A Special Farewell to a Friend, Mentor, Writer, and Animal Lover – Lorie Huston, DVM

goodbye-lorie Being that I am heavily involved in the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA) and in light of the fact our annual conference will be held at the end of this month, it is not unusual to get a lot of email blasts this time of year about one thing or another. So, when I saw a message in my inbox from CWA Vice President, Dusty Rainbolt on Tuesday, I barely glanced at the subject heading and just opened it, expecting to see something about the conference. Instead, I, along with the whole CWA membership, got the completely unexpected news that Lorie Huston, DVM,  and our CWA President was in the hospital, critically ill due to complications from liver failure.

Needless to say, I was devastated by the news and like everyone else, I did my best to send positive thoughts her way and prayed for her recovery. That was at 12:18 pm. At 5:12 pm the follow-up email came – at 4:25 pm Lorie had lost the battle and her life ended on September 30, 2014. It was at that very moment as all of us opened that email that a collective gasp of shock and profound grief traveled throughout the pet loving world as we tried to process what made no sense at all to us.

For me, just like many others, I have numerous special memories of Lorie because that is how she made you feel. Whether in person, on the telephone, or through email correspondence, she always made the time for you and made you feel like you really mattered. Nothing about Lorie was trite and she treated everyone with respect. I daresay there is not one person who ever knew her that could say anything negative about her and she was one of the most fair-minded, kind, compassionate, and genuine people I have ever known.

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Such a happy moment – how was I to know this would be the last time I saw Lorie? This was us at the Cat Writers’ Conference last year and she was hugging me for winning the prestigious title of Writer of the Year by Friskies/Purina.

Thinking back, I was surprised at just how large a part of my life she was – I met her in 2011 at my first CWA conference in White Plains and we were sitting next to one another at dinner, chatting about writing. I was a complete newbie to the arena and felt like a fish out of water wondering how or why I was sitting next to a veterinarian, social media specialist, and cat care expert, having a conversation with her like I knew anything at all.

She, of course, put me completely at ease and talked to me in her gentle voice like I was the most important person in the world. I told her what my book, The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey was about, and she told me she was working on a book about raising and caring for Labrador Retrievers (the book, Labrador Retrievers: How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, was subsequently published in 2012 – click here to read details or to order).

It was in 2012 when Lorie and I really started to connect – it was the beginning of the year and that was when the whole Loews Portofino Resort battle versus the feral cats residing on the property controversy began. I had done a whole series of blog posts and videos (with Christine Michaels of Riverfront Cats) about the situation, focusing primarily on dispelling the myths of feral cats and touting the virtues of TNR. She reached out to me via email one day – she wanted me to do a radio pod cast with her on Animal Cafe about the whole thing and I was flabbergasted. She had already done a blog post on her Pet Health Care Gazette site featuring the videos Christine and I had done and now she wanted to interview me.

This was my first real podcast and I was a wreck – it was all still so new for me and I am quite shy by nature which is why I prefer to write to express myself. Prior to the Loews situation I didn’t even know what a feral cat was and learning about TNR and cat overpopulation was something I was just beginning to comprehend. Why on earth would she want me to talk on behalf of the subject? But she did. She respected me and she knew my concern for these cats and raising awareness on TNR was thoroughly researched and genuine.

I, of course, was a bumbling, rambling speaker, being that speaking is not my forte, but I did the best I could, managing to sound somewhat authoritative on occasion and Lorie was a doll about the whole thing (click here to listen to the podcast – the link is at the very end of the post) and it was from that point that Lorie and I really hit it off and it seemed that no matter what conference we attended throughout the years – from CWA to Barkworld to BlogPaws – that we always ended up sitting next to one another at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

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Lorie and I both won Pettie Awards in 2012 and as a result of that, I was invited to speak about a rescue promotion I was working on while attending Barkworld. Lorie was in the audience to cheer me on and I was grateful for her support!

