A group by any other name…

….is not the Underground Railroad Rescued Kitty Network.

With so many new members – we have 1, 171 as of this writing – it makes sense to recap some things that some folks may have missed along the way.   The questions I’m going to attempt to answer today are:

What was the inspiration for this group?  Who thought of the name, and why?

So, the short answer to the first question (what was the inspiration for this group) is – Jack the Cat.  I’m sure that many of you followed Jack’s story, either on Facebook or in the media, but I also know that there are many people who never heard Jack’s story.  Grab some tissues and I’ll give you the shorter version of the story (seriously, go ahead, I’ll wait….).

Jack, his bro-fur Barry and hu-mom Karen all lived in New York until the summer of 2011.  Karen got a job in California and packed up the boys for a cross country move.  On August 25, 2011, Karen checked Jack and Barry in (they were too big to fly in the cabin with her) and said goodbye to her beloved boys.  Soon after that, while in the passenger area of the airport, she received a call that one of her kitties was missing in the baggage claim area.  Karen quickly returned to search for Jack.  Unfortunately, after an hour of searching, Jack was nowhere to be found.  American Airlines put Karen and Barry on a later flight and assured her that they would call her as soon as Jack was found.  This is where AA’s customer service really dropped the ball.  They were supposed to call Karen the next day, but failed to call her until the following Monday.  Now, there was a hurricane headed for NYC (and it was a doozie of a storm that hammered the East Coast) but still.  No call until Monday?!?!?  Unacceptable.  In the meantime, Karen’s sister Marybeth started a Facebook page to spread awareness of the plight of this sweet kitty (the page is still up and running if you’d like to check it out https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jack-The-Cat-is-Lost-in-AA-Baggage-at-JFK/143108332445793).  Some amazing volunteers stepped up and helped with search parties in the area for Jack.  But, nothing….poor Jack was just not showing his face.  Finally, on October 25, 2011, Jack literally fell through the ceiling tiles in one of American Airlines behind the scenes areas.  Jack was rushed to a local veterinarian, his identity was verified by his microchip and the vet immediately started to try to nurse this poor, scared little baby back to health.  Sadly, the story does not have a happy ending.  On November 6, 2011, Jack crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  His injuries and his malnutrition were just too severe for him to recover.  Thousands of people, most of whom had never met Karen or Jack, mourned his loss.

However, it is because of this heartbreaking story that URRKN exists.  Shortly after Jack was found, Tina LaBlanc founded URRKN.  She created the group on October 31, 2011 (Halloween!!) with the hope of creating a nationwide network of volunteers who would help ensure that no kitty ever has to fly cargo again.  Poor Karen had no idea of the pitfalls her babies might encounter when she checked them in that day.   With URRKN, we hope that no other pet parent has to suffer the same anguish and heartbreak.

RIP Jack – you are forever in our hearts, little man

Ok…take a few minutes….blow your nose, wipe your eyes and hug your own kitty (yeah, even the doggie too if you have one of those!).  Better?  Good.  Now that you know WHY this group got started, let me tell how you the group got its name.

Underground Railroad Rescued Kitty Network.  Sounds kind of mysterious and clandestine, doesn’t it?  Wellll…it’s not…BUT…yes, the name does take its inspiration from the original Underground Railroad.  I’m sure you all remember your history, but in case you were sleeping in that class (I admit, sometimes I caught a few zzz’s in some of my classes way back when), let me remind you about the first Underground Railroad.  In the 1800’s, the Underground Railroad was set up by abolitionists to help slaves escape to the “free states” in the North (and sometimes even Canada).  The “Railroad” used a network of “safe houses” and secret routes to move these slaves from place to place.  Often the volunteers were in as much danger as the slaves themselves.  But these “railroaders” were passionate about their cause and were willing to risk anything to help.

Founder Tina LaBlanc has said “I was fascinated by the story of the Underground Railroad and always admired those who gave and risked so much to help someone else…. the Underground Railroad just seemed like the perfect model to follow (to transport kitties) and would be a way to honor those who risked so much to help others.”  When Tina was asked about whether or not using the name for a group would dishonor the legacy she said, “I knew when I chose the name that some might take offense and think that I was belittling the original. But I went with it anyway, knowing that in my heart I knew I was honoring something so important….hoping that my passion would make that clear.”  Tina goes on to say, “I have been asked why I do not put this effort to something like advocating for elderly or a children’s cause. It is not that I do not have compassion for those issues. I do. But kitties do not have a voice. I/we must be the voice for them.”

Noelle, one of the Core Admins for URRKN, expands on this idea by saying, “There are a million causes in the world. We don’t choose our causes, they choose us. The ones that have chosen me break my heart nearly every day but on the good days, I’m so proud of what I do. I help cats, I help cancer patients and I help disabled veterans.”

While the obstacles facing the URRKN volunteers are not nearly as death defying as those faced by the original railroaders (although if you’ve ever driving in rush hour traffic on I-95 in Washington DC, you might disagree with me!), there are still many obstacles that must be overcome to move our precious cargo.  We’ve had transports travel through horrible traffic, terrible rain/snow storms and various other things that have led to delays.  However, our volunteers are like postmen (either snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds) but our deliveries make people even happier than theirs do (unless of course it’s a Publisher’s Clearinghouse check!).

So, there you have it.  How we got here and how we got our name.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this.  I know there aren’t as many pretty pictures as there are in a normal blog post….trust me, there are more of those coming!  Lots of kitties have gotten home in the last month – I have my work cut out for me!  Also, if there are any other topics you’d like to see in writing, please drop me a line…I’ll see what I can do!

In the meantime – if you’re not already a member of our group – please come join us on our Facebook page …there is no such thing as too many volunteers, supporters or friends….we’d love to have you  https://www.facebook.com/groups/URRKN/


Choo Choo, friends, Choo Choo!!


10 thoughts on “A group by any other name…

  1. I always enjoy your blog posts and love hearing about the kitties, but this was especially touching. Thank you for sharing Jack’s story and how his legacy lives on through the URRKN.

  2. Our founder, Tina LaBlanc announced today that we have traveled over 10,000 miles delivering kitties to their homes. We are proud of this and hope to travel many times 10,000 miles to get the kitties home.

  3. We are a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with valuable information to work on. You’ve done a formidable job and our whole community will be thankful to you.

Comments are closed.