Caroline Jack Rescues Cats

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

But Who Will Care For Caroline Jack?

by Carol Harvey/PoorNewsNetwork

I was carried along in the currents and eddies of
swirling crowds, walking fast down Powell Street to the
corner of Post where the Disney store beams its high
technicolor yellow light onto the street. For two
years I had passed a woman sitting quietly in her
wheelchair across from Union Square, a soft body of calm
in the slipstream of frenzied activity. Three or four
cats sleep curled in the nest of blankets in her lap.
Sometimes she herself dozes, her granny glasses slipping
down her nose. Sometimes people stand chatting or
patting and stroking her cats. Sometimes the tiny
orange kitten bats the nose of the larger gray, and
skitters from the sidewalk toward the street.

Day after day, tourists, shoppers, and business people
pass, smiling or looking curiously down at her and her
cats. They may hand her a dollar, or extend a brown
paper bag containing fast food or coffee. Caroline
accepts these diplomatic gifts with a placid smile of
thanks, and a few words. Parents come close instructing
their children to stand behind them near the glass
windows of the Disney store. Caroline says they are
obviously afraid their kids will "Get something from her
cats. Cats are very clean," says, Caroline. "They wash
and groom themselves all the time."

Caroline's Mrs. Claus persona is so benign and non-
aggressive that, when I finally stopped to talk, she
threw me off balance with her observant sense of humor.
She pointed to the joke shop rubber chicken dangling
from my key chain and said, "I want one of those.
That's what our leaders are selling us these days about
the so-called war. They are going to be the rubber
chicken in the end."

Caroline Jack looks like your grandmother and panhandles
from her wheelchair. She is not on drugs, she is not
crazy; she is simply disabled, cannot pay for an
apartment in the inflated rental market in San
Francisco. She lost her home in a residential hotel
where she first started collecting abandoned cats.

For thirteen years, Caroline has cared for stray cats,
rescuing them from the general public, from research
labs in hospitals, from behind the SPCA office where pit
bull trainers get boxes of free abandoned kittens to
train blood lust into their dogs, or from other street
folk who may be abusing them. She takes them in from
people like the two little boys who just didn't know how
to handle their kitten, or from people who think they
won't survive anyway, so "give them to the homeless
woman. Give them to THAT." She had a three-week-old
tiny tiger hiding in the warm folds of her blanketed
lap. She told me, "She's my little girl. She can climb
up this towel," she bragged of her little kitten's

Caroline has her cats harnessed and holds on tight while
they leap and play around her. She asked me to help
her unwind the tiger's leather leash from the steel
posts holding the big wheels onto her chair. Unable to
turn to see where the little orange bundle of
nitroglycerin has jumped this time, with a quick forward
tug, she tries to drag him away from the curb to safety.

This is a smart and savvy woman who is an articulate and
witty conversationalist. She talks to tourists who come
by, and she learns from them. She is up on everything.
She told me, before I later read about it on,
how the hotel industry in San Francisco is suffering now
that tourism is down. Hardest hit are the maids, door-
people, and clerks. She said a friend employed in a big
hotel across the street only works two days a week even
though he is unionized. "For the past three months, his
life has been a living hell."

She and I talked to a man from Switzerland, a tourist,
who showed us photos of his three cats, one a tiger, and
two "rag dolls," a fairly rare and beautiful breed with
fluffy white hair around big adorable wide-set eyes who
he found on the Internet. He said, "These cats are
everything to me." He told us how his big tiger cat
went away to the lady across the hall when he brought
these rag dolls in. The tiger needed time to get used
to them, so he visited on and off for about six months.
Then he accepted them and came home.

Caroline exclaimed, "You are a person who obviously
loves your cats. You allowed the tiger time to adjust.
That's exactly the way I train people to introduce a new
cat into an existing group. I tell them put the old cat
in a room, and let the new cat have the run of the house
for a couple of weeks so he can get the smell of the
existing cat, and understand the first cat is there.
Don't put them in the place together and let them duke
it out. It only creates cats who hiss and snarl and
hate each other. And don't treat one more special than
the other, because they get jealous like children do.
Treat them exactly the same. Then they start to act
like a family."

"My method doesn't always work, though. Sometimes a cat
just can't get along with other cats. Usually that cat
has been abused and mistreated."

The Swiss gentleman had passed Caroline Jack's test.
She said she wouldn't give her cats to "just anyone."
The person must come back several times so, "I know the
cat is going to a good home with a person who won't
abuse the animal."

Caroline is also very angry about what she sees
happening to her and the other people on the street.
The police take their belongings, which is all they
have, from shopping carts without the 24-hour notice
that the Coalition on Homelessness is calling for.
Caroline said everyone knew it hadn't passed immediately
after the action failed. "I found out on the grapevine
because people out here do talk."

Caroline said, "Three months ago, they took our stuff.
The owner of the store we sleep in front of never
complained. It was a new cop that didn't know us. They
took the cart and everything in the cart, except they
left us some blankets and pillows because they knew it
was very cold at night." Caroline thinks these DPW
sweeps can be a cover for theft.

