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A Complete Change of Heart

Leah Day pets cat
Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

She says it quietly so that not too many ears — especially feline ears — will hear her words, but Leah Dey freely admits that there was a time when she didn’t really like cats. Of course that was years ago, and my, how things have changed.

It was some 40 years ago when Leah and her late husband William were dog owners living in Ohio. Owning a cat was not on the agenda for one of the Deys. It was Leah, not William, who was strictly a dog person. But time quietly works its transformative magic on all of us one way or another.

For Leah Dey, it has transformed her into someone who is dedicated to responsible pet ownership, an advocate for stray and rescue dogs and cats, and a strong supporter of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). In fact, she has been a cat owner for some years, now, and she is quick to point out that every cat she has ever owned was either a rescue or a stray. Currently, that includes three house cats and one feral cat that she has tamed to the extent that it will allow Leah to take her to the vet. Leah named this hardy survivor “Willoe,” partially in recognition of William and partially in recognition of the cat’s will to survive.

The other three members of Leah’s “furry family” are named Izabelle, Beau and Jakeb, and all are rescues.

Not surprisingly, Leah has developed a particular interest in feline behavioral science. The art of earning the trust and affection of stray and rescue cats involves having the patience and understanding of the animals to be successful. It’s well known that cats have a reputation for independence under any circumstances, and to develop a relationship with a cat that has lived in the wild or that has possibly been abandoned takes a special dedication.

The Deys had planned to move to the Raleigh area after retirement and they picked up the local affinity for collegiate sports, particularly basketball. In their prospective new hometown that meant becoming fans of NC State men’s basketball, then coached by the legendary Jim Valvano. William passed away 32 years ago while they were still in Ohio, though, and it wasn’t until 11 years later that Leah eventually made the move here on her own (accompanied by “four furry girls”). It was the unlikely merging of her interest in Wolfpack sports and in the behavioral patterns of her feline friends that finally brought Leah Dey and the College of Veterinary Medicine together.

Her passion for helping rescue and stray companion animals and wanting to promote responsible pet ownership found an outlet at the CVM. Her husband had been an avid reader, and Leah’s initial contact with NC State was to donate some books to the library. Once she became involved with NC State, her interest in animal welfare and behavior led her to cross paths with Barbara Sherman, a clinical professor of veterinary behavior who is board certified by both the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and the American College of Animal Welfare, and a creative collaboration blossomed.

Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine
Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

A big part of dealing with animal behavior is observation, of course. In due time Leah decided to assist NC State in the acquisition of video cameras for the purpose of observing and recording animals brought to the CVM’s Behavioral Medicine Service in the Health and Wellness Center for treatment of behavioral issues. It was the first step in what has become a cooperative effort to help animals and people develop better relationships.

More dogs than cats are seen in the Health and Wellness Center, so setting aside one of the exam rooms dedicated to “feline wellness” would help cats be comfortable and eliminate the potential anxiety associated with sharing space with other species, such as dogs. After discussing the issue with Barbara and Health and Wellness General Practice Director Brenda Stevens, DVM, Leah took another step in her commitment to the health and wellbeing of animals, making a contribution enabling the CVM to establish “The Purrdey Feline Wellness Room.” The celebration dedicating the newly renovated space was on October 25.

It’s clear that Leah Dey is a passionate advocate for responsible pet ownership. “I urge people not to give up on their companion animals,” she says. “They’re not disposable. Please, take responsibility. Nurturing them is the key.” And Leah believes that NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine is a critical partner in this work, which is why she is now including the College in her estate planning.

With active and dedicated partners like Leah Dey, our goal to Think and Do the Extraordinary is one step closer to fulfillment.

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine