Cat Helps Dogs
U.S. defender Cat Whitehill has a soft spot for man’s best friend. Her own best buddies Izzy and Maeby have inspired her to help save dogs, and help dogs save people.
Feb. 2, 2010
Somehow Izzy got out. It was a hot summer day in the San Fernando Valley and she wanted to go for a walk. So Izzy pushed her way through a heavy door to the garage and apparently navigated her way around a huge metal gate to freedom. She took a stroll down Dickens Street, crossed over a heavily trafficked Ventura Boulevard without incident, and moseyed on over to the parking lot of a World Market. There, because it was so hot, Izzy spotted an open car door and hopped in.
© U.S. Soccer
Five minutes later Robert Whitehill’s cell phone voicemail buzzed.
“Ummm…your dog Izzy just jumped into my car and I don’t know where she came from,” said the woman on the message, who had gotten his number off Izzy’s tags. “But she looks really hot, so we are going to give her some water and wait for you to come pick her up.”
Working at Stetson-Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Burbank in preparation for entering medical school, Whitehill immediately jumped into his car and raced to the World Market.
There, he found Izzy panting, but calm, sitting inside the woman’s car. He was hesitant to tell his wife about Izzy’s potentially perilous journey, but later that night he spilled the beans. It is one of many great stories about a dog who has become Cat’s best friend.
FOUND: FURRY FREEWAY FRIENDS
How Izzy came to be a part of the Whitehill family is an amazing story in itself. During U.S. Women’s National Team Residency Training Camp in Los Angeles in 2006, Cat was living with Aly Wagner and Natasha Kai. One day, she and Wagner arrived home from practice when a neighbor came running to them in a hysterical state, practically yelling, “Help me, please! I really need your help!”
Initially thinking there was some sort of emergency, the pair of soccer players soon found out that the woman had just rescued two Rottweiler mix puppies from the 405 Freeway (one of California’s main arteries for those not of the West Coast). She had gotten them into her car, but once she got home, the dogs were so scared that one had retreated to the corner of the garage and the other had wedged herself under the car.
The woman had to leave for an appointment and was flustered after trying and failing to get the dog out from under the car. Being good Samaritans and animal lovers, Wagner and Whitehill set about completing the task that fate had presented to them. Neither could fit under the car, so Wagner got a broom and slowly nudged the dog from under the vehicle and into Cat’s arms.
That dog was Izzy.
“I could feel her heart beating so fast,” said Cat. “The woman couldn’t take them as she was an older lady whose husband had recently passed away and she already had two dogs. She was going to take them to the pound. I held her in my arms and my heart melted.”
The recently married Whitehills had talked about getting a dog at some point but figured it would probably be down the road after they got settled in a house with a yard. That schedule was soon to be fast-tracked. Cat had Wagner take a picture of her with the dog on her cell phone and sent it to Robert’s phone with the following question:
“Robert, what do you think?”
“At that point, he really had no choice but to say yes,” said Cat. “I’m not sure if I chose Izzy or Izzy chose me, but she’s been the greatest dog anyone could ever have.”
Wagner and her husband adopted Izzy’s brother, named him Hermann, and have had him ever since. That’s two soccer players, two rescued Rottweilers and two great homes.
“It took about a week to 10 days for Izzy to stop being a scared puppy,” said Cat. “She wouldn’t come near anyone. She didn’t want anything to do with us. We slowly started to bring her back, give her love and good food. I took her to a dog park after about a month and she was in heaven. Ever since then she’s been the dog we love today.”
HELPING HER THROUGH THE DOG DAYS
While it’s true that Cat rescued Izzy, in a sense Izzy also rescued Cat. When Izzy first started living with them, Cat was going through some hard times on and off the field. After Residency Camp ended, the Whitehills stayed in Los Angeles so Robert could finish his work at the orthopedic clinic. With no soccer practice to attend, few friends in L.A. and Robert working long hours, Izzy was Cat’s constant companion.
“Izzy became my best friend, confidante and best listener,” said Cat. “She really helped with my frame of mind and I started to enjoy L.A. more.”
Once the Whitehills moved back to North Carolina, where Robert was starting medical school at UNC, and because of her experience with adopting Izzy, Cat decided to learn more about rescuing dogs.
“I didn’t know a lot about it,” said Cat. “I learned about how many dogs needed to be rescued and about pet overpopulation and I wanted to do something about it because of how Izzy had touched my life.”
Cat got in contact with Athletes For Hope, a non-profit organization started in 2007 by a number of high-profile athletes, including Mia Hamm, Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali and Lance Armstrong, with the mission of “educating, encouraging and assisting athletes in their efforts to contribute to community and charitable causes, to increase public awareness of those efforts, and to inspire others to do the same.”
The organization asked Cat about her interests and she mentioned her passion for helping animals, so they put her in touch with the SPCA of Wake County in Raleigh, N.C.
“When I went to visit Wake County SPCA, the people were wonderful and the facility was incredible,” said Cat. “It was clean, there was plenty of space for dogs, and they also had cats and rabbits. What they do for animals is tremendous so I decided to do what I could to help out.”
Since then, Cat has not only donated money to the cause but also worked with the SPCA to use her name to promote the organization, participated in a walk to raise money for an inexpensive clinic to spay and neuter pets and raised more than $3,000 herself.
DOUBLE THE DOG
Settled in North Carolina with a big yard, Cat and Robert had talked about getting a friend for Izzy after the 2008 Olympics, but when Cat went down with an ACL injury, knocking her off the team, once again, that plan was put in motion earlier than expected.
“When I was out with my ACL and before I had surgery, I was pretty sad, so almost every day I would go to the SPCA website just to look at the puppies,” said Cat. “I had mentioned to Robert in the past that I wanted a white German Shepherd and one morning I went to the site and they had just gotten in a litter of dark German Shepherd-Husky mixes. But then we came across a picture of the runt of the group, a little white puppy. We just looked at each other and said, ‘that’s the dog we want.’”
They put Izzy in the car and raced over to the SPCA to meet the white puppy.
“The great thing about the SPCA is that they allow you to bring in your own dog to meet a potentially new dog,” said Cat. “We brought Izzy in and the women working that day said that you could tell that Izzy liked this dog and the dog was loving Izzy. If Izzy was sold, we were sold.”
They took her home and named her Maeby.
“They could not be two more opposite dogs,” said Cat of her two furry friends. “Maeby is extremely high energy and wants to go on long runs and Izzy is more of a stronger and reserved type of dog. Our vet said she’s never seen two more opposite dogs love each other so much and they are inseparable now. I’ve never thought I would be a Rottweiler owner, but I will be one for the rest of my life.”
With her two rescue dogs now an important and inseparable part of the family, Cat wants to take her work with dogs to another level. She talks about how dogs have been taken into prisons and research has shown how the experience helps prisoners improve their outlooks and learn responsibility. She cites a study from a female prison where the percentage of women who returned to jail after taking part in a program where they took care of a dog was far lower than those who did not.
She talks about how dogs assist the elderly in retirement homes, bond with kids in pediatric hospitals and of course how dogs assist the handicapped.
“I want my message to be about saving dogs’ lives and controlling the pet population, but I also want people to know that saving dogs can also enhance a person’s life,” said Cat. “Dogs are loyal. They don’t care where you came from or where you are as long as they have someone to love them.”
Izzy and Maeby? Those are two lucky dogs.