Corrections or additions?

This article on Jonathan Rosenberg was prepared for the October 8,

2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

With Dot-Com Money, These Cats Will Live

by Kathleen McGinn Spring

Jonathan Rosenberg is living the dream of every

corporate

man, but he is doing so in a way that few would choose. Formerly

executive

vice president and chief technology officer for CNET, one of the few

Internet success stories, Rosenberg recalls an epiphany he had during

a routine phone call with his CEO a few years back.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks," he says. "I knew I

wouldn’t

have to work again." Thanks to the rocket-like appreciation of

his CNET stock, Rosenberg was free. And he knew how he was going to

use that freedom. He was going to devote the next part of his life

to homeless cats, companion animals that often fail to find a human

guardian, according to the Humane Society of the United States, which

estimates that 3 million or more are euthanized each year, and that

an equal number die on the streets from starvation or at the hands

of predators.

A handsome bear of a man with a full head of dark curly hair, a

fondness

for suspenders, and the quick diction of a smart guy with an East

Coast upbringing, Rosenberg, age 51, doesn’t look like anyone’s

stereotype

of a cat person. In fact, Rosenberg started life as a dog person.

Sitting in the atrium of his just-completed cat sanctuary, a space

that evokes the lobby of a trendy new four star hotel, Rosenberg talks

about the road that led him to Tabby’s Place, which is located in

Ringoes, and is named for his deceased pet cat. He also talks about

his business plan, which includes playing host to, and potentially

finding homes for, 500 cats at a time within five years at a

totally-wired

complex he hopes will be largely supported through donations.

Revealing his talent for storytelling, he says, "I was born in

George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C., but my sister has

a better story. She was born across the street from the hospital.

My dad crashed the car." So, his sister, now a dog groomer, was

the first child? No, it turns out that his father had done the

delivery

run before, but, says Rosenberg, "he was just as panicked the

second time."

Rosenberg’s father, Jerome, was a deputy director of NASA, where he

ran a program for satellites that take photos used for geological

surveys. Now head of the NASA alumni organization, the elder Rosenberg

taught his son that cats are sneaky, and peopled the household with

large dogs. His mother, Shirley, is a freelance writer and editor,

who now works on government projects, but who wrote for the likes

of Redbook and Ladies Home Journal when Rosenberg was growing up.

She is neither a cat nor a dog person. But while her preference would

have been a pet-free home, she was game about walking the family dogs,

Rosenberg recalls, laughing at the thought of watching her being

pulled

down the sidewalk by an Airedale eager to romp.

Rosenberg started college at the University of Michigan. During his

first semester, he attended few classes, but was awarded a C average

anyway. The second semester did not go as well. "I got kicked

out," he says. "I didn’t go to any classes."

Out of school, he took on a variety of "bad jobs." Tedium

set in and soon thereafter, Rosenberg enrolled in the University of

Maryland, carrying with him a new appreciation for higher education.

After earning his degree summa cum laude in computer science and then

a Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University, he went to work at the

university’s

Information Technology Center, which had just been funded by IBM.

"It was great," he says. The atmosphere was research, but

the pay was real world.

Then came a stint with Bellcore, now Telcordia, first in Annandale

and then in Morristown. He enjoyed the work until "the research

started to get pulled out." At about that time, in 1995, he got

a call from CNET.

Founded in 1993 as a source of technology information

for early Internet adopters, the digital publishing company was

growing

fast. Rosenberg was the 20th employee of the San Francisco-based

company,

which now employs about 600 people. "We were one of just a few

websites," he says. Back then, he recalls, "you could visit

all of the websites on the Internet." Easily. New sites got lots

of attention right away, he says, mentioning hothothot.com, an early

E-tailer that sold hot Southwestern condiments.

Rosenberg wanted to stay in New Jersey, and Halsey Minor, his

thirtysomething

CEO, was fine with that, observing that an Internet company should

be able to work out a virtual office set-up. So, CNET’s tech heart

was planted in Bridgewater, from which Rosenberg managed a burgeoning

staff on both coasts.

