Calvin & Henry

By Finnegan Dowling

It’s a mid-October evening in Alabama and, despite the darkness, Calvin Tucker is out doing his rounds. Filming with his cell phone, he chats to the camera as he gets out of his car in front of a house with boarded-up windows and a weathered wooden patio. “Those two I fixed a while ago,” he says, pointing his camera phone towards two cats pacing around the patio. He interrupts his narration to greet them, “Hey babies!” and pans the phone around to a tiger cat with a white belly on the other end of the patio. “Where have you been?” he says. “Get over here and get something to eat!” The hand not holding the camera phone is clutching a large bag of cat food. 

Calvin knows all these cats and more. Nineteen feeding stations scattered around the area. He notes new cats to trap and fix. There are always new ones. Always. Dogs, too. And other injured, abandoned, or neglected animals. If they’re out there and need help, he’s going to do what he can.

Before November 15, 2015—the day Henry showed up—Calvin had a very different life. The old life wasn’t a bad one. He had gone through a bad patch when he was young—running with gangs and making trouble—but had long since turned it around. In those “before” days, he had a good job working with special-needs children. It was important work, and he loved the kids, but something was missing. “It was like one very long recurring day,” Calvin remembers. Every day he got up, went to work, came home, and then did the same, over and over. “There was a void.”

Then there was that eventful November day, when everything changed. All because of Henry. A little gray kitten sitting next to his car tire in the parking lot as Calvin left work.

Before that day, Calvin knew one thing about cats: he hated them. He had broken up with girlfriends for having cats. If friends had cats, he didn’t go to their houses. He had seen hundreds of cats and never liked one of them. Yet there was this kitten, and something about him spoke to Calvin. None of it made sense but he felt something change in him.

“That kitten saw something in me that I didn’t know was there. I wouldn’t have found my purpose without him.”

The next day, when Calvin went to work, he brought cat food. He started feeding the kitten, calling him Henry. When he went to get cat food, he saw more strays near the parking lot. He started feeding them, too.

Alabama is full of stray animals. They had always been there, all around him. Stray cat colonies in the greenery around parking lots. Homeless, skinny dogs wandering through neighborhoods. But now he saw them differently and he couldn’t stop seeing them. Henry had opened his eyes to the suffering all around him but also the potential to help, to heal.

On January 10, 2016, Henry moved out of the parking lot and in with Calvin. Henry would be the first, the most important, but nowhere near the last. The long recurring day was over, the void filled. There was work to be done. Cat colonies to be fed and spayed and neutered. Injured dogs to be captured, healed, and sent to loving homes. It consumed him.

Word got around. In an area with no animal control, there was Calvin Tucker. There was no neighborhood he wouldn’t go into, no animal too scared, skittish, or damaged to try to help. The calls started to come in from neighbors, other rescuers. A dog by the side of the road, could he help? A bunch of cats abandoned at a house, was there anything he could do? Yes. The answer was yes. Outside of his job, his hours were packed tight, his car full of pet food, and his heart full of purpose.

Six years later, Calvin Tucker is a tired man. A busy man. But a man living his destiny and feeling fulfilled. As word of his rescues got around, so did accolades. He was able to leave his job to focus full-time on rescue. With fundraising, he was just able to buy a property that will allow him to do even more. He has been featured on the news, won community awards, and is a folk hero to those in the rescue community—they call him Black Noah. An author is writing a book about him.

Calvin brushes past questions about his renown to tell you the stories of the animals he saved. Moses the dog, starving at an auto-parts store. Whiskers and Patches, whom it took months of patience to catch. He names every animal and remembers every name. You can hear the pride in his voice when he talks about their new human companions, their new lives, how happy they are now. He has rescued an emu, a tarantula. If a creature needs help, he’ll help it.

Henry, the kitten that started it all, lives with Calvin but has been joined by three other permanent cats and about fifteen rescues and fosters. Since that day when Henry and Calvin met in a parking lot, Calvin Tucker has rescued and rehomed 149 cats and 53 dogs. Every day, he feeds and cares for about a hundred strays on the street in addition to responding to calls and other animals he comes across. More than two hundred lives saved so far. And counting.