PLANO — Nancy Jones is at ease with coffee and conversation sitting in her Americana-style living room. Holding her coffee mug with both hands, Jones allows herself to sink into the thick aprons of the chair. This current chapter of her life is evolving. Life, losing life, rescuing life, celebrating life, are all on the table.
The fire-red coffee mug was a stab of color in the otherwise earth tone sitting-room. A shadow lept and then disappeared behind the fresh-looking fern sitting on the decorative column in the corner. The large flat-screen TV sits expressionless atop the surface of a restored barn counter.
Fall’s orange sun filtered through the window’s gingham valance diffusing colors into warm chards of coral and marmalade. A cobalt blue, antique kerosine heater stood next to the large flat-screen. The immaculate room welcomes with a pair of over-sized, over-stuffed, deep grey wing chairs.
“I’ll be 68 this month and I don’t care who knows that,” quips Jones, flashing her trademark wit. “I don’t feel that old unless I look in the mirror.”
Jones is originally from Denver, Colorado, where she grew up with two sisters. She met her husband, and best friend Dan, while both were working at the telephone company in Denver. They married in 2000.
“As a joke, I had bought Dan a book for Christmas about how to retire in Mexico at $500 a month,” Jones recalled. “Well, one thing leads to another, and we decided we would move to Mexico.”
Thus the journey started. The couple, having been laid off by the telephone company, set their path toward Mexico.
“But we only made it as far as Southern California. We stopped to see a friend of ours who lived in Oceanside. He offered to show us how to sell real estate and how we could stay in California and make our fortune,” smiles Jones.
Nancy and Dan’s big adventure was promising. For the next ten years, the Joneses lived in a buyer’s paradise. Oceanside is located within beautiful San Diego County but is one of the most expensive regions in the country to live in. Nancy and Dan were only 36 miles from San Diego on one side and 77 miles from Los Angeles on the other.
Life was good for the Joneses.
“While we still lived in Oceanside, I began to miss having an animal in the house,” Jones began. “Although I have loved cats from childhood, I honestly swore I would never have a cat or any other animal because Dan and I liked to travel. So to get my animal-fix, I volunteered for the local humane society.”
Jones began as a dog walker. Then, she recalls, “One day someone came up to me and said we have a litter of four 10-day-old kittens. And that if we don’t find a foster home for them that day, they will be euthanized. Every one of them was covered with fleas. They were in such bad shape that one kitten died before I could help it and that was horrible.”
“I brought those kittens home but I couldn’t get them to eat,” she continued. “I knew nothing about kittens, not a thing! The next day I brought one kitten back to the shelter, and I said, ‘Look! You are going to have to tell me how to care for these kittens.’ One had already died pretty much right away. They weren’t old enough to eat solid food, so they gave me a bottle and some simulated milk. I bottle fed each one of those kittens back to health.”
Just like that, Nancy Jones had discovered an untaped empathy for not only animals in trouble but animals that society had given up on.
“If a litter of kittens came in and their eyes weren’t open, they were automatically euthanized because they couldn’t find bottle feeders,” says Jones with dismay. “So I ended up becoming the shelter’s bottle feeder.”
Nancy Jones continued to observe and then understand how the lives of cats more so than dogs were arbitrarily allowed to die because of looks, color, or how inconvenient their care may be.
“For whatever reason, people don’t give a cat the same status as a dog,” observes Jones.
The woman who lived halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles wasn’t so much interested in either city’s glamorous nightlife as she was with the under-funded animal shelter, volunteering under the flickering fluorescent bulbs.
As their residency in Oceanside hit the decade mark, along came Wall Street’s Black Monday.
“The national housing-market crashed in 2008,” Jones recalled. “Because Dan’s job was selling real estate we lost our house, we lost everything. We ran out of money and had to start over.”
Keeping up with the Joneses was becoming a full-time job. For the second time in 10 years, the couple would relocate across whole sections of the nation.
”I had never moved over 20 miles from where I was born in Denver,” said Jones. “Any place we went we would have to start over again, anyway. So we were now looking for an area to live that offered us a lower cost of living. With Dan being from Seymour, we knew people there and thought we could fit in.”
Jones’ husband, Dan, was raised in Seymour and graduated from the high school in 1962. The couple had made trips to Seymour’s Old Settler’s Day celebration throughout their marriage.
”One day, I said, ‘At least we know people in Seymour and the standard of living in Appanoose County is cheap compared to Southern California,’” Jones recalled of her reasoning.