Page views grew exponentially, and Rosenberg was in charge of putting

in place the computer power to handle them. At first, he felt nervous

about asking for yet another $100,000 in hardware, but, he says,

"Minor

was a pedal to the metal guy." Soon he was only calling for

approval

if equipment purchases topped $1 million. "There were servers

in the lobby," he says. Computers were stacked like firewood.

"We had hardware everywhere."

The company went public in 1996, valued at more than $3 billion. The

$23.5 million it had invested in other start-ups was worth $650

million.

Everyone had too much to do, but, Rosenberg recalls, watching the

company’s stock was a game few employees did not relish. Every day,

he checked the stock, saying "There’s another Ferrari!"

Even as the stock split six times and his net worth climbed, though,

Rosenberg did not actually buy race cars. There’s a scratched up black

Volvo with a www.cnet.com bumper sticker in the parking lot of Tabby’s

Place. "It has 180,000 miles on it," says Rosenberg.

He had come up with another use for his money.

After four years of building the technology to power CNET, Rosenberg

was beginning to feel burned out. He looked around for other

opportunities

and realized that the exhilarating ride that was the Internet

explosion

would not be easy to replicate.

At about the same time, Tabby, a cat who had brazenly taken up

residence

in his home and his heart, developed incurable cancer. Soon after

he realized that he would never have to work again, he decided that

he wanted to help cats. He went home and ran the idea past his wife,

Sharon, who was then nearing the end of a 30-year career in teaching.

She asked "`can we afford this?’" When he replied that they

could, she said fine.

It was she, after all, who had helped Tabby gain entrance into his

home. "One day I came home from a trip and there were little bowls

and little toys all over the stoop," recounts Rosenberg. His wife

explained that a hungry grey tabby had been coming around.

"They’re

all hungry!" he exclaimed. "Don’t feed it! It probably belongs

to someone."

"I was newly married," he continues, "I was naive enough

to think she would listen to me."

The next night, he arrived home to a bowl-less stoop, and assumed

that his orders had been carried out. But no. Who did he find relaxing

on the couch? "And he wasn’t just on the couch," he says of

the wily feline. "He was on my spot on the couch!"

He decided that such audacity had to be respected, and Tabby was

allowed

to stay. "I fell in love with him," says Rosenberg. The little

cat remained free to move in and out of the house. "I felt we

didn’t own him," he says. "He stayed because he wanted

to."

As cats tend to, Tabby became an integral part of Rosenberg’s family,

which includes his two step-daughters. The cat’s illness was deeply

affecting.

Rosenberg’s resolve to help cats was unfocused at first. He briefly

considered giving money, or aiding an existing group, but soon decided

that he wanted more hands-on involvement. He decided he wanted to

build a shelter, got his wife’s okay, and then, at least briefly,

was stymied.

"I didn’t know where to start," he says. After tossing the

problem around for a while, he decided "it doesn’t matter where

you start." Plunging in, he spent several months looking for land.

He wanted a good-size chunk for two reasons. The first, he says, was

simply that "I like land." The second was that he intuited

that townships would be more receptive to a facility that took up

just a small part of a parcel of land, preserving open space.

He ended up paying $275,000 for eight acres right on Route 202 near

the town of Ringoes. It was an odd parcel, sandwiched between two

highways, and was not suitable for many purposes. Situated on a little

rise in a part of New Jersey that still feels like country, Tabby’s

Place is within five miles of Flemington and ten miles of Trenton.

As soon as he had decided on his site, Rosenberg turned to his next

priority — hiring a lawyer. He chose Riker Danzig and during the

past three years has "never stopped calling them." He has

the firm on speed dial, he says, helping him with "a morass of

red tape." Getting approvals has involved myriad government

entities.

"Everything but the federal government," he quips.

As far as Rosenberg knows, there is no other facility just like his.

It was built from the ground up with cats in mind at a cost of $1

million.

His development director, Kathleen Ward Derrick, leads a tour. A

graduate

of Penn State (Class of 1992) who holds a master’s degree in city

and regional planning from the University of Pennsylvania, she was

previously director of development at Centenary College.