When the police were called about her lost belongings,
they blamed it on the Department of Public Works. Then
the DPW "criss-crossed stories," and blamed it on the
SFPD. She said all her belongings were new, clean, and
folded neatly in her cart, "and they just took them."
She had a "cat carrier, cat box, clean socks, clean
shirts, clean everything in there." They took expensive
pads she needs for her bladder problem made worse by
sitting from 8:00 am to 10:00 p.m., often without
moving. They also took her heart medicine. She
said, "I saw the truck. It was loaded down with
everything all thrown together in a heap, as if it
really was garbage, which it was NOT."

She says in this depressed economy in a 10-12 hour day
she makes $16 to $20. "I am out here late." That is
$1.50 to $2.00 an hour sitting in noisy traffic, drowned
out by the whistles of the hotel doormen calling cabs,
the clanging of the trolleys, car horns honking, people
shouting and jabbering constantly, and finally, at 9:00
p.m. the cacophonous saxophone from a panhandler's
sloppy rendition of "Take the A-train," and "These Are A
Few Of my Favorite Things." (I wanted to ask him to
stop so we could finish our interview, but Caroline told
me, "He will just give me trouble, so please don't do
it. He has to make his buck.")

Later, I was shopping at an upscale neighborhood market,
Molly Stone, a grocery store appealing to the well-
heeled in mansions and expensive high-rise condos near
my small Victorian. A man stood outside the store on
California Street giving away leaflets for "USA for
UNHCR," an organization whose info letter he downloaded
from the Internet. This letter requests a donation of
$50.00 for refugees in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. It
calls itself the "United States Association for United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees." Claims to have
Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, President Emeritus of the
University of Notre Dame on its Board.

I asked him if he knew about the 300 Afghan refugees who
drowned off the coast of Australia or about the women
and children near the Pakistan border in danger from
murderous road bandits. He said he didn't.

I said I was writing about "The Homeless" in SF, who I
thought had a similar plight to these refugees. They
fight a war every day just to survive. He said he did
not think so, because it was easy to live in SF off the
refuse the rich leave in their garbage cans, and the
refugees did not have that luxury.

"How do you know?" I asked.

He said, "I used to be homeless. The homeless
get welfare checks, and instead of spending the money on
an apartment, they buy drugs. They are all junkies, you

I said, "The $320.00 a month they get could not cover
the rent in an apartment in San Francisco. I know many
personally, and most are intelligent people --- some are
musicians, writers, poets, runaways from abusive
families, failed dot-commers. A lot of them have jobs.
Drug usage among the unhoused exactly parallels drug
usage among the housed."

He said, "Well, maybe the ones YOU know aren't using."

I said, "I know the ones I talk to on the street, the
ones I did stand-up poetry with, or in the GA office
when I, myself, got help temporarily from General
Assistance while I worked to keep my home. No more
of them are on alcohol and drugs than housed people I
know, or even wealthy people I know. Drug use is not
isolated to one segment of society. Some street dwellers
drink or take drugs because life on the street is
so brutal. Some develop a drug habit, seeking
momentary relief from terrible discomfort only
AFTER they are forced to sleep on cement in the rain.
The disabled homeless often use narcotics to ease
physical pain, just like "normal" "housed" disabled
people do.

You don't see housed people drinking or drugging because
they do it behind closed doors. Street people are
visible because they have no homes."

He said, "Well. I know down in the Castro, over on
Haight, those people just act crazy. Those homeless
people are all crazy, you know."

I said, "If you can say something like that, you are not
worth talking to because you know nothing.

People like you go around saying ignorant things
like 'the homeless are all crazy,' and you create a lot
of trouble for people who have been terribly victimized."

He said, "Listen, honey. All those homeless people are

I shot back, "Watch what you say. It's nonsense."

I walked home and called the 800 number. A man's
recorded voice answered saying the office was closed,
repeating the same non-information as on the flier, and
giving an address where money could be sent. On the
Internet, I discovered that, in fact, USA for UNHCR is
bona fide. Its leading light is Angelina Jolie.

I surmise my man on the street was, in fact, homeless.
Was he using a big relief organization as a cover to
panhandle money from the wealthy people he thinks live
in Pacific Heights who shop outside the upscale store?
Fifty bucks a pop isn't bad.

When I told Caroline about this man, she said,
"That sounds like a new scam. Brand new."

I asked, "How does one claim to have been homeless?
Himself and then slander the homeless, calling them
crazy drug addicts!"

To which Caroline observed, "The person that screams
the loudest is always always guilty of doing what he says
he doesn't like. He wants to make an impression on you
that he's above and beyond what he's putting down.
Anybody who screams that loud and hard is so guilty,
it just makes my heart stop."

He seemed to me like the people who Caroline said
would not look at her on the street out of the fear that
is sometimes disguised as anger. In this faltering
economy,they know in a pink-slip minute they could be
next. "It is amazing the things they say. One man
threw a dime and four pennies at me today, and
scoffed, "That's all you people are worth. Fourteen

If the man outside the market was using this refugee
relief organization as a tool for survival, the method seemed slimy and
hypocritical. By contrast, Caroline's way is honest,
creative, and loving.

