Sydney Hertzberg and Mr. Mittens
Sydney Hertzberg and Mr. Mittens. (Courtesy of Julie Hertzberg)

Sydney Hertzberg wrote about her love for Mr. Mittens for Petco Foundation’s Holiday Wishes Grant Competition, which helps support animal rescue organizations nationwide.

When 13-year-old Sydney Hertzberg adopted Mr. Mittens in 2019, the tiny bottle-fed kitten needed much TLC. He was just 4 days old, and when the Birmingham teen first laid eyes on him at the no-kill Ferndale Cat Shelter, where she had been volunteering for her bat mitzvah project with Temple Israel, she knew it was love at first sight.

“He’s grown so much,” the Cranbrook Kingswood Girls Middle School student says. Yet Mr. Mittens wasn’t the only one who was being helped. Hertzberg, who has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, a connective tissue disorder, experiences significant pain from the condition. Mr. Mittens, however, was the best medicine for it.

Hertzberg wrote about her love for Mr. Mittens for Petco Foundation’s Holiday Wishes Grant Competition, which helps support animal rescue organizations nationwide. She spoke of what she has overcome in her life and how the kitten rescued her instead.

“Little did I know today would be the day that would change my life forever and fill a void in my heart that I never knew existed,” she wrote in the 500-word story of the day she met Mr. Mittens. “As we spent more time together, I realized that when I held Mr. Mittens or he jumped on my shoulder, it helped relieve my pain.”

Syd Mittens Holiday 2020
Courtesy of Julie Hertzberg

It turned out to be a winning entry for Petco Foundation. Hertzberg, who received second place in the competition, was awarded a $50,000 grant that she gave to Ferndale Cat Shelter, an organization she felt strongly about. “I honestly couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I thought it would be something much smaller, maybe $1,000.”

For Ferndale Cat Shelter, who needed the extra support due to COVID-19, it was the greatest holiday gift they could ask for. “Ferndale Cat Shelter is over-the-moon about this grant from Petco,” executive director Deanne Iovan explains. “This year, we have taken in twice as many cats and kittens as we did last year, and our vet bills were double.”

Ferndale Cat Shelter’s revenue was also cut in half because their Catfé Lounge, where guests can mingle with cats up for adoption, was closed for nearly six months. “This could not have come at a better time,” says Iovan, who has included Hertzberg in planning how the funding will be used. “After such a difficult year for everyone, this is a great way to end 2020.”

Yet Hertzberg’s mission to save cats doesn’t end there. She’s working on ways for younger people like herself to be more active in the animal volunteer community. Her goal is to launch a program called “Sydney Seniors,” where senior adults will be able to adopt a senior cat with expenses such as medical bills and food being taken care of.

In this idea, she envisions teens being able to help senior adults set up their home for their adopted cats. Additionally, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Hertzberg took in 19 foster kittens from Ferndale Cat Shelter between the beginning of April through now, finding forever homes for each and every one. “I decided it was more important to help the cats than be nervous about my medical issues,” she explains.

Hertzberg is also teaching a Girl Scouts troop how to create covers for a Trap, Neuter, Release program, which aims to prevent future populations of feral cats in Michigan.

“Sydney is wise way beyond her years,” Iovan says of the teen’s work. “When Sydney first sent her story to Petco, her mother, Julie, showed me a copy and it brought tears to my eyes.

“I knew Sydney was a special human being, but her story of how Mr. Mittens affected her and her daily life was beautiful to read,” she continues. “It’s stories like hers that keep me going to work every day.” 

Read Sydney’s winning story at