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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
man, but he is doing so in a way that few would choose. Formerly
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
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
A handsome bear of a man with a full head of dark curly hair, a
for suspenders, and the quick diction of a smart guy with an East
Coast upbringing, Rosenberg, age 51, doesn’t look like anyone’s
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
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
run before, but, says Rosenberg, "he was just as panicked the
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
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
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
fast. Rosenberg was the 20th employee of the San Francisco-based
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
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,
was a pedal to the metal guy." Soon he was only calling for
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
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
and realized that the exhilarating ride that was the Internet
would not be easy to replicate.
At about the same time, Tabby, a cat who had brazenly taken up
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.
all hungry!" he exclaimed. "Don’t feed it! It probably belongs
"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
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
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
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,
"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
"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
His development director, Kathleen Ward Derrick, leads a tour. A
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
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
room, while those with medical conditions go to the left, in a
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,
"Ozzie’s diabetic," says Derrick. "He’s on a special
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
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
from one another in separate cages for two to three weeks. That time
line is necessary, she explains, because sometimes a cat appears
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
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
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
At the back of the suite is Precious. She has just arrived, and
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
by an on-site veterinary tech, who is on-hand to deal with any
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
how I get my tech fix," he says. In addition to the webcams,
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.
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
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.
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