Editor’s note: I must apologize for taking so long to write this blog post. It’s been more than two months since Laurie Kuykendall and her friend Barb were murdered by Laurie’s estranged husband, Martin Kepner, and I had meant to keep readers updated a bit more regularly. But things got a little crazy at my house with the addition of all those cats, plus my Maine coon cat, Yukon, lost his battle with cancer after his spindle-cell carcinoma returned with a vengeance. Things have settled back into more of a routine at my house now, so here goes…
My faith in human decency, which is often shaky, took a major hit May 29 when Laurie was murdered by her estranged husband, Martin, after many years of abuse. Laurie was a sweet soul who loved animals and just wanted to be happy and enjoy life. She especially loved her cats, and when she had to leave without them to save her own life, it really hurt her. She was still hoping to get the cats out of there to a safe place, which was made more difficult when Martin put them all outside. She was only able to rescue one of the cats, Susie Q, before her death. The rest were still outside, living in the woods.
I had promised Laurie the last time I saw her that I would try to help get her cats to safety. Because Martin had repeatedly threatened to kill her if she left him, she asked if I would take care of the cats if anything happened to her. I would not have been able to fulfill that promise without the help of friends, family and total strangers. What can I say, except thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m sure somewhere, Laurie is smiling that big smile of hers that lit up her whole face. I am in awe of the outpouring of support from the community in response to my plea for help for Laurie’s cats. People donated money, cat food and supplies, and offered loving homes to Laurie’s cats.
It was definitely a community effort from the beginning. I borrowed two humane traps from Linda Mummaw of Lower Windsor Township and two from my sister, Lori Hainey of Dover Township. Laurie’s sister, Karen Nordsick, joined Lori and I to set the traps, pointing out the spots most frequented by the cats since they were outside. We took turns checking and resetting the traps at least twice a day, sometimes more often, until we had caught all five of Laurie’s cats that were still outside. Susie Q had been living at Laurie’s apartment, and was already adopted by Janet Sanderson of Dover Township, one of Laurie’s best friends.
We also caught a sixth cat: a stray, unneutered male who Laurie had been feeding outside and had named “Old Man Grey.” He and Ellie were the first two cats caught in the traps. Ellie was caught first, and Karen kept her at her house overnight until I could pick her up in the morning. By morning, “Old Man Grey” was in another trap. When Karen called to let me know we had another cat, she said “He’s pretty big and, man, does he smell bad!” “Old Man Grey” was not neutered and he was very upset about being in the trap. He seemed vicious — growling, hissing and bashing himself against the wire of the trap. I hesitated, not sure I should take him to my house, but decided I didn’t have the heart to dump him back out there in the woods. So he and Ellie came home with me, and I renamed him Stanley, aka “Stinky Stanley.”
Ellie, a beautiful dilute tortoiseshell kitty, was a bit nervous at first, but quickly settled in and became very affectionate. She stayed with me briefly, then was adopted by Janet Sanderson, who had already adopted Susie Q. Susie and Ellie had been best buddies when they lived indoors with Laurie, and had grown up together. So the best friends are now reunited. Susie is a big girl, white with tabby patches, with a very expressive face. She was quite shy at first, but has since blossomed into a very loving kitty, now that she has Janet to care for her, and her best bud Ellie to hang out with.
Bella was the third cat to be caught, but not in a trap. When Karen crouched down to talk to Bella, she hopped right into Karen’s lap! She was a lovebug from the start — always following me around, looking up at me as if to say “Please sit down so I can get in your lap!” Poor Bella must have been so lonely out in the woods.
Next we caught Grey, a solid gray cat with beautiful green eyes. He was timid at first but turned out to be very affectionate once he realized nobody was going to hurt him at my house. He takes a while to warm up to new people. Bella and Grey have both been adopted by Beth Jones of Yorkana and her 8-year-old daughter, Salome. I’m glad they went together, because Gray is a bit timid and Bella is outgoing, so she’ll help him adjust to their new home. Plus, Gray likes to groom Bella. They’re brother and sister.
