The Gift of Winter - The Family One Stray Cat Was Meant To Have
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By Sharon Seltzer on

Animal lovers know that certain pets were meant to be part of their life. They come to you at the exact moment you need them. One of my co-workers at the Heaven Can Wait Animal Society uses this quote to describe the occurrence, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” At this holiday season, I’d like to share a story about a special cat that knew when he found his true family.

Rigel is the brightest star in the Orion constellation. It is only visible in the northern hemisphere during the nighttime skies of winter. Rigel was also the brightest star in the home of Dr. George and Sharon Greaney for nearly 14 years in the form of a Golden Retriever. This story is how Rigel gave his family – the gift of Winter.

Rigel and his guardians were accustomed to taking a walk around their neighborhood every evening. One night as they entered the local park inside their community, the trio caught sight of a beautiful longhaired white cat darting around.

Sharon remembered her neighbors talking about a stray cat that had suddenly started living in the park. Everyone thought he belonged to “someone” in the neighborhood, but couldn’t exactly remember which neighbor it was. Some people had tried to approach the cat to see if they could find a name tag, but he wouldn’t let anyone get close.

However on that night when the cat saw Rigel, he stopped and stared at the dog as if he was seeing a long lost friend. Sharon said, “He quietly walked up and stood next to my 86lb. dog and greeted him. Rigel cautiously wagged his tail and then the two of them ran off and played.”

From that night on the ritual was the same. George and Sharon would walk up to the park and call out “Where’s our friend?” and the white cat would run out from under a bush or from the other side of the park and come to their side. He would nuzzle against Rigel and the two buddies would run off together.

After awhile the cat allowed George to pick him up and carry him around the park. The couple thought he must be warming up to everyone in the neighborhood, but they learned that the longhaired cat had only befriended them. He ran away when other dogs or people came near.

The evening meetings continued for some time. The Greaneys and their neighborhood cat were happy with the arrangement. The feline looked healthy and well fed and the mild climate of their desert town didn’t make living outside a difficult situation.

Then a couple of days before Thanksgiving in 2007 the weather turned extremely cold and everything changed for Rigel and his buddy. That’s when another neighbor decided it was becoming dangerous for the cat to be living on his own. She set up a trap borrowed from a local animal rescue group, scooped up the cat and surrendered it to the organization.

The woman called Sharon and explained the situation. That’s when George and Sharon realized that the white cat didn’t need to find a new home. They knew the cat had already chosen their family as his own.


The day after Thanksgiving the couple welcomed the white cat into their family. In honor of the winter skies and his friendship with their shining star Rigel, they named the him – Winter.

For the next two years Winter and Rigel were inseparable buddies. Winter became Rigel’s little student and learned to do everything the Golden Retriever did. He learned to sit like a dog, play like a dog and even beg like a dog. At night he joined his family as they sat on the couch watching TV. He learned to love popcorn as much as Rigel and how to signal to his family when he was ready to head upstairs for bed. Winter even learned to like the family’s other cat -Nugget.

Two years quickly flew by. Then on February 29, 2009, just before Rigel’s 14th birthday the Golden Retriever suddenly became sick. A few hours later he died peacefully at home. George and Sharon allowed Winter to make one final walk over to his friend to say goodbye.

The loss of their beloved pet has been hard, but because Winter soaked up so many of Rigel’s behaviors the couple likes to believe that part of their dog still lives on. The Greaney family made a home for a stray cat and it was the home he was meant to have.

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