It was during those talks that you found the true passion and personality in Lorie and it was never about her – it was always about how can we help make the world a better place for animals and she never, ever participated in the politics and fur-flying antics that can sometimes be part of a large and devoted group of animal loving people who have no problem expressing their opinions! This was especially true in her role as president of the CWA – on occasion there might be an issue or two that caused friction. She always stepped in – quickly, firmly, and with an arsenal of grace, fairness, class, and tact to put an end to it.

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This was Lorie, Janiss Garza (Sparkle Cat), and I during a panel discussion at last year’s CWA conference called “Doing It All Without Pulling Your Hair Out!” Ironically, we had thought the panel was canceled and found out at the last minute that we had a room full of people waiting for us to speak, so we all pulled together and just winged it as best we could!

She and I also participated in a campaign for a pet food company together that also caused a lot of controversy in our blogs – again, rising to the occasion, she was a beacon for empathy and fairness and handled the critics with appropriate dignity, professionalism and aplomb, all while respecting their differing opinions.

So, who was Lorie Huston? A friend, a leader, a mentor, a champion of animals, and a kind, decent, and caring human being who didn’t have a mean or vindictive bone in her body. Most of us knew her for her love of writing and animals, so that is how I thought I should close this blog post  as I let her tell you who she was in her own words from this post I came across that she wrote on August 19, 2014, when she was asked by CWA founder, Amy Shojai, to participate in one of those “Why I like to write tours” that have been circulating:

I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about what I wanted to say about why I write. I actually had a blog post written that basically said that I write because I love writing. And, that’s true, I do. But it goes deeper than that. I didn’t fully understand that until I attended the Women in the Pet Industry Network (WIPIN) conference over the past few days.

For those of you not familiar with WIPIN, it’s an incredible group of women. I knew that before I even attended the conference. But what I didn’t realize was just how dedicated these women really are, to their own goals and to each other.

I’ve attended a number of other conferences, both veterinary conferences and blogging/social media conferences. And they have all been useful and educational in their own way. But something was different about this conference. There was no competitiveness, no “cattiness” (forgive the pun). There was an overwhelming sense of coming together to help each other. The two most common questions asked at this conference were “What can I do for you?” and “How can we work together to reach a mutual goal?” That was something totally different than I had ever experienced before at a conference.

In listening to all the women gathered at this conference, I realized that we had one thing in common. We each had a dream, a goal which we wished to achieve. And I realized that I do too. My dream, the goal which I wish to achieve is to be able to provide all pet owners with the information they need to make sure their pets are properly cared for, while also creating a successful business/career around that concept.

I knew that on some level going in but somehow attending this conference helped solidify that. And I realized, I write as a means to achieving that goal. Yes, I do enjoy writing. But writing is only one tool in my arsenal. And whether the tool that is being used is a post or article that I’ve written, a podcast I’ve done, a webinar I’ve participated in, a lecture I’ve presented, a panel I’ve sat on, an interview I’ve completed, or some other form of communication, it all goes back to that original goal.

That, in a nutshell, is why I write. It’s part of an overall strategy to educate and engage.

She ended the post by naming three other people to carry on the “Why I write” tradition and I was floored and humbled to read this:

And now I have to name three others to, hopefully, carry on this tradition. None of these ladies knew ahead of time I was going to tap them because, honestly, I didn’t know who I was going to tap until the last minute. So I apologize for putting them on the spot. But they are all women I admire and respect, and each also has a goal toward which she is working in which her writing takes an active part.

The first is Mary Haight, of Dancing Dog Blog. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mary on several occasions. She is a dedicated professional. She has been involved in animal welfare for over 15 years, working with horses, dogs, and cats, and serves on two boards in Chicago. Her blog is nominated as a finalist for the Best Dog Blog prize in the 2014 Dogtime Petties Awards.

Deborah Barnes is a fellow Cat Writers’ Association member and the force behind the beautiful blog Zee and Zoey as well as the author of The Chronicles of Zee & Zoey – A Journey of the Extraordinarily Ordinary. Her blog as well as her book follows the everyday journey she shares with her cats, but her blog also covers topics from the humorous behaviors of cats to very serious subjects on pet responsibility.

The third and final woman I would like to tap is Christine Michaels, also a fellow member of the Cat Writers’ Association. Christine is an amazing woman; smart, talented, beautiful (inside and out!), always to willing to offer advice. Her blog, Riverfront Cats, focuses on rescuing stray cats, protecting community cats, and embracing black cats.