Walking across the atrium’s blonde wood floor, past couches and a

coffee table on which a picture book, Counting Cats, rests, Derrick

stops to point out a catnip heart. A little girl sewed up 100 of the

calico cat toys. Another area resident has crocheted a number of cat

blankets, and before Tabby’s place even opened, 100 volunteers had

signed up.

Ambling over to the glass in his suite, Mickey, a big orange tiger,

and one of the first guests to sample the cat sanctuary’s comforts,

is all ears as Derrick points out that his suite is intended for Type

B personalities. More hyper felines will go just to the right in

another

room, while those with medical conditions go to the left, in a

slightly

smaller suite. With two weeks to go before the grand opening, which

took place on October 5, the Type A wing was still awaiting its first

resident. But there were signs of life in the medical suite. Ozzie,

a huge, grey cat with hints of orange, rubbed against the glass,

almost

certainly purring.

"Ozzie’s diabetic," says Derrick. "He’s on a special

diet."

Otherwise, though, Ozzie is doing well, and, like all of the cats

in Tabby’s Place, is up for adoption. This is true even for

FIV-positive

cats, who have a disease that could lead to feline leukemia, but who

are not yet sick. Many shelters do not accept these cats, but Tabby’s

Place does, although it does not yet accept cats with feline leukemia.

That, in fact, is the only class of sick felines it does not accept.

Leaving Mickey and Ozzie looking out from their suites

toward the atrium, Derrick leads the way past the reception desk,

Rosenberg’s office, and a large, computer-filled conference room.

Through a door, and down a corridor, four veterinary technicians,

clad in green scrubs, are busy tending to new arrivals, many of whom

come from "death row" in public shelters.

"Each cat has two cages," says Derrick. Every facet of the

operation is meticulously designed to minimize the spread of disease.

So while most cats are in cageless enclosures, new arrivals are

isolated

from one another in separate cages for two to three weeks. That time

line is necessary, she explains, because sometimes a cat appears

completely

healthy at first, only to show signs of infection two or three weeks

later. The cages, it must be said, are nearly commodious enough for

a small pony. And each cat has two of them. When it is time to clean

a cat’s cage, he is moved into his second home.

Before heading down the back corridor, Derrick pauses at a sort of

command center, where a commercial washer and dryer await bedding,

and a commercial dishwasher awaits cat bowls. At one side of the room

are out-size, clear plastic bins holding kibble and kitty litter.

There is no estimate as yet of how much of each the sanctuary will

go through each day. Capacity is 100 cats, and there are only about

20 in residence so far.

Moving along, Derrick points up to the ceiling of the back hall. It

is criss-crossed with clear plastic tunnels through which the cats

will pad from their suites to their outdoor solariums. "Look at

this," says Derrick, "there are doors in each tunnel."

Rosenberg has anticipated, she explains, that a cat out for a little

fun might well stretch out in one of the narrow tunnels, thereby

blocking

traffic in both directions. When that occurs, the door will be opened,

and the offender will be scooped out.

Coming in to the personality Type B suite from the back, Derrick

immediately

encounters Mickey. Or is it his sister Crystal? The pair are nearly

indistinguishable, but Crystal is a bit larger. Eager to see what

is up, they both position themselves to eavesdrop as Derrick runs

her hand along a section of the play/nap structure in the suite. Full

of cubby holes in geometric shapes, padded with cushions, and hung

with hammocks, the structure is made of tough-to-penetrate marine

wood.

At the back of the suite is Precious. She has just arrived, and

appears

a tad reluctant to climb around with her new roommates. She is in

the cage, Derrick explains, so she can observe the action, and so

that the others can get used to her. The goal is to have 15 cats in

each suite. Many fewer, and spats can erupt. More and overcrowding

can lead to hostilities.

Derrick continues on, past the back of the medical suite and the FIV

suite, which is still empty. She then passes an apartment. It is

occupied

by an on-site veterinary tech, who is on-hand to deal with any

night-time

emergencies.

Nearby are adoption rooms. Outfitted with a couch and chair, they

are nearly all-glass on the side looking out onto the atrium. Families

who have spoken with an adoption counselor, and who have spotted a

pet that appears to fit their needs, will spend time here with their

prospective pet.

