By Tania Soussan
Carol Briggs is so devoted to Treetop that she tries not to leave the little cat home alone too often. She’ll sometimes even ask her son to “babysit” when she goes to volunteer every Thursday afternoon at Gentiva Hospice.
The blue-eyed beauty who sports a pink collar with a bell has a special place in Briggs’ heart – and in her Northeast Albuquerque home. A bright green cactus-shaped scratching post, a scratching ramp, a small hideout and a cat bed are prominent fixtures in the living room along with a kitty condo in front of the window. A kitty drinking water fountain and a play tunnel attached to two barstools near the kitchen round out the feline décor.
Briggs adopted Treetop last July after losing her husband, Howard, of 54 years the previous December, soon after he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Briggs said she was shellshocked and stuck in a deep gloom when she decided a feline companion would help lift her spirits. She headed to Animal Humane New Mexico
Treetop, described by Animal Humane as a domestic shorthair snowshoe, has since brightened her outlook and more.
“It gives me purpose, that’s the main thing,” Briggs said, adding that the cat sleeps on her bed and wakes her up for breakfast every morning. “She follows me wherever I go. She’s extremely good company.”
The heartwarming story of Briggs and Treetop was the winning entry this Valentine’s Day in the national Petco Love Stories contest, earning a grand prize of $100,000 for Animal Humane New Mexico and a $1,000 Petco shopping spree for Briggs.
“Our Petco Love Stories campaign is in its tenth year, and there is no end to the amazing, emotional stories of how pets change our lives,” Petco Love president Susanne Kogut said in a news release. “These winning Love Stories capture the love we all feel for our pets. They celebrate the lifesaving act of pet adoption and the unconditional bond we share with our pets who enrich our lives in so many ways.”
The winning Love Stories are chosen for how well they express the way a pet has made an adopter’s life better and how they celebrate the love the adopter shares with their pet. This year, nonprofit Petco Love, in partnership with BOBS from Skechers, awarded grants totaling more than $500,000 to 18 animal welfare teams nationwide.
Briggs, a grandmother and retired hospital radiology department supervisor who moved to New Mexico from Rhode Island, initially planned to adopt a kitten but fell in love with 14-month-old Malin. She later renamed the cat Treetop after her late husband’s military computer login.
“I looked at her and she looked at me and I said, ‘This is the one,’” Briggs said.
The little cat was skittish at first, spending her first days in the apartment hiding but gradually came out of her shell. She had come from a hoarding situation with 29 other cats and wasn’t accustomed to getting a lot of human attention. Being in a home where she’s the only cat is the perfect situation for Treetop, according to Animal Humane.
A short time after Treetop settled in her new home, Abby Norris, donor engagement manager at Animal Humane, emailed adopters, asking for their stories. Briggs responded: “Words can’t express the love, companionship and joy she has brought into my life,” she wrote. “I love her to death and she is my pride and joy.”
“I was just so moved by her story and everything she’s been through,” Norris said. “I really connected with the power of the human and pet connection. … They are a perfect, perfect match.”
Treetop appears to be taking her celebrity in stride. In addition to the Love Story hoopla, which has included a celebration at Petco in Albuquerque and interviews with Briggs on KOB-TV and Good Morning America, she has been featured as a pet photo of the week on the Albuquerque Journal’s Fetch! page.
Recently, Briggs has found another way to continue healing from her grief. She started volunteering in the office at Gentiva, which helped care for her husband, Howard, at the end of his life. “I just wanted to pay them back,” she said. “It helps me and it helps them.”
Animal Humane is a private nonprofit with no government funding, so the $100,000 prize money will be a big help in caring for the animals there and creating more happy adoption stories, Norris said.
Since 2013, Petco Love has heard from more than 20,000 adopters about how pets have changed their lives and has awarded nearly $7 million in grants to the animal welfare organizations that make adoption matches possible. Animal Humane New Mexico won a $10,000 grant in the 2021 contest based upon a story about a dog adoption, but this is the first time the organization has won the grand prize.
Research has shown that pet ownership can provide older adults with important forms of social and emotional support that reduce distress and loneliness and improve overall quality of life, according to the nonprofit Human Animal Bond Research Institute. One study found that strong attachment to a pet was associated with less depression among older adults.
“Pets are really special. They have that ability to support mental health,” Norris said, adding that the story of Briggs and Treetop illustrates the benefits of pet ownership for people who live alone.
It’s easy to see that Briggs and Treetop – who enjoy daily play time – are helping each other.
“I just have so much fun with her,” Briggs said. “I’m looking forward to spending many years with her.”