Bella adapted rather quickly, seeking out space on their laps. Grey is always a bit more cautious about warming up to people, but the last update said he’s no longer hiding all day and allows them to pet him now. At first, he would only come out of hiding at night in his new home. And Bella has claimed a chair as her own.
The last two kitties to be caught were Momma and Sasha, mother and daughter. (Grey and Bella are Sasha’s brother and sister.) Sasha was caught first, similar to how Bella was caught. We spotted her under an old truck parked in the yard, and Karen crouched down and called her. Eventually Sasha ran to Karen and Karen picked her up, but once she started carrying her toward the carrier, Sasha freaked out and started trying to get away. Lori grabbed her just as she was about to slip out of Karen’s hands, and I opened the top of the carrier and pushed Sasha in. We each got scratched in that maneuver, because by then Sasha was terrified.
Momma was the last to be caught, and we had pretty much given up on her. None of us had seen her so far, and it had been about four days since we had caught Sasha. The only thing we had caught since then was an opossum, which I set free. I had decided when I checked the traps before work that I would take the traps out of there, because we thought Momma had either been taken in by someone or had died out in the woods. When I got there, I picked up one of the traps and put it in the car, then went back for the other trap (by that time we only had two traps out there, since we were only trying to catch one more cat). But at the last minute, I decided to let the traps sit overnight and check them after work, at about 4 a.m. So I replaced the trap I had taken to the car, and set both traps one last time. If Momma wasn’t in there in the morning, I would give up and take the traps home.
After work, when I checked the first trap, there was a big brown tabby cat that looked healthy and well cared for, so I set him free. He was terrified, and took off as fast as he could go. I found out later that his name is Peanut Butter and he belongs to someone in the neighborhood. Then I walked to the back of the house to check the other trap, without much hope. But when I shone the flashlight into the trap, cat eyes relfected back at me! As I got closer, I saw it was Momma!
Whew, so close — I had almost given up on her too soon, and she would have been stuck out in the woods by herself.
Both Sasha ad Momma were scared at first, but quickly became friendly. Momma took a bit longer to trust me than Sasha did. They like to groom each other, and hung out with each other more than with the other cats. Randy and Debbie Krysher of the York Haven area adopted Momma and Sasha together. The two were kept in the bedroom at first, to give them time to get used to Randy and Debbie.
Then the door was opened so they could explore the rest of the home, and meet the two German shepherds. The dogs have been around cats before and are cat-friendly. But Sasha wasn’t taking any chances the first time she met them. She did her screeching mountain lion imitation to scare them off! The cats would sit on the dresser by the door and “talk or grumble” to the dogs out in the hallway. Last update from Randy and Debbie said the dogs and cats are doing OK.
Luckily, all of the cats were mostly healthy and still friendly, after a brief settling-in phase. I was expecting an uphill battle to retame the kitties, but they were still willing to give humans a chance, even after all they had been through.
I’m so grateful to the adopters for their patience and understanding, giving the kitties time to adapt to new
surroundings and giving them a second chance to enjoy their lives. It’s extra-special that they were all adopted in pairs, so they have each other to cuddle with.
There were a few days where I wasn’t sure who was who, since Momma, Sasha, Bella and Grey are all gray cats — Grey is solid gray the others are gray tabbies, but their vet records only list “gray” as the color. Karen searched through Laurie’s paperwork to get the vet records, lists of the cats’ names, and even found a note describing each cat, which helped us figure out who was who. For a day or so before she found that note, I was calling Grey “Sasha.” (Give me a break, he is a neutered male, and I didn’t want to stress him out even more by trying to check out his privates.) Once all the cats were at my house and we had that note, it was much easier to sort them out.
All of Laurie’s cats got good reports on their vet visits, except that Susie was put on a diet because she’s overweight. No fleas, ticks or ear mites, and all tested negative for FIV and FeLV. They had all been spayed or neutered already, and are now up-to-date on vaccines.
Because Susie and Ellie were adopted before I got the kitties to the vet for checkups, they weren’t included in the crazy five-cat visit to Cape Horn Vet. They went separately to Dr. Anne Parker in East Berlin, where Susie was put on a diet because she’s a bit “fluffy.” and both are now up-to-date on vaccines.
