
If you would like to contribute to this state-licensed animal shelter, which works solely with stray and feral cats, send your donation to Halfway Home Pet Rescue, P.O. Box 488, Caribou 04736, or donate online at www.halfwayhomepetrescue.org.
More information is available by calling Norma Milton at 492-1722 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; email@example.com; 990-8288.