by Jill Ragar Esfeld
SHAWNEE — No one would credit Jeff Stevens, a member of St. Joseph Parish here, with being creative when it comes to naming his cats.
There’s Pallet, the kitten of a stray he found sitting on a pallet in back of his company, Lift Truck Sales and Service in Kansas City, Missouri.
And then there is Jeff, another stray Stevens found and took to an animal clinic. When the office staff insisted they needed a name for paperwork, Stevens gave the first name that came to mind.
But anyone who knows Stevens will tell you he walks in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi and lives the saint’s message that “all things of creation are children of the Father and thus brothers of man. . . . God wants us to help animals.”
Stevens, who had never owned a cat, originally planned to find homes for Pallet and Jeff.
But he fell in love and ended up keeping them both.
“Pallet, he didn’t name for so long because he didn’t want to get attached,” said Stevens’ longtime friend, Holy Trinity, Lenexa, parishioner Chuck Fortunato. “He just kept calling her Pallet, and then it stuck.”
The two cats join two dogs, Lillie and Bailey, which Stevens adopted from shelters.
And he still has Pallet’s mother living in the garage of his business — she comes and goes as she pleases, and is loved and cared for by the truck drivers.
“I’ve always been an animal lover,” said Stevens. “I look at animals and I don’t see them being a substandard species.
“I look at them like they’re God’s creatures.”
Stevens attributes his attitude to his Catholic upbringing.
“I’ve been Catholic my whole life,” he said. “I went to Catholic school and, luckily, this was something fostered at home.”
Stevens’ family always had pets adopted from shelters.
“I think my parents had their hands full with five kids,” he said. “That’s all the rescue work they could do.
“I’ve got two brothers and two sisters and all of us are animal lovers.”
But Stevens’ love for animals extends beyond cats and dogs.
“It’s all the animals around my house,” he said. “I feed the birds and the squirrels. I see injured animals, I’m going to try to help them.
“I have a respect for them. I guess that comes from my faith.”
Stevens’ deepest love has always been for beagles. He likes the traits and behaviors of the breed.
He financially supports beagle rescue programs, fosters beagles in his home until they’re ready for adoption and is part of a ride-share program that transfers dogs to new homes.
“He’s so caring,” said Fortunato. “Shelters call him up and say, ‘We just got a dog rescue; it needs this and this’ and he’ll just say, ‘Here’s my credit card. Just do it.’
“So, when they have a really hard- luck case, they go to him.”
Stevens knows there is a great need for people to help animal rescue programs and encourages involvement.
“If you have the ability to open your home and foster,” he said, “those kinds of people are always needed.
“Financial help is appreciated, too, because the people who do this have ongoing medical and transport bills.”
Stevens pays for the care and feeding of the animals he fosters, but monies are available to foster families that can only afford to offer their homes.
And don’t worry about getting attached, he advises. It’s inevitable, but worth the heartache.
Stevens is humble about his involvement in animal rescue, giving credit to others.
“I do a little bit with the time I have,” he said. “But there are people I’ve worked with who give their whole lives for these animals.
“Those are the people I admire.”
But people who know Stevens admire him for a generosity that is integral to his nature and a clear reflection of his faith.
“He is the nicest person I know,” said Fortunato. “And he’s generous — not just in helping animals, but in every area.
“If somebody needs help, he’s there. When we go anywhere, if there’s a fundraising booth or a donation jar, he can’t walk by without putting a couple of bucks in.
“Saint Francis is in heaven, but his spirit is here in people like Jeff.”