I have been so busy and embroiled in my own life, that I did not even know she had tagged me and now I will never be able to thank her and tell her how much I admired and respected her as well. But I think she will forgive me – that was just how she was – and I do hope we can read between the lines from her heartfelt sentiments and learn from her to be more helpful and considerate of one another. Clearly we know that life is fleeting and all we have is the moment in front of us – let’s learn from her example and try to be kinder, gentler, and more tolerant people as it makes the world a far better place to be.

I will miss you dearly Lorie and all I can say is that you have touched the hearts of so many. You were a true role model – beautiful inside and out and just like my darling cat, Harley, who was taken from me far too quickly in June of this year for no reason that I can reconcile, the same is true of you. I pray you find one other and that she comforts you with her loud and rumbling purrs and that you comfort her with your kind words and gentle touch…

If any of you have a special Lorie story, please feel free to share in the comments.

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Side note – this is Dillon and he is one of Lorie’s six cats that will now need to be re-homed. Lorie lived in Rhode Island and if anyone can help with adoption, fostering, transport, or monetary donations please email me at dbarnes@zeezoey.com and I will pass the information on to the appropriate party.

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  1. I’m so sorry to read of the loss of Lorie…What a beautiful post, Deb. She was very lucky to have friends and colleagues who were positively impacted by her true essence–you can help carry that forward on her behalf. That may not address the sadness of her passing, but it gives a charter for all of us to move toward compassion. What a great gift that everyone is working to re home her beautiful kitties. I hope you can take time to reflect upon all she shared with you so that lives on–it’s the best tribute to a life well lived: to have made a difference.

  2. Ingrid King says:

    What a lovely tribute. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that she’s gone. The photo of Lorie with you so perfectly shows her generous spirit. That smile will always be the first thing I think of when I think of Lorie.

  3. Cat Holm says:

    Deb,
    Thank you. I wish I had gotten to know her. She was very kind to me when I first met her briefly last year at CWA. Thank you for a touching tribute.

  4. Ms. Phoebe's Mum says:

    Please accept my deepest sympathy on the loss of your dear friend Lorie, she was a remarkable woman full of great knowledge and compassion for animals. The insightful article she wrote in August mentioning you does not surprise me- it is evident that she thought highly of and hand great fondness for you. May your memories of and knowledge learned from her forever be with you as you continue to enrich the cat community and blogosphere.

    Purrs,

    Clove & Kaspars

  5. Ellen Pilch says:

    So sad that the world lost a great person. Also heart breaking that her kitties will be broken up.

  6. what a wonderful tribute….mom says she is sorry she never got to meet Lorie, but from everything she has read over the last few days, she has no doubt she would have liked her very much….

  7. steve dale says:

    thank you for such a wonderful tribute, and such a well deserved one. Ever notice how hard it would be to find even a not so posed image with Lorie – and her not smiling……

  8. What a lovely tribute. She was so special–and will indeed be missed.

  9. Brian Frum says:

    We feel the same as everyone else, it is still just so hard to believe and so very sad.

  10. This was a beautiful written tribute about a woman who touched so many of our lives. Whether you met her for the first time or knew her for years, she treated you the same. She never met a stranger and when you left her , you felt like she had been part of your life forever.
    I don’t think any of us knew that she had liver problems so everyone was shocked when they heard the news. She will be sadly missed by many but I know when I go outside at night and look up that she will be the brightest star in the sky.

  11. We’re very sorry for the loss of your friend. We send tender thoughts to you and her family. Purrs

  12. Oh Deb, I am bawling my eyes out! This was superb, so heartfelt, beautiful!! Thank you for sharing these most wonderful memories……..I loved what you said here “and I do hope we can read between the lines from her heartfelt sentiments and learn from her to be more helpful and considerate of one another. Clearly we know that life is fleeting and all we have is the moment in front of us – let’s learn from her example and try to be kinder, gentler, and more tolerant people as it makes the world a far better place to be. – ”

    My last communication with Lorie I was keeping private until now. It was 2 wks ago and I had written to her asking if it was ok if I backed out on my reservation at the CWA Banquet. I told her I was fairly certain I would have no one to sit with, (based on previous conferences) and if it was ok, I wanted to not go. She wrote me back and told me how sad she was to hear that but respected my decision. She had told me if she wasn’t speaking that night and presenting awards that SHE herself would sit with me. She said she knew all too well what it was like to sit alone at a banquet at a conference.

