When Betsy Alexander and Burnell Yow of Philadelphia, PA, visited an animal shelter in Cherry Hill, NJ, they never imagined they would adopt a feline prodigy. Nora, a grey Tabby named after the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, appeared to be your average mischievous young kitten. But this seemingly ordinary shelter cat is receiving an extraordinary honor next week, when she will be officially named Cat of the Year at the annual ASPCA Humane Awards in New York City.
Originally deemed “bossy” by shelter staff, Nora wasn’t the most popular feline among her four-legged clan, but Betsy and Burnell saw something special in the demonstrative kitty and welcomed her into their furry family. Nora immediately established herself as the alpha cat of the family’s four other felines, but it wasn’t until she was a year old that her secret gift suddenly emerged. One afternoon, Betsy, who teaches music lessons, was startled to discover Nora delicately tickling the ivories of her Yamaha piano. Playing the piano soon became the cat’s favorite pastime. Her sensitive pawing, which several newspapers have described as "a cross between free jazz and Philip Glass,” became a YouTube sensation, drawing more than 20 million page views. It also inspired a Lithuanian composer to arrange a symphony in her honor.
Though her talents are unrivaled, Nora has been named the ASPCA Cat of the Year as much for her musical abilities as for her pluck and drive to prove that shelter pets—far from being castoffs—often make the best animal companions. Nora is a true testament to the spirit of the Humane Awards, which every year honor exceptional animals as well as inspiring individuals who have dedicated their lives to animal welfare.