”So we began looking for a place to live in Seymour,” she continued. “But we kept hearing about this one house in Plano that was for sale. It had everything we were looking for. Dan knew about the house because the girlfriend he dated in seventh grade through high school had lived right up the road.”
The Joneses packed their belongings, Nancy’s six rescue cats and drove 1,776 miles from Oceanside, California to Plano, Iowa.
“Growing up in Denver and moving to Plano from California is quite a culture shock. But I love it here,” says an enthusiastic Jones.
Even though the entire population of Plano would equal an average size line at a San Diego multiplex, Nancy appreciates the small town’s familiar faces. “I once tried counting everyone who lives in Plano proper and its around 70 people. I may not know every single person well but I recognize every face.
“Coming to this area was the best decision we ever made.”
‘My best friend. The love of my life.’
On Aug. 15, 2008, Dan Jones passed away from his two-year fight with bladder cancer that had spread to his lungs. He was 75 years old.
“He had operations, chemo, radiation, more radiation. He continued to work through most of it,” Jones said. “The last three months of his life were horrible.”
Of his final three months, two were spent in the hospital.
“He was just 75 years-old, we expected to have way more years of our lives together,” said Nancy. “I was with Dan the day he died. I had hugged and kissed him. That night when I got home without Dan, Sadie could smell him. She knew. She sat down on the floor and howled.”
Sadie was Dan’s dog, Jones explained. ”I would open the door and Sadie would run past me to get to Dan,” she said.
Sadie and cats Dani, Leah, Rosie and the rest of the rescued were now preparing to rescue one of their own.
August 2018 and Nancy Jones was moving yet again. This time, she wasn’t moving from a physical address but to a new spiritual normal. Missing her best friend, Nancy looks for Dan through Sadie’s liquid dark eyes. Searching the canine’s pure soul that only knows how to offer requited love. An unconditional love that isn’t earned or won, it’s given freely and without condition.
“Sadie needing her walks and the cats needing to be fed give me reasons to be up and about, instead of crying all day,” Joines said. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m suicidal or that I was. It just can be very hard.”
Nancy tells the story of how she believes Dan interceded on behalf of two lost, tiny souls this past May 12.
“It was Mother’s Day, and I was sad, missing Dan,” Jones recalled. “I was walking Sadie, and we were south of the church in Plano when I heard a little squeak. A newborn kitten was laying in the wet ditch. So I got her home, but then I thought, where there’s one, there has to be another. So Sadie and I went back and yes, there was another one!”
Both of the kittens, believed to be less than a day old, still had their umbilical cords.
“I had to bottle feed them,” she said. “I think they were a gift from Dan. I named one Dani and the other one Leah.” Dan’s legal name was Daniel Lee.
“I began calling them the ‘Terrors’ when they were about four weeks old and into everything,” Joines recalled. “They would not stay still a minute. They were less than a day old in that wet, cold ditch and now they are healthy, happy, and four months old.”
“I’m going to keep them,” she added. “I know Dan sent them to me, the jerk.”
A sanctuary, not a rescue
The 1920s freshly painted white Craftsman-bungalow farmhouse stood grand under a baby-blue fall sky. The metal clinking sounds were the red, white, and blue flag grommets hitting the flag’s 15-foot steel post.
Sadie with her youthful black muzzle whitening, barely rolled her eyes up to acknowledge the familiar sound.
The good old dog’s back was warming, napping on the acre’s lush green grass. Flower islands here and there dared fall to frost. Even Norman Rockwell couldn’t make this picture whole again.
Fourteen months without Dan has done little to lessen his loss. Time doesn’t heal all wounds.
It’s been 10 years since Plano’s new, fun, likable couple had blown into town on the Santa Ana winds of Southern California. Vowing to never move again, Nancy and Dan were re-energized making over the neglected 1920s farmhouse.
Fifteen rescued cats are living their lives with their rescuer.
“I think I began to get a reputation,” acknowledges Jones. “I am not a rescue, I am sanctuary because the ones I end up keeping are the old and the infirmed, the ones with special needs. I really am at my limit.”
Her story is not about a woman who collects cats. Rather it’s a story about a woman who accepts cats. The cat that was never the Christmas surprise, the cat that wasn’t worth a shelter’s steel cage, the cat that was dumped in a ditch like so much garbage, the cat that wasn’t desirable for pictures, the cat that was turned out because of its special needs.
Jones’ cats are a basket of deplorables and they don’t even vote. Deplorable to someone else, but not to Nancy.
“It breaks your heart to know that an animal, who was never given a chance to live would lose its life only because no one wants it,” said Jones.