That leaves only Stanley. Although the rest of the cats were pretty clean and healthy, with no signs of fleas or ticks, Stanley had it all — fleas, ticks, ear mites, goopy eyes, you name it. He was filthy. His white paws and belly were yellowish tan, and even his gray fur had a yellowish tint to it. He was not neutered, very dirty, had scars and smelled really bad when we first caught him in the humane trap. He also acted ferocious, so much so that we briefly worried he might be rabid.
But it turns out Stanley is a big lovebug now that he feels safe and secure. He has now been neutered and vaccinated, got a bath and lots of brushing. He looks like a new cat, and is no longer “Stinky Stanley.” He’s just plain Stanley now. His sniffles are mostly gone, and his weepy eye is much better. Unfortunately, Stanley tested positive for FIV, which means his immune system is not so good. Some say he shouldn’t be kept with other cats that don’t have FIV, because it can be contagious to other cats, although it’s mostly passed through bite wounds and Stanley isn’t the violent type. Others believe there is a slight possibiity of passing FIV through sharing food or water bowls, or maybe through sneezing, which Stanley still does sometimes.
So at least for now, Stanley is living with me, in a room by himself. It’s on the third floor, which is very hot and stuffy in summer, so I had to put in a window air-conditioner. Stanley now has the only air-conditioned room in my house. (Don’t tell the other cats!) If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t have any cats and would like to adopt a sweet, loving handsome kitty who just happens to have FIV and occasionally a weepy eye or slight sniffles, check out Stanley. He’s worth it. Or, if anyone has a cat who is FIV-positive that would like a roommate, Stanley would most likely be a good roommate. He doesn’t seem interested in challenging any other cats he has seen. Since he’s cleaned up and feeling better, he likes to play, especially with fishing-rod type toys or ribbons, and he can’t get enough petting and brushing. But Stanley is more than welcome to stay with me if nothing better comes along.
Thank you to everyone who helped to save Laurie’s cats. I couldn’t have done it without you. If I missed your name, please let me know. Although I tried to keep track of everything, it’s always possible something might have slipped through the cracks — it’s been a crazy couple of months.
- Kay Deffinbaugh, who wrote “Everyone should have an angel like you in their life.”
- Jamie Mitchell, who wrote: “I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for helping Laurie’s cats!”
- Beth Ravegum, who wrote: “Rose, thank you for all that you are doing for these cats. Laurie would be very happy knowing that her babies are being well cared for.”
- Jacqui LeBeau, who wrote: “You’re a blessing Rose! Sending love and good energy to Laurie’s kitty family.”
- Anonymous, who wrote: “I knew Laurie briefly, she was driving my daughter’s car at the time. So very sad!
- Kathryn Rigsby, who wrote: “Thank you for taking these babies, my first husband was abusive and I had a support system for me and my 5 kitties. I wish it were more.”
- Neal Krout, who wrote: “God bless Laurie and her cats.”
- Deborah Stoppard, who wrote: “I love kitties. Have 4 of my own plus I feed all the strays that visit my back porch.”
- Kathy Riley-King, who wrote: “Momma cat is gorgeous! Thanks for caring for the kitties.”
- Karla Spangler
- Janet Simons, who wrote: “Thank you for caring for these kitties. Wish I could do more. R.I.P., Laurie.”
- Stacy Freels, who wrote: “Thank you so much for being so supportive. Aunt Laurie is smiling knowing her fur babies are being taken care of.”
- Margaret Reis
- Lisa Thornton
- Teresa Wickenheiser, who wrote: “Blessing to you for saving these poor furkids. Bad enough they lost their momma, even worse they were put out to fend for themselves. My heart breaks for the loss of Laurie’s life in such a tragic way. Prayers all around.”
- Anita Frullani, who wrote: “Thank you so much for helping these kitties of this poor woman.”
- Mark Hughes, who wrote: I hope you can find good homes for these wonderful cats. She must have been quite the cat lover.”
