Like so many who come to the YWCA in Lewiston, Idaho, Moco arrived hungry and homeless.
“We found out that some of the residents of our homeless shelter were feeding her,” says Wendy Diessner, director of operations for the Y. “They’d banded together and were doing their best to take care of this very scruffy-looking cat.”
That was in August, 2001. These days, Moco helps run the Y and take care of its clients, people who primarily are dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault. The agency also operates a homeless facility and serves as a service center for victims of other crimes.
People are hurting, and Moco often is the most powerful way to reach them.
“So many people are afraid of institutions, even like ours. It’s somewhere they don’t want to be,” says Diessner, Moco’s caretaker (along with other staff members) and best friend.
Just catching a glimpse of the fluffy black Persian mix with soft yellow eyes lounging in the in- and out-baskets brings a smile to someone who’s having a hard time.
But the Y’s “therapy cat” often doesn’t wait to be noticed.
“She seems to have a sixth sense of who needs that connection with her the most,” Diessner says. “She’ll be upstairs all day just hanging out with staff, and then she’ll head downstairs when a family that needs help comes in.
Children staying at the shelter often rush home from school to find Moco, and women in support groups stroke her while they struggle to find words for their experiences. She’s also a watchful friend as children do homework and young mothers search computers for work.
“Her name is on the staff in/out board,” Diessner says.
Her face has graced many a Christmas greeting, and she keeps the Y’s dog obedience class lively by teasing the canines while they work.
Moco is quite mellow and has never bitten, scratched or fought anyone in her seven years at the Y — no matter how much poking or stroking she’s had to endure.
The staff views Moco as a survivor — much like the Y’s clients — from that summer day eight years ago when they met an 8-month-old stray cat looking to find her place. She has found that place working with people in crisis.
“She was a homeless cat at a homeless shelter,” Diessner says. “We decided we should keep her here. She’s independent and loving. She really does embody what the Y stands for.”
Virginia Solan is a freelance writer and advocate for crime victims. She lives in Moscow, Idaho, with her husband, son and two cats, KC and Zelda. Her work has appeared in national, regional and local publications for more than 25 years.