    She UNDERSTOOD as she always did, she didn’t make me feel bad, she told me she was looking forward to seeing me and chatting with me and I told her I couldn’t wait to show her my Halloween costume, that she would laugh her head off. I didn’t tell her what it was, because I wanted to keep it as a surprise. Now she will never know.

    I was blessed to share meals with her at all of the BlogPaws conferences, and at two conferences both of my last evenings there were spent with Lorie. The first was with Lorie and Amy Shojai, before I went upstairs. They were helping me with “leash issues” with Dakota. The last was at BP in Vegas, Layla, Lorie and I were sitting outside in that freaky windstorm laughing our heads off and talking our heads off.

    Through the years that I have known her, (which were now much too short), she always treated me and everyone else with respect, compassion, understanding and patience. She was the epitome of grace. My heart is broken………..I miss her terribly already xoxoxo

    • Deb says:

      Caren – I understand better than anyone what it is like to feel alone in a crowd and I am grateful that you felt comfortable enough to share your feelings on my blog. Rest assured there is always a seat next to me if you want it and my heart is with you as we mourn the loss of Lorie. Xoxo

  13. mariodacat says:

    You wrote a beautiful post Deb. Her passing was a real shock to the entire community. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but feel I really missed out on something wonderful. I’m so sad for her kitties, and do hope our community can find a new home for them. I know they can be transported, if we can just find someone to take those precious babies.

  14. Cathy Keisha says:

    What a nice tribute! TW is sorry that she’ll never have the opportunity to know Lorie. She seems to have touched everyone she met. I hope those who loved her in the blogging community have room in their hearts and houses to give one of the cats a home like the CB did when Rose passed.

  15. meowmeowmans says:

    Such a lovely and heartfelt tribute to Dr. Lorie. Thank you, Deb.

  16. Connie Marie says:

    Deb, that was a glorious tribute. I am so proud of
    You, Lorie did well in naming you as one of the three.
    I know, she knew, you will
    make her proud.
    I wasn’t going to read this,
    I lost a real life friend August 22, 2014 and with life and emotional problems
    I knew it would be hard to handle, I saw your post on Facebook and decided to go ahead and I’m so glad I did.
    Thank you so very much.
    I read Caren’s comment, I feel bad about her backing out for those reasons, I too feel way too alone, if I wrote, or was invited I never would have attended because I wouldn’t know how to fit in.

  17. What a beautiful post and tribute to Lorie. Along with everyone, I was completely shocked. I’d met Lorie a few times at conferences and although I didn’t know her well, she just had this wonderful way about her that made you feel like you’d known her forever. Even the very tone of her voice was soothing. You just knew she genuinely cared about what you were discussing… she cared about YOU.

    She has one of those voices that I can still hear very distinctly inside my head. It’s made reading these tributes all the more moving.

    Rest in peace, Lorie.
    You will be missed… and you will be remembered.

    ~GG

  18. Chloe says:

    This is such a wonderful tribute. It’s amazing to me how Lorie had such a positive impact on so many people. She was a one in a million person and friend. Gosh, writing in past tense just doesn’t feel right. She is missed deeply, and always will be. Thank you for sharing your tribute with us.

  19. Mary Haight says:

    I thank you so much for this beautiful tribute to Lorie Huston, and I will be forever grateful you took the time to contact me regarding the “Why I Write” challenge tag — like you, I had no idea she named me. I am so so pleased, yet also sad that I did not know and now cannot thank her.

    I wonder if Lorie knew how many people cared about her, how many she touched? If she’s still watching, I think she’s smiling. I will miss her.

  20. How did I miss this this lovely tribute? Look for an email from me re:conf.