Before re-joining Rosenberg, Derrick shows off one of his inventions.

The facility expects to use enormous amounts of bleach, and can not

send it directly into its septic system. So drains in floors divert

cleaning fluids to a holding tank. From there, the fluids pass through

a giant charcoal filter before being discharged into the septic tank.

Sharing space with the filtering system is a white freezer.

"We are a no-kill shelter," Derrick emphasizes, but, she says,

sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, a cat may die. The freezer

stands ready to receive the remains. But, meanwhile, says Derrick,

"There are cookies in there for the grand opening."

There are also cookies in the break room. Designed for the comfort

of staff and volunteers, the large, sunny room would put many a

corporate

break room to shame. Enormous bathrooms, his and hers, just behind

the kitchen area will soon contain lockers.

One reason the break room is so big, says Derrick, is that it is

designed

for the needs of not one building, but three. In five years time,

Tabby’s Place is to add two more buildings, and will be able to handle

up to 500 cats at once.

Rosenberg says that Tabby’s Place is to be self-supporting. He is

guaranteeing operating expenses for five to seven years, although

he is not yet sure how much it will cost to run the facility. He is

hoping that a cat food company "with a quality product" might

be interested in supplying food in exchange for some publicity,

perhaps

little packets of its food to go out the door with newly adopted cats.

The food would help, but there are more costly items on Tabby Place’s

ledger. There are now seven employees. "Two full time, two part

time, and two unpaid," says Rosenberg, adding, "My wife is

saying `Shouldn’t I be paid?"

Rosenberg thinks that the most likely funding source

for Tabby’s Place is individual donations. Already, they are coming

in, mainly from people who have found the sanctuary

(www.tabbysplace.org)

on the Internet. Soon, there will be webcams in the suites, giving

people around the globe a look at the cats at play. A bird’s eye view

could spur further donations.

There will be a cost to adopt a cat. No fee has been determined, but

Rosenberg has decided that it will be more than some shelters charge

and less than others charge. The idea of the fee is to help

prospective

adopters realize that owning a cat is not free — far from it.

A cat, Rosenberg points out, is a 20-year commitment.

As his dream becomes reality, Rosenberg is fully involved in his own

commitment. "It’s sort of like CNET," he says. "Too many

things that have to be done all at once." He is working on Tabby’s

Place full time, and in the process, is wiring it extensively.

"It’s

how I get my tech fix," he says. In addition to the webcams,

Tabby’s

Place is being equipped with integrated communications, so that, for

example, callers’ information can be automatically incorporated into

E-mail lists. And Tabby’s four-pawed guests will be wired, too.

Rosenberg

plans to fit each kitty with an electronic chip capable of storing

all of its vital data.

There is also a security camera system so that passersby can not

easily

drop their cats off. Already flooded with requests from cat owners

eager to divest themselves of their pets, Tabby’s Place is unable

to take any but those felines in the most desperate circumstances.

It is working with several public shelters, and plans to take four

cats at a time from each on a rotating basis. The sanctuary will not

choose the cats, or set parameters, beyond an inability to take cats

with leukemia. Cats that are not adopted are welcome to live out their

lives in Tabby’s suites.

Rosenberg admits to getting some flak from friends whose dander goes

up when they think of all the money he is spending to save cats in

a world full of homeless children.

Confident, and a bit defensive, after hearing the comment one time

too many, Rosenberg says, "Name a need, and I will name a greater

need." If other people want to work at saving a population other

than cats, that’s fine with him. Let them make money, and do it, is

his view. "This is my money," says the dot-com millionaire,

"and this is how I want to spend it."

On that note, he looks toward the Type B suite, where Mickey is trying

to force his way into the as-yet-untested walkway to the solarium.

"We might as well open it up," he says, continuing with his

day, answering to the demands of a gang of bosses that are much more

difficult to please than was his CNET CEO.

Tabby’s Place, 1100 Highway 202, Ringoes 08551.

908-237-5300; fax, 908-237-5311. E-mail: info@tabbysplace.org. Home

page: www.tabbysplace.org

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