Published November 25. 2012 4:00AM
Mystic - For four furry hours on Saturday, a garage at Bob Valenti Automall offered more cats than cars for sale.
The wrath of Hurricane Sandy along the Connecticut coast was not limited to just property damage: Some displaced families were forced to give up their pets in the aftermath when new living arrangements couldn't accommodate their companions, said Stonington Animal Control Officer Rae-Jean Davis. In other cases, affording a pet was no longer an option.
So when Davis called Bob Valenti's wife, Debbie, with an idea, the owners welcomed about 20 orphaned animals in need of new homes for an adoption event Saturday - the second the Mystic dealership has hosted.
"We do a lot of community events," said Brian Gates, a spokesman for the Mystic dealership. "It's just a good community thing that the Valentis can stand behind."
By late morning, 10 cats, a bunny and a 2-year-old Chihuahua were left, with a handful of other cages encouragingly empty - and three tiny kittens in a fuzzy pile, a paper sign taped to their cage to deter the hopeful: "All the kittens are taken," and "sorry!"
"They went right away," Davis said.
The Groton Animal Foundation, which raises money for the town's animal control facility and for residents who cannot afford to care for their pets, and the Pawcatuck-based Stonington Animal Rescue Project, which finds pet foster homes, were also at the adoption event, collecting bags of food, treats and toys.
Davis said most of the pets were from Stonington homes damaged in the storm, but others had been in need of a home since before Sandy hit. About 20 pets came, she said, and by noon, about half had been claimed.
"Each has a different story," she said.
Take the two 5-month-old barn cats, a black-and-white male and gray-and-white female. A tree fell on their owner's barn during Sandy, and he decided not to rebuild it.
They're calm for their age, especially the girl, mellow in the arms of Yvonne Johnson of Pawcatuck while she cradled her - and fell in love.
Johnson already has one gray feline friend at home. The original owner called both her and her brother "Cat;" Johnson's going with "Smudge," for the small mark on her mouth.
"She'll fit in perfectly," she said.
Chris Jaronko of Norwich stopped by with his wife, Amy, and their 14-month-old son, John, who toddled around contentedly, sticking curious fingers into cages and authoritatively calling out each one's name - or just a lovestruck "Oh!"
They don't have room for any more pets - they already have two dogs - but they paused at the rabbit, snow-white and regal, and about the size of their son.
"If we had more room, perhaps a bunny," Amy Jaronko said.
Lara Ehrlich and Doug Riggs, visiting Ehrlich's parents for Thanksgiving from Boston, made their second trip back to the garage after getting their car's emissions checked. They were vacillating.
"We came back," Ehrlich said. "It has to be the right one."
She was enamored by a 5-year-old female cat with a striped head.
They left empty-handed for a second time, but not before Ehrlich asked where she could find the cat the next day.
"She said she's gonna go work on her husband," Davis said. "Basically it means, I'm gonna go bother him in the car. I'm a wife - I can read between the lines."
And eventually, another success - the rabbit was spoken for, by Eric Houle of Groton, who does sales for Ford at the dealership. Houle said his 6-year-old daughter, Adrianna, adores animals. She has a fish and a bird - but nothing to snuggle yet.
"I got the OKs from everybody. I'm gonna take the rabbit off your hands," he told a volunteer. "I need an animal that don't bark or meow."
Most of the animals at the event went free of charge, except for several from dog pounds, where there is a marginal adoption fee.
"It's more about finding them a good home today than about the money, you know?" Davis said.