tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Thursday, Jul 20, 2017

Bearden: Carrollwood author tells cat tales for a cause

His start in life wasn't too promising. When he was just five weeks old his mother died, leaving behind the kitten and his four siblings. Fortunately, he was residing in the home of Karen Lynch of Carrollwood, who, by her own admission, is a "crazy cat lady." Crazy about cats, maybe, but not really crazy. Lynch is a former international Thoroughbred horse breeder who traveled the world for her business. Then in her 40s, she went to University of Tampa to get her degree in creative writing and political science, paving the way for a second act as a writer.
These days, most of her energy is directed toward the plight of the growing population of feral cats. And she's doing it with the help of that orphaned feline she named "Finn McCool." Finn is now 5 years old and a celebrity of sorts. Since 2008, the golden ginger cat has been the real-life inspiration for a series of award-winning short stories in journals and on the Internet, published and read in more than 60 countries. And he's also the main character in Lynch's just-published children's book: "Irish Holiday Fairy Tales." (Lynch doesn't take credit for Finn's literary adventures. The book and all the short stories are credited to "author" Finn McCool, the Magic Leprechaun Cat.) "It seemed like a good idea to use him as a 'spokescat,'" Lynch says of her self-published whimsical book. "What better way to tell a story than through a wise and magical cat?" If Finn could talk, he would probably agree. The book, beautifully illustrated by artist Cheyenne Booker, has a dedicated mission. All profits from sales go Lynch's self-funded "Florida Cause for Paws," a rescue organization she and her late husband, Grayston Lynch, a former CIA Intelligence, founded 23 years ago. The funds are sorely needed. Right now Lynch is feeding about 60 feral cats in dedicated locations – and that doesn't include the number of cats she's taken into her home (a number she politely declines to share). Though she has a VA pension and Social Security, it still isn't enough to pay for the all food and gas. So at age 69, she works in customer service at a local Publix, using her paychecks mainly to fund her charity and maintain her website (www.warofwits.net). Without the help of nonprofits such as the Animal Coalition of Tampa, which provides low-cost spay and neutering for her strays, she could not do this work. Why such a dedication to cats? "Maybe because I'm a Leo," she says. "I love all animals, but I particularly love cats. And at this point in my life, they're the easiest pets to care for, even in multiples. What I like best, though, is that cats don't always give you what you want. They give you what you need." There's more. Since Finn's stories combines the legends, folklore, history and magic of Ireland, and celebrate that country's rich culture, he is quite a popular feline in the Emerald Isle. So much that Albert Kleyn of the Cork (County) Animal Care Society is also using the new book as a fundraiser, with a portion of the sale of each copy sold in Ireland and the United Kingdom going to the charity. Like Lynch's Florida Cause for Paws, the Cork ACS is struggling with its mission on a much larger scale. Its vet bills for rescued and neglected animals is in excess of $50,000, not to mention all the costs associated with fighting for animal welfare reform, public education on responsible pet ownership and providing foster homes until permanent ones can be found. Kleyn tells me the book is getting "glowing reviews" in Ireland, where the locals still have a "deep-seated feeling" for fairies, leprechauns and other mystical creatures. What he likes best about it, though, is the message that the appealing Finn carries to readers: He who does good will meet good along the way. "In these days of utter selfishness, that message lights a small beacon of hope in one's soul," Kleyn says. Closer to home, Finn McCool is building his own local fan base. It started with Jan Segal, a kindergarten teacher at Lowry Elementary School. She shops at the Publix where Lynch works, and the two hit it off immediately. When Lynch found out that she was a teacher, she offered to come to class and read some of Finn's stories for the kids. Segal took her up on it. That was three years ago. Segal says the children are mesmerized by Lynch's narrations of the wise cat's adventures. Since the stories are a blend of nonfiction and magic, mixed with Irish history and culture, they encourage "higher-level thinking." Afterward, she leads a classroom discussion on what is fantasy and what is real. It's also Lynch's opportunity to teach youngsters about the plight of feral cats and what needs to be done. "Karen is very bright and articulate. That comes across in her writing," Segal says. "And giving a cat like Finn McCool the credit was a really smart idea. The kids just fall in love with him. That's what keeps their attention." The editors at Cat Fancy, the preeminent magazine for cat lovers, also were taken by Finn's "Irish Holiday Fairy Tales." In this month's issue, it was the only book included in the publication's holiday gift guide. Lynch sees many lives ahead for Finn McCool, which is why this first book is called "Volume One." While the real-life cat has a pretty luxurious life, napping on her bed and curling up in her lap, Lynch has plenty of adventures in mind for the literary Finn. It also gives her a chance to relive her own love of Ireland, cultivated on numerous trips there in her previous life as a horse breeder. Finn's popularity is something Lynch never could have predicted. But if you think about it, it's all very cat-like: mysterious and magical. Lynch is just going to accept her good fortune as a gift. Because that's how Finn McCool would want it.

TBO.com, search keyword: Finn McCool, to read excerpts from some of Finn's stories and see a gift shop dedicated to the "Magic Leprechaun Cat." Proceeds go the Florida Cause for Paws. Karen Lynch is available for readings and speaking engagements; she can be reached at (813) 245-1797. mbearden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7613

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