Shirley Jacobs is a cat lady, to be sure, but not in a crazy-cat-lady-kind-of-way. At her pretty home in the Woodlake development in Delray Beach, she has only four, although they do kind of rule the roost. Jacobs, 80, spends an hour or so each morning feeding them and talking to them and changing their litter boxes.
“No one likes that smell,” she says, plainly.
Not even the cats.
For years, Jacobs and her husband, Charlie, a retired mail courier, ran a volunteer pet-saving operation out of their garage, and it started like this. First, they were part of the neighborhood patrol group. “We had our very own Woodlake police car at the time,” she says proudly. At one of the meetings, when another volunteer was trying to drum up interest for a Thanksgiving food drive, Shirley Jacobs got to thinking.
She does a lot of that.
“I said, ‘You know, Charlie. If people can’t afford to feed themselves, how on Earth are they going to feed the dogs and cats?’”
Jacobs had Charlie’s backing — yes, he would help — so she marched into her Publix at Military Trail and Atlantic Avenue and got permission to set up a collection bin. It’s been there 13 years.
Regular shoppers know all about buying an extra bag of pet chow, and dropping it off on their way out. “Sometimes there are two or three little cans in there, and sometimes the bin is so full you can’t close the lid,” she says.
About twice a week, she and Charlie would go pick up the goods, lug it to the car, lug it to the garage, then organize it. Cat food to the right, dog food to the left. (She says there’s no political meaning in that.) Then, it was ready for distribution.
After the earthquake in Haiti, the couple collected almost 400 pounds of dog food to send there. “They don’t have cats in Haiti, I was told,” she says.
Through the years, it’s Jacobs’ conservative estimate that they’ve collected about 200 pounds a week, or almost 140,000 pounds of pet food. “I do get some cash donations,” she says, slyly. (561-276-1133, if you’re so inclined.)
There are some individuals who regularly stop by her garage, but most of the pet food goes to Caring Kitchen, a nonprofit run by C.R.O.S. Ministries that serves the public three hot meals a day, plus provides plenty of other life services. Caring Kitchen Facility Coordinator Guillermo Carrasco keeps the pet-food list, and says there are usually 100 names on it. “Shirley has been wonderful,” says Carrasco, who sometimes has to field complaints when there isn’t enough to go around.
Then, in March, Charlie died. He would have been 90 in September, and they’d been married 38 years.
“We used to be a mom and pop operation, but I guess now I’m just a mom operation,” says Jacobs, who holds a doctorate in counseling.
Charlie Jacobs had lived with dementia for about eight years, says Jacobs, who got the first inkling of trouble one day at the Boynton Beach Senior Center. Charlie was working out in the gym when he fell and hit his head on the concrete floor. “I was in a belly dancing class, and they ran and got me,” she says.
After that, it was downhill — although Charlie did go ballroom dancing with his bride just a few weeks before he died.
And now? Can she keep this up without her sidekick?
“I have to continue,” she says. “It’s why I’m on this planet.”
To stay healthy, she takes “35 vitamins, minerals and herbs a day.”
Vitamins or not, Jacobs does admit it’s “getting a little harder” and the folks at Caring Kitchen have noticed she’s slowing down, just a tad. It happens.
But Mrs. Charlie Jacobs — all 5-feet, 106 pounds of her — stands undeterred. “I’m small, but I’m mighty,” she says.
And there’s nothing crazy about that.