Rob's Cat Skills


December 2, 2001

Christmas came early for an upstate New York animal shelter when Rob and Marisol Thomas came calling.

Last week, the Matchbox Twenty frontman and his wife, a Wilhelmina model, paid their first visit to Pets Alive, a non-profit animal sanctuary in Middletown, N.Y., that's home to hundreds of adoptable cats, dogs, pigs, cows, sheep and ducks, plus a few retired carriage horses.

Marisol describes herself and her mate as "insane animal lovers" who share a dream of running their own farm for rescued animals.

"Eventually, we want to be surrounded with them!" says Marisol, whose pet name for her husband is Bear (he calls her Baby Bear). Currently, however, the couple travels too often to keep more than one, a gray-and-white cat named Calvin. "He doesn't like traveling," says Marisol, "and he gets very angry with Mommy when she travels."

While waiting to retire to an animal farm of their own, the Thomases wanted to focus their efforts on a worthy animal charity. After doing Internet research on numerous shelters in the New York area, they found their pet cause: Pets Alive.

For 30 years, the no-kill sanctuary's motto has been, "Euthanasia is not the final solution."

Now the Thomases aim to help spread the word.

"We're going to be spending a lot of time there," promises Rob.

But that's not all they're spending.

To help raise awareness - and much-needed funds for a new heating system - Rob linked his band's Web site,, with the Pets Alive site and donated Matchbox Twenty's first touring van, a 1996 maroon Dodge Ram.

"We must have gone across the country in it four or five times," he says.

The wheels will be auctioned on eBay Thursday to benefit Pets Alive.

"We want people's hearts to go to the right place - and their money, too," Rob explains.

"So many animal shelters claim to be no-kill," Marisol adds. "This place is really unique and very special."

The couple say they're inspired by the dedication of Pets Alive founder Sara Whalen.

"Sara has devoted herself to these animals," Rob says. "So many bigger organizations don't do half as much for pets as she does. Seeing her with the animals just breaks your heart."

Whalen admits she didn't realize just how famous her new fans were at first.

"When I heard 'Matchbox Twenty' I thought of those little toy cars my sons used to play with as kids," she recalls. "But then, I'm 59 years old - how would I know who these young'uns are?! I just love them. They're serious animal lovers."

What really impressed Whalen was the Thomases' easy way with animals. Rob in particular became fast friends with two Pets Alive residents: Buddy the steer and Taz the cat.

In fact, marvels Whalen, "All the cats in the cattery came right up to him, even the feral ones. I've never seen that before, with anyone."

Rob has had animal magnetism for as long as he can remember.

"I guess I have good animal chi," he says with a laugh. "I'm from the South, so our place always had lots of animals: pigs, goats, sheep, horses . . . Plus, there were so many stray cats, and I always loved feeding them and taking care of them."

"How can you not love animals?" he concludes. "They're like babies: They're innocent and they can't do anything wrong."

For more information, or to make a donation, contact Pets Alive, 363 Derby Road, Middletown, N.Y. 10940, (845) 386-5408, or visit

The New York Post.

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