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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Victoria Shouldis, the cat’s meow, paused to remember the SPCA

  • Kendra the cat sits for a portrait under the plaque to commemorate Victoria Shouldis and her mother, Valerie, that hangs in the Cat Play Room at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out whether a cat is a good match.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Kendra the cat sits for a portrait under the plaque to commemorate Victoria Shouldis and her mother, Valerie, that hangs in the Cat Play Room at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014. Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out whether a cat is a good match.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • A plaque to commemorate VIctoria Shouldis and her mother Valerie hangs in the Cat Play Room at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    A plaque to commemorate VIctoria Shouldis and her mother Valerie hangs in the Cat Play Room at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014. Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Cleo, an adoptable cat, was in the Cat Play Room donated by Valerie and Victoria Shouldis at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Cleo, an adoptable cat, was in the Cat Play Room donated by Valerie and Victoria Shouldis at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014. Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Cleo (left) and Kendra. both adoptable cats, play in the in the Cat Play Room donated by Valerie and Victoria Shouldis at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Cleo (left) and Kendra. both adoptable cats, play in the in the Cat Play Room donated by Valerie and Victoria Shouldis at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014. Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Kendra the cat sits for a portrait under the plaque to commemorate Victoria Shouldis and her mother, Valerie, that hangs in the Cat Play Room at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out whether a cat is a good match.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • A plaque to commemorate VIctoria Shouldis and her mother Valerie hangs in the Cat Play Room at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Cleo, an adoptable cat, was in the Cat Play Room donated by Valerie and Victoria Shouldis at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Cleo (left) and Kendra. both adoptable cats, play in the in the Cat Play Room donated by Valerie and Victoria Shouldis at the Pope Memorial SPCA of Concord Merrimack County on Friday, May 23, 2014.  Victoria Shouldis left money to the SPCA for a room where people can figure out if a cat is a good match.<br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

The SPCA is in good shape these days, thanks to the late Victoria Shouldis.

So, in fact, is her cat, Casy.

Both are the beneficiaries of a woman from Hillsboro who died of cancer three years ago, and who dedicated her life to helping the underdog. And that included cats.

The SPCA, which unveils its new facility in Concord on Thursday, got an undisclosed sum of money from an insurance policy controlled by a close friend of Shouldis’s, Melissa Mandrell.

Casy? He got Mandrell, who promised Shouldis that her beloved kitty would have a loving home after her death.

“I told her that Casy would be taken care of forever,” Mandrell said recently over a cup of coffee. “I promised.”

Mandrell, a social worker from Contoocook, is part of a large pool of friends greatly affected by Shouldis. She and another friend, LJ Ripley, were eager to get the word out about the new room at the new facility.

And whose money made it happen.

The room, with a view of the lobby through five large pane-glass windows, is small and well-lit, with a strong echo inside and a plaque dedicating the space to Shouldis and her late mother, Valerie, outside.

That’s what Shouldis wanted, a place where animals could be loved, maybe even find a home.

Want a cat? Stop by the SPCA, find one you like and step into the new Cat Play Room, where you can spend quality time and figure out whether you’re a purrfect match.

“The animals were always most important, and she would often instigate lunchtime trips to the market and then to the SPCA to drop off paper towels and other things she knew they needed,” Ripley wrote in an email. “She didn’t just think about it, she did it and inspired the best in others.”

Ripley, Mandrell and other friends of Shouldis’s didn’t know one another, at least not well, until Shouldis learned she didn’t have long to live. Then they had a common goal: keep Shouldis as comfortable as possible by returning the love she’d always given them.

Mandrell and Ripley worked with Shouldis at New Hampshire Hospital. They spoke about Shouldis’s compassion for patients there, her empathy and sympathy spilling out like milk into a saucer.

Shouldis, a freelance writer for the Monitor for 20 years, loved poetry, the slots at Foxwoods, reading and the Beatles. She grew up in New York City, in Staten Island, and rooted for the Mets as well as the Red Sox.

She comforted Mandrell during winter storms as the two carpooled to work on the nightmare stretch known as Route 202, and she was there when Mandrell’s motorcycle slipped on gravel, tossing Mandrell to the ground and injuring her shoulder.

“My husband wasn’t home, so I called Vicky,” Mandrell said. “She comes and she follows the ambulance and later she holds my hand and tells me stories and says it’ll be okay.”

Her caring nature and loyalty was never limited to friends. Shouldis supported the SPCA and made patients at New Hampshire Hospital feel special. Her liberal views caused eye-rolling in conservative circles, but it’s what endeared her to those who felt her gentle touch.

“Protecting those who needed protecting,” Mandrell said. “That’s where her love for animals came in and for the people she cared for at work. She’d drive them to appointments and help them find the resources they needed.”

While Shouldis’s work, politics, writing and love for animals afforded a glimpse inside, other areas remained hidden away, and it’s not clear whether this was by design.

Shouldis never married, nor did she ever have children. “I guess the right opportunity never came along,” Mandrell said. “I guess I don’t really know. She collected so many people. She was always busy.”

Shouldis also spent more than a decade caring for her mother, Valerie. Mandrell said Valerie was on disability, but she didn’t know specifics about her illness.

Mandrell added that Shouldis wanted her mother included in her donation to the SPCA, insisting Valerie’s name come first in any tribute, on any plaque.

Valerie died in 2010, the same year Shouldis’s cat, Molly, died, and the same year Shouldis received her diagnosis. Shouldis had a cancer that originated in the bile ducts, and the prognosis wasn’t good.

Home care and hospice followed, which led to the current community of supporters, all of whom took round-the-clock shifts to care for their friend.

“We come from all sorts of different places,” Ripley wrote, “and have varying degrees of relationships with one another, in most part with the common thread being Vicky.”

From there, the group, figuring Shouldis might be lonely, suggested she get a cat.

“I don’t know if she was lonely,” Mandrell said. “But Casy would have helped fill that void.”

Ah yes, Casy.

Shouldis resisted, mindful that a new cat would soon need a new home. She asked Mandrell to promise to care for the cat after her death.

Mandrell agreed, so Shouldis went to the SPCA, noticed that one particular cat was getting picked on by the other cats and knew he needed a home most.

Casy was the underdog.

They lived together for a year. Shouldis died Oct. 28, 2011. She was 47.

Casy now lives with Mandrell and her husband. Casy’s old home, at the old SPCA building in Penacook, is gone, replaced by the new facility on Silk Farm Road.

Mandrell chose not to reveal the amount of money Shouldis left for the Cat Play Room, but it was a lot. Six figures, Mandrell said.

She and others connected to Shouldis would like you to stop by and see the room, maybe bring a cat in, see if there’s a bond.

“This is perfect,” Mandrell said. “Vicky would be glad this room is here.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Wonderful gift. Too few out there who even care about or are willing to help animals. I have one question about the shelter; is it no-kill? I'd like to see donations go toward converting kill-shelters to no-kill shelters.

Victoria was a very special person. Thanks for the story.

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