After volunteering in overcrowded Long Island, New York, shelters for many years, Eileen Osmers and Amanda Wilson knew that many friendly, loving cats were losing their chances at finding forever homes because they were stuck in cages. Living in the shelter for months or even years, sweet, talkative, curious cats became stressed, lonely, and depressed.
"We saw tons and tons of cats languishing in cages, cats who we KNOW each have vibrant, unique personalities but are confined to a small box and become depressed as a result," Wilson says. "Because of this, we were determined to change the plight of Long Island shelter cats."
In August 2012, Osmers and Wilson founded their nonprofit rescue group, Golden Paw Society, or GPS. The group rotates their rescues between several area shelters, with the longest-term residents being the highest priority. To date, the all-volunteer group has expanded to four locations and rescued 274 cats, most of whom are adults. This year alone, volunteers expect to adopt out more than 200 cats.
And because Wilson and Osmers know firsthand how stressed caged cats can become, they have done everything they can to ensure their main adoption center in Huntington Station, New York, has a welcoming, cageless "home away from home" environment.
"The center allows them to decompress in a quiet, loving environment that feels like they’re back in a home," Wilson says. "Their true personalities come out as they relax, which ultimately lands them a forever home."
But some cats take longer to relax than others, and previous neglect can be so severe that complete physical and emotional rehabilitation becomes difficult if not impossible. Two cats currently living at GPS are working toward recovery after surviving extremely difficult circumstances. Mae ended up in a shelter after her owner passed away. Deaf and declawed, Mae suffered further trauma when an ID collar got stuck in her mouth at the shelter for an unknown amount of time.
"It has been extremely difficult to connect with her and console her, even after nearly a year since we rescued her," Wilson says. "She HAS improved and we continue to work toward a breakthrough with our girl. Hopefully one day.”
Tinkerbell is another cat who GPS rescued from severe neglect. She spent more than two years in a shelter with dental issues that went untreated. The problem became so severe that by the time she came to GPS, all they could do was remove 14 of her teeth and give her steroid injections to keep her comfortable for as long as possible.
"This girl’s life will be cut short because no one bothered to help her," Wilson says. "If I sound angry, I am. this happened recently so I’m still worked up about it."
But the success stories at GPS make the challenges worthwhile. When Wilson and Osmers went on one of their monthly shelter runs, they met Roger, a handsome gray senior.
"When we met him it was clear, even in a poorly lit room, that he was an older guy with health issues," Wilson says. “He had been there for many, many months and was desperately trying to reach his paws through the cage bars to tug at our hands."
When they got Roger back to the adoption center, they realized his fur was falling out and no matter how much he ate, he remained underweight and extremely thin. He was eventually diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and adopted by a GPS volunteer who fell madly in love with him.
"He is now living luxuriously with the best medical care available," Wilson says. "He continues to be the affectionate, gentle, amazing boy that he’s always been, and he’s one of our favorite success stories."
It’s successful adoptions like Roger’s that give Golden Paw Society its name. Wilson says that no matter how many times she sees it, she still can’t believe anyone believes it’s okay to abandon a cat, an animal who feels the pain of that abandonment.
"It is our goal, every single day and with every single cat we rescue, to undo this pain for them and to show them how truly valuable and ‘golden’ they really are," Wilson says. "We have yet to meet a cat who didn’t respond accordingly to this kind of love."
The name also lends itself to an apt acronym.
"We are here to help cats find their way into forever homes," Wilson says. "Any good GPS system will do just that."