- Lorey Ridinger, who wrote: “Blessings to you Rose. Praying we can find loving homes for these kitties.”
- Debra Jones, who wrote: “I know this isn’t much but I hope it helps. Thank you so much Rose.”
- Sharon Saylor of Springettsbury Township, who wrote: “For everything you do for animals, especially your love and concern for Laurie Kuykendall’s kitties. You are a good soul. God bless you, and good luck.”
- Steve Jones and family of Wellsville, who wrote: “Thank you for the kind gesture in taking in Laurie’s cats in an attempt to find them a home. She would’ve been so very grateful. Hope this helps you out a little.”
- Judith Selenger of New Freedom
- Don Dobbs of West York
- Laurie’s family, who donated food, funds, cat toys and other supplies
- JoAnn Hyson
- Goldie Snyder
- Marci Geise, who offered to donate profits from some of her book sales
Helped in other ways:
- Linda Mummaw of Lower Windsor Township, who let me borrow two humane traps
- Lori Hainey of Dover Township, who let me borrow two humane traps and helped to check and reset traps.
- Karen Nordsick of Wellsville, who helped to check and reset traps, searched for vet paperwork and other records
- Flo Rhoads, who donated 3 bags of Wellness grain-free cat food.
- An animal rescue organization that wishes to remain anonymous, which donated funds toward vet care.
- Dr. Melissa McFarland of Cape Horn Vet, who checked out five kitties in one visit, including vaccines and blood tests.
- Dr. Ann Parker in East Berlin, who checked out Ellie and Susie Q
- York County SPCA, which offered to help if needed
- Animal Rescue Inc. of New Freedom, which offered to help if needed
- Janet Sanderson of Dover Township, who adopted Susie Q and Ellie
- Randy and Debbie Krysher of the York Haven area, who adopted Sasha and Momma
- Beth Jones of Yorkana and her daughter, Salome, who adopted Bella and Grey
- Laurie’s kitties, who reminded me that you don’t have to let evil win; even after all they’ve been through, they were willing to love and trust again.
On May 29, Laurie Kuykendall and her friend Barb Schrum were shot and killed by Laurie’s estranged husband, Martin Kepner, who then killed himself.
Laurie was a good friend of mine, we grew up together. I had just reconnected with Laurie in February, after she had left Martin. We had kept in touch occasionally by phone through the 33 years she was with Martin, and occasionally I would see her at the grocery store or elsewhere and we would catch up a bit. But Martin was very controlling and abusive, and Laurie wasn’t allowed to see her friends or do anything without him. When people would visit Laurie at home, Martin would hover nearby throughout their conversation, never giving them any privacy. If she was even 10 minutes late getting home from work she would be in trouble. He always accused her of cheating on him, and if a man even said hello to her, Martin would be furious.
Martin’s favorite form of punishment was to grab Laurie by the throat and slam her into the wall, choking her, or pick her up and slam her onto the floor.
bella5 Laurie and I talked and laughed the last time I saw her, and although she was fearful of what might happen, she was enjoying her life and happier than I had seen her in many years. She talked about how good it felt to finally be free, about adventures she had since leaving Martin and the many adventures she had planned for the future.
She was still living in fear, though, because Martin had always threatened to kill her if she ever left him. And the final divorce papers had yet to be served. She was afraid of how he would react when that happened, and was carrying a handgun in her purse when we went to lunch about two weeks before her death.
When we parted that day, we hugged and made plans to go see live music the following Saturday, and to attend the Be-In in York the week after that. She was excited for me to meet her new friend Barb, who was going to join us for both events.
The last thing I said to her that day was “I’m so glad you’re finally free.”
Her reply: “Yeah, he took three decades of my life; he’s not getting any more of it.”
How I wish that were true.
I was sick the following Saturday and wasn’t able to go out with Laurie and Barb. So, although we spoke on the phone and exchanged texts afterward, that lunch was the last time I got to see Laurie. The following Friday night, her older sister, Deb, contacted me to let me know Martin had followed through with his threats to kill Laurie.
For more background, see also: