NORMAN — Sara Maisano loved animals. Starting at about age two, she was attracted to petting zoos and had a particular fondness for goats. She gravitated toward stray animals and was so soft-hearted she would have filled up the Maisano house with adopted animals if her family would have let her.
“I used to joke with her that I had her on the ‘do not adopt list’ at the shelter,” said Sara’s father, Norman Deputy Police Chief Jim Maisano. “I was afraid another kitten or another puppy would end up in her pocket and come home with her.”
Sara watched with great interest as plans for the new Norman Animal Shelter developed.
“She really liked the idea of that little sun room for the cats,” Jim Maisano said. “When the project came in and was over budget, she was really sad that the sun room wasn’t going to be there.”
Sara, 23, was murdered during a domestic dispute on June 27. As Jim, his wife Alicia and daughter Melissa, struggled to walk through the pain and grief, happy memories of Sara’s giving spirit and love of animals brought some small consolation.
Now, her family is working to turn tragedy into something positive for the Norman community. As a tribute to Sara, her family is raising the extra money needed to build the cat porch for the new animal shelter planned on South Jenkins Avenue.
“The renovated building is expected to last for at least 20 years, so adding this area would continue and share her love for animals for years to come,” Jim Maisano said. “It is estimated that total cost would be about $9,000 to add this item back into the project.”
Generous donations from the community and family friends have already raised over $3,000, and matching donations in the amount of $2,000 are expected from two local veterinarians.
Jim Maisano is committed to making the cat porch a reality.
“We don’t want Sara to be just that poor girl that was killed,” he said. “She loved animals.”
A rescued goose was taken to Wildcare and Sara checked on its progress. She doted on her animal companions, a Chihuahua named Cora and a tabby cat named Henry. Alicia and Jim Maisano are now caring for Sara’s orphaned pets and say they will continue to treat them with “the same special care and love that she dedicated to them.”
And Sara had a particular fondness for goats, her father said.
Sara had just finished her phlebotomy training and was working at Norman Regional Hospital when she was killed.
“She wanted to be somebody that could help people,” Jim Maisano said.
Sara worked in the oncology clinic at times, taking blood from people who were going through so much. She would talk to her family about her empathy for those she was trying to help, how when she had to draw blood from a child she tried to be extra gentle.
“She’d help anybody she could,” Jim Maisano said.
The family will donate Sara’s scrubs back to the hospital. Because she worked primarily at Moore Medical Center, they are hoping some of the employees who lost everything in the tornado might get some use from her scrubs — it’s what Sara would have wanted.
“Sara’s death was such a tragic loss to us and it was so senseless,” he said. “We’re trying to look at something positive to do.”
The murder occurred in Grady County. Steven Thompson has been charged with the crime. Thompson is also accused of severely beating his fiancé Katie Garner.
“This really impacted all of us,” Jim Maisano said. “Just a month after her death, I had a cardiac incident and was taken to the hospital.”
Maisano said the murder felt like a terrorist act against his family and all of their friends — so many people were affected by the violence of Sara’s death.
“We’ll never see her have grandkids and we’ll never see her raise her family,” he said. “We’ll never be back to normal —we’ve got to find a new type of normal, now, without her.”
As an officer of the law, the death of his daughter was particularly brutal for Maisano.
“That was one of my hardest things to deal with in this,” he said. “I’ve spent close to 30 years here trying to protect people from things like this. And then this type of action happens to my family.”
Maisano said he’s had to deal emotionally with the fact that he couldn’t protect Sara.
“She didn’t go down there with the intent to get killed,” he said. “She went down there to be with a friend of hers from work.”
The Maisano family is hoping that doing something positive in Sara’s memory will bring healing while also giving back to the Norman community in a way Sara would have liked.
“We would welcome any donations from others who share Sara’s love for the care and well-being of animals housed in the Animal Welfare Center,” Maisano said. “All donations, $20, $50, $100 or more, adds together quickly to make this project a success which will benefit and assist in adoptions of animals for years to come.”
Maisano is raising the money for the cat porch as a father, not in his position as deputy police chief.
Donations can be mailed to: Norman Animal Welfare Center, Norman Police Department, 201-B West Gray Street, Norman, OK 73069. To ensure that the donation is credited to Sara’s project write “Sara” or “Cat Porch” on the memo line.