Angela Rafuse sat at the white Ikea desk tucked into the corner of her childhood bedroom. She ended a Zoom meeting, sat back in her chair and opened her phone. On that one day, May 18, 2021, she’d amassed 500,000 views, 600 emails and $5,000 in donations. Her eyes widened.
Angela never imagined that an idea she thought of in her parents’ basement, during a pandemic, would gain this much traction.
Angela’s grandfather had passed away in December 2019. Shortly after that, she adopted his 15-year-old-cat, Mackenzie. Due to Mackenzie’s grumpy personality, she knew she wouldn’t get adopted from a shelter. It would have to be someone from the family—and Angela was the only one willing to take her.
Once the pandemic hit, Angela and Mackenzie moved in with her parents. She started posting videos of Mackenzie and her on TikTok, Mackenzie often growling, hissing or cuddling, and they went to Tim Hortons for bacon. Some of her videos would get more than one million views.
Angela told viewers how she had recently adopted Mackenzie following her grandfather’s death. People started expressing their concerns about what to do with their grandparents’ animals after they passed. This prompted Angela to come up with a solution: My Grandfather’s Cat.
The best way to get Angela to do something is to tell her she can’t do it. HANNAH BING
She wanted an organization where seniors and terminally ill people could arrange a second home for their pets before they passed away or moved into an assisted-living facility. A date was set to launch My Grandfather’s Cat—May 18, her grandfather’s birthday.
Because she would not charge an adoption fee, her aim was to raise just $750. But five hours into the launch she ran upstairs to her parents, yelling that she had her first donation: $500. She and her mom both thought it was a mistake. They assumed the man in New York City who sent the donation probably meant to send $50, so Angela emailed him. He replied almost immediately, saying there was no mistake. He shared his story of having to put his grandparents’ cats in a shelter, and said he wished something like this had been around for him.
Wanting to Help People
When the sun rises, so does Angela. No matter the time of year, she is out of bed when the sun shines through her window. She is also a self-proclaimed workaholic. Her loved ones hide her phone at night so she isn’t up checking email at all hours.
Angela grew up in Chester, N.S., with her parents and younger sister and moved to Halifax to attend Saint Mary’s University. She started an arts degree, but during her second year—after a friend said she wasn’t smart enough to go into business—she switched to a bachelor of commerce.
The best way to get Angela to do something is to tell her she can’t do it.
She graduated with a degree in global business management in 2016 but wasn’t sure what came next.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” Angela says. “All I knew is that I wanted to help people.”
“I Should be Dead”
After she graduated, she moved to Toronto, where she found work with The Salvation Army’s public relations department. In 2018, she was battling a mysterious illness that rendered her sick for almost four months. One morning, Angela got up to use the washroom and collapsed.
She woke up in the hospital with doctors rushing in and out of her room. She was told that her parents needed to be contacted; the doctors didn’t know what was wrong and they weren’t sure if she would leave the hospital alive.
By the time her mother arrived, here was a diagnosis: a severe case of pneumonia. The doctors told her mother that their best shot was antibiotics. If those didn’t kick in, in 48 hours she would be put in a medically induced coma.
Angela’s mother didn’t leave her daughter’s side. On hour 30, the medication started to work. Angela spent a full week in hospital before being released to recover at home.
The illness has had lasting impacts on her body. She was diagnosed with trauma-induced depression and has suffered from memory loss.
“Scientifically, I should be dead,” Angela says. “But sometimes I think I was kept alive for a reason, to do something. I don’t think I knew what it was until I started My Grandfather’s Cat.”
Be the Change
These experiences led Angela to get a tattoo last year.
The tattoo gun was humming. Angela sat in a chair, the aroma of antiseptic filling the room, waiting for the ink to mark her skin. She felt nervous and confident, hoping that the words would serve as a permanent reminder of this time in her life.
“Be the change.” This is the mantra that Angela lives by—and runs My Grandfather’s Cat by. (It was originally said by Mahatma Gandhi.) She found herself thinking about “be the change” a lot in the weeks after the launch. More days than not she wanted to give up, overtaken by imposter syndrome and fear.
“I wanted to have something where I could remember this point in my life” she says, “where every single day was chaos.”
Today, Angela works at The Salvation Army as a digital fundraising specialist. Her passion for working for the Army, along with her faith, gave her the confidence to help more people in need and create My Grandfather’s Cat.
Mackenzie is the other half of the organization, and together they have more than 600,000 TikTok followers (@angrafu3). They’ve posted videos at the beach, where Mackenzie would run in her harness, make a bed in the sand and climb the rocks. When they ventured onto the water and started kayaking, Angela was shocked when she realized how much Mackenzie loved it.
The cat would peer over the edge into the water, content and at peace.
Reprinted from The Signal, February 1, 2022.
Hannah Bing is a Halifax-based writer who grew up in Nova Scotia. She loves writing about music, animals and her community. Her interests include cats, chai lattes and true crime podcasts.
This story is from: