Chester author gives shelter animals a voice

Author Janis Kell with one of her two cats, Sunny, which she adopted from the Hancock County Animal Shelter. (Submitted photo)

CHESTER–Janis Kell didn’t know it at the time, but in 2010, when she started volunteering at the Hancock County Animal Shelter, she was also starting work on a children’s book.

Six years later, Kell hopes that the recently-published book encourages young readers, and their parents, to adopt shelter animals and volunteer at animal shelters.

Her first book, “Sunny and Friends” (WestBow Press, $12.00) tells the story of a shelter worker named Melinda and eight fictional animals–cats and dogs–that she encounters and that need homes.

Kell, 61, of Chester, said the stories are based on actual animals that she came to know while volunteering at the Hancock County Animal Shelter on weekends and holidays.

“Some have been adopted and some are still waiting to find their forever home,” says an author’s note at the end.

The book takes its title from a female cat, estimated to be 5 years old, that she and her husband, Jim Kell, adopted from the shelter. “She came in off the street,” she said. “When Sunny came along, she wanted a person more than anything else in the world. She loves people.”

The couple also adopted a cat named Lucy, who has since died–“She had a rough life. She had come from a hoarder”–and a male cat named JoJo, who is 11 years old.

Kell said she started to volunteer at the shelter because she wanted to get her “kitty fix” but that her impressions changed once she started to spend every Saturday there.

“The employees worked so hard cleaning up after all those animals day after day. I wanted to help not just with the animals but with everything that had to do with the daily shelter scene,” she said.

Kell works mostly with cats–cleaning their cages, helping with feral cats, making new arrivals feel welcome–so she based her book on observations from six years at the shelter. “Each animal has its own unique personality. I started to see the same personalities and situations repeat themselves,” she said.

Using those themes, Kell started writing the book in February and completed it in June. “The stories just flowed out. The writing part was easy,” she said.

In “Sunny and Friends,” shelter worker Melinda visits a local TV news station with a shelter cat that is the “Pet of the Week.” After the interview, she goes home and dreams of a series of shelter animals that tell their story on TV “in their own words.”

There’s Sunny, the title character, who describes an idyllic life with an elderly woman but who becomes homeless when the woman is put in a nursing home by her children:

“When they packed up her things, I thought I would be moving too, but instead they put me outside with some food and water and told me that cats can take care of themselves. When the food was gone and my belly was empty, I decided to find a new home, but nobody would let me in.”

There’s Zorro, a cat that is abused by the children of the home and gets sent to the animal shelter after scratching one of the children:

“The person they called Dad said that they couldn’t have a family pet that behaved so badly, so off to the shelter I went. The shelter people were kind to me from the minute I got there. They took me to the doctor to get medicine for my ears, and then they gave me a bath, a haircut and a nail trim.”

And there’s Angelina, a homeless cat that lives in boxes, is chased by dogs and, one day, steps into a trap:

“I was completely alone. One day I was so hungry, searching every street and alley for something to eat, when suddenly I smelled something deliciously fishy. My nose took me to a plastic box with the door wide open, and inside was a beautiful can of cat food! I went right in, and the next thing I knew, the door was locked behind me.”

The first-person stories also include a cat named Lucy living with a hoarder, a Great Dane named Jupiter, two dachshunds named Heckel and Jeckel, a cat named Jove, with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and a runaway dog named Eden.

Kell found an illustrator for the book, a Brazilian woman named Claudia Varjotie, through Her publisher, WestBow Press, is the self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.

The book is available on and at several local outlets, including the Chester Veterinary Clinic, Team Impact Gym in the East End, the Beaver County Humane Society in Monaca, Pa., the Hancock County Animal Shelter, and Angels for Animals, in Canfield, Ohio. Proceeds from the book sales will go toward the shelters.

Kell has continued to volunteer at the Hancock County Animal Shelter since Hancock County commissioners assumed operations from the HCAS Foundation on July 1.

“Whether you’re going back before July 1 or after, the people in charge both love the animals. The more people out there pulling for the animals, the better,” she said.

Kell is scheduled to speak at Paris Presbyterian Church in Paris, Pa., just east of Weirton, on Dec. 7.