Cats help Obici Hospital staff bond

Published 8:20 pm Thursday, April 12, 2012

This cat is one of several cats and their offspring that have been adopted by Sentara Obici Hospital staff members. The cats formerly lived as feral or stray cats around the hospital.

Everyone in Suffolk knows that if they need to get taken care of, Sentara Obici Hospital is the place to go.

Apparently, the cats in the area know it, too.

The hospital, it seems, has developed quite a reputation among the feral and stray cat community. The felines know they can go to the hospital to find a group of employees who will pamper them, feed them and, eventually, capture and adopt them.

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“We’ve decided they know where to come to get taken care of,” said Phyllis Stoneburner, vice president of patient care services at the hospital. “We have a lot of cat lovers here. I’m probably one of the biggest suckers.”

Louise, named after the Louise Obici who was the namesake of the hospital, was the first to be captured.

The staff at the hospital first noticed Louise about two and a half years ago. Louise usually hung out around the administrators’ entrance, so the staff began to leave food out for her. Eventually, Stoneburner said, Louise would come when called and even allow herself to be petted.

Staff especially enjoyed spending time with Louise when they had a bad day, Stoneburner said.

“It almost became stress relief,” she said.

When the employees began to suspect that Louise was pregnant, they hatched a plan.

“We all got involved in this grand plot,” Stoneburner said.

With the help of a cage, a getaway vehicle and some sneaky employees, Louise was captured and taken to a veterinarian, who confirmed the pregnancy and rendered medical care. Louise eventually delivered Eno and Izzy, who now are in the care of lab technician Delma Sawyer.

“Eno has always been the avid hunter,” Sawyer said, elaborating on their different personalities. “Izzy has long hair and will not get it messed up.”

Louise is being cared for by Rebecca Clark, a patient care supervisor at the hospital.

After Louise was captured, Lola began coming around. She, too, was pregnant, and was easier to capture. Most of the staff suspect Lola, a brown tabby, had once belonged to someone, because she did not seem as wild as Louise.

After Lola’s capture, she gave birth to four kittens on July 4 in the home of Donna Watson, who works in medical oncology.

Lola and three of her kittens — Taz, Tigger and LJ — still live with Watson. The fourth, Cookie, moved with Watson’s daughter’s boyfriend’s family to Christiansburg.

The third to be trapped was a male cat, named Ambien — after a prescription sleep aid — by a sleep technician in the hospital. He still lives with her.

Though the rescue of cats clearly isn’t the hospital’s main priority, Stoneburner sees it as an extended part of its mission.

“We see our mission beyond taking care of people,” she said. “It’s the health of the community.”

The cats also became a way for different parts of the hospital to connect with one another, she said.

“It really did bond a lot of departments across the hospital,” she said, admitting she has sent out hospital-wide email updates on the felines. “We keep in touch with each other about how all the critters are.”