This is part of a series highlighting recipients of Lady Freethinker’s new Urgent Need grant program, created to help rescuers with lifesaving veterinary expenses. Learn more about the program and how to apply here.

Before Angelico Cat Rescue Founder Tammy Brzezniak stumbled upon a group of stray kittens, she classified herself as a dog lover.

She also classified herself, more broadly, as an animal lover. But she knew very little about cats. So when she saw a neighbor feeding cats in a feral colony in the community, she asked what she was doing.

The neighbor told her she had heard from a management company that the cats would possibly be destroyed. Together, the two women trapped the cats, including a mother cat who gave birth two days later. 

Brzezniak noticed one of the newborn kittens wasn’t breathing. She started CPR and warmed the kitten with a towel. The kitten, christened Amber, survived. 

And Brzezniak’s life was forever changed. Renewed by her bond with Amber, she decided to start her own rescue — offering vaccinations, rehabilitation, and spaying and neutering, focusing on street cats in need of socialization or cats with other special needs.

At the time when I did my first ‘rescue’, I also was having a difficult time in my life,” she wrote on Angelico Cat Rescue’s website. “Having recently lost a loved one, helping these defenseless creatures helped me too. Although I’ve been a volunteer for other rescue groups, I realized that there are so many unwanted cats on the street.  I decided to start my own rescue group and help find forever loving homes for them.”

Brzezniak, who has come a long way in understanding cats in the last decade, said a key lesson for her has been that there are no mean cats — just very scared ones, and all of whom have their own stories. Once cats have learned to trust people, they find loving forever homes with adoptive families or older Americans in nearby nursing homes.

Angelico Cat Rescue — established in Lauderhill, Fla., in 2011, and whose motto is “We Save ALL Nine Lives” — was one of four nonprofits granted a full award of $5,000 through the first cycle of Lady Freethinker’s Animal Crisis grant program, a part of the Urgent Need grant program that we rolled out in Winter 2020. 

We wanted to spotlight our awardees so LFT readers can see exactly what kind of phenomenal work for animals they are supporting! We’ll highlight the other award winners as well in upcoming stories. 

If you’d like to further support Angelico Cat Rescue, you can do so here. 

Angelico Cat rescue

Tammy Brzezniak with Bamboo (Courtesy of Angelico Cat Rescue)

A Q&A with Tammy Brzezniak, Founder of Angelico Cat Rescue (Florida)

What’s a “typical” morning like for you?

I get up around 5 a.m. to start cleaning. I have 60 cats, but my house is clean and peaceful. First, I clean and look at everybody to make sure they are okay, visit with the cats, and fill their waters and food bowls. That takes about two hours. Then I get myself ready for work, because I do home health. I’m working about 10 hour days right now, so I get home late. Then it’s two to three hours of the same routine, spending time with the cats, hanging out with them until about midnight.

Tell us about 2020.

Angelico is currently home to 65 cats, many of whom are seniors or have special medical needs. Our historical grantors have paused their grant programs in response to the pandemic. Individual donations have been greatly reduced as well. Our total donations and grants were approximately $41,000 in 2019, which just covered our expenses. In 2020, we received $6,440 in grants and donations.  

With COVID, I saw more dumping of animals. I am very selective about who I adopt out to, so I did not have a lot of returns. I also follow up for years with my animals, because I care, and I always tell people that if something happens, give me the cat back. 

What keeps you going on a bad day?

I get offended when people say, “You’re a cat lady, what’s your house like?” My home is peaceful. It’s clean. Sometimes people also say, “You’re taking in another one?” And there’s judgment, people saying “You have so many already.” But the hardest thing to handle is when there are certain circumstances that I can’t do anything about, like a trailer park nearby that has a lot of feral cats, but there just aren’t resources here. 

I get tired, but I take some free time to get some fresh air. I do meditation. I do other things to stay pumped up. I play “spa music” when I am home, because I love my peace. After a long day of seeing people, and seeing people dying, I like to be with my cats. You have to focus on the ones you can help. 

What keeps me going is seeing the transformations — to watch the cats now, it’s amazing. I am very passionate about what I do. People message you and you see that you’ve made a difference. And it’s the love, the unconditional love, that the animals give that keeps me going.

Tell us more about pairing senior cats with older Americans!

A lot of my patients are elderly. There are people who have been married for 70 years, and they take you back to the roots, to the way people used to be. They ask to see my phone and always ask me, “What did you rescue now?”

I pair them with the cats, and I provide them with everything they need. They do have aides that can scoop the litter, check on the food and water, so that my patients can just enjoy the love from the animals. Of course, if anything were to happen, if the person were to die, then I take the cats back. 

How did you decide to invest the grant money?

I took in three pregnant mamas and one, Bamboo, was in labor for 30 hours and needed a C-section. They [the clinic] told me it was going to be about $3,000… and this was for a feral cat. Your [Lady Freethinker’s] check came when that mother was in labor. It was such timing. Had I not gotten that money, Bamboo would have drained me.

About $3,500 went to Bamboo for the emergency C-section, and she and her babies spent several days in the hospital. The funds also helped me get an ultrasound for Odin, a cat with a heart murmur. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without the grant money. I also had about five or six cats who needed dentals, so that money came in just the nick of time.

Is there anything you’d like LFT supporters to know about their support or your nonprofit?

To get the grant was just breathtaking — to have someone recognize what I’m doing. The support allows me to continue to do what I do. It helps me more than anybody knows. It lets me continue to make plans, to continue to support my elderly with the companionship program.

I have friends who foster, but my rescue is just me. Never do I use a penny of my animals’ money. I go to great lengths to rescue cats, and I do anything possible to keep them alive. I’m always transparent. If I’m asking for money on Facebook, I always post the veterinary bill.