Too bad this "Savior of Refugees" ran into me outside
Molly Stone's. Lucky I don't know his name. I would
submit it to Poor Magazine for the "Poverty Anti-Hero

Caroline would get my resounding vote for "Poverty
Hero of The Year."

Follow-Up on Caroline and her cats

Two weeks ago, Animal Care and Control came and confiscated two more of Caroline's cats apparently on the basis of mistaken identity. Animal Care and Control seemed to have decided Caroline abuses her animals simply because she is unhoused. They found documentation on another homeless woman who abuses cats.

When L.S. Smith of the Homeless Coalition and I saw Caroline on Wednesday, December 5, L.S. asked her: "Do you know anything about litigation having been drawn up against you" for abuse of the cats? There was another homeless woman abusing 30 cats.

Caroline answered, "No, I have never even had 30 cats! I know about
another woman who actually had litigation drawn up against her. But that woman is not me."

The Coalition on Homelessness is currently helping Caroline file complaints
against the City for theft of her property and Animal Care and Control for the illegal confiscation of her cats.

Caroline is a cat expert who trains others in proper care of animals and
rescues abused and abandoned cats from the streets. Some of her animals have been used by addicts to test heroin and other drugs.
Caroline has given other homeless people money to take their cats and detox them. One of those cats was taken by ACC, and Caroline is very worried they will kill it because it is "acting crazy" and unadoptable.

ACC claims she is using her cats to panhandle. Caroline told me that if
she were a pet store, or housed,
no one would have stolen her property or her cats. They would have
displayed their cats in the pet store


The following are e-mails from two of Caroline's many friends:

Date: Thursday, 13 Dec 2001

From: "carol harvey"


Caroline was not at her spot on Post/Powell last night about 8:00 PM. A
security guard at the Disney Store saw her leave about 4:00 PM. It was very cold last night.

Were you able to get a copy of "Street Spirit" to Caroline? I wanted to
give her a copy last night but couldn't because she was not there.

L.S. Smith from the Coalition on Homelessness and I videotaped her last
week. We gave her some forms to fill out to help in finding a home for her. She told me at that time that ACC also stole her middle-sized tiger
and one other cat, both of whom are shown in the photograph in the paper.

Caroline told L.S. and I that a man bought her a 125 dollar raincoat to
protect her from the cold rain last week, but it was so nice she didn't want to spoil it by wearing it. Is
Caroline all right? "

On Thursday, December 13, Scott writes:
"Hi, Carol. On Tuesday Caroline left her spot early because her
left kidney is bothering her. I told her that a sore arm is one thing not
to have looked at, but kidney problems are much more serious. (Caroline's arm was damaged when the ACC official dragged her a block through traffic as Caroline was trying to stop her from confiscating her cat.)

Yesterday, she did call the clinic at UCSF where she's gotten some medical attention in the past (for kidneys, I believe), but her doctor wasn't in. I have been gently chastising her, but I am not sure she will do
what I tell her to do. It is especially unnerving given that the ACC takes
her cats for alleged lack of medical attention when she clearly takes very good care of her animals often at her own health's expense." (Caroline's kidney problem is exacerbated by her not being able to get to a bathroom. She told me she was turned away by a JCDeCaux toilet attendant who accused her of jamming the lock and told her to "come back in two hours." She was sitting in her wheelchair at the time.)

She is, at least, wearing the new rain coat, and in fairly good spirits
despite the loss of her four cats and her physical pain."

Deborah, another friend on Caroline Jack's network said today:
"She takes care of her cats better than she takes care of herself.
Caroline … networks with lots of members of the community… who take them to the vet ... to make sure that they get their shots, and eye or ear infections taken care of .… She makes an appointment and has them taken in.

One cat who had a really bad eye infection—she looked like Quasimodo, and she had me take her into Pets Unlimited on Fillmore, " (and they) "put the cat into a foster home." We thought she was going to lose her
eye it was so bad, but they said with care they managed to save her eye and find a good home for her. Pets Unlimited is known to be better at doing things than the SPCA. They actually do go out of their way to find a home for all the pets they get."

"I received a cat (Kiki) from Caroline. The cat had been abused, but she had
coached her into being a well-behaved, sociable animal, and when I adopted her and took her to the Knob Hill Cat Clinic to be fixed, they declared her to be a healthy animal, and well taken care of and
ready for her operation."

Friends of Caroline, The Coalition on Homelessness, POOR Magazine, DAMO (a support organization for disabled folks of color), are attempting to get support services for Caroline as well some housing where she can
come in out of the cold, heal her serious kidney
infections, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and heart trouble, and continue to do her important work for cats.

Donations for Caroline can be sent to D. Blackburn, 840 California, #38,
San Francisco, CA 94108.

Anyone who can connect Caroline to a lawyer, or give a donation can e-mail, or


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