Friendly, laid-back and larger than the average kitty, Maine Coons are often called "the dogs of the cat world." Throw fluffy bellies and stunning manes into the mix, and these cats can charm just about anyone — including my parents, who did not want another pet until they met Athella, a Maine Coon mix. Elaine Lyford-Nojima, founder of Maine Coon Adoptions in Oakland, CA, also fell in love with the breed several years ago when she adopted a Maine Coon named Buzz.
"He was the greatest cat in the world," she says. "He just had such a delightful personality and spirit."
Lyford-Nojima founded Maine Coon Adoptions more than a decade ago and has focused her efforts primarily on Maine Coons and Maine Coon mixes — though any cat in need is welcome. Maine Coon Adoptions consists of a network of 15 to 20 foster homes, and the organization has rescued and adopted out more than 1,600 cats. Last year alone they found homes for 255 cats, 24 percent of whom were over the age of seven or had special needs.
Maine Coon Adoptions rescues some of their kitties from high-kill shelters in the Bay Area, where, according to Lyford-Nojima, seven out of 10 kitties will be euthanized. Recently, a high-kill shelter in Sacramento was overwhelmed with 240 cats, and they were going to start euthanizing kitties at random.
“And that is extremely typical — multiply that by every shelter around," Lyford-Nojima says. "So I figure this is not a Miss America contest; we don’t carry only the best and the fluffiest. We focus on Maine Coons, but if we can grab another kitty that will be killed, we’re going to try to grab it."
In addition to area shelters, Maine Coon Adoptions rescues many cats from rural shelters in California’s Central Valley, where resources are scarce and cats are often forgotten and have little or no hope of adoption. The group also works with trappers in the area to rescue non-feral cats from the street who have most likely been abandoned by their families. Many cats from these situations are older and harder to adopt, and many rescue groups do not have the financial resources to help — but that is Maine Coon Adoptions’ specialty.
"That’s just my own commitment based on rescuing an 11-year-old Maine Coon and realizing how great these life-experienced kitties are," Lyford-Nojima says. "We don’t call them ‘old’ or ‘seniors.’ We call them ‘life experienced’ or ‘mature.'”
Potential adopters can find Maine Coon Adoptions online via Facebook, YouTube, and its website, and they must submit an application and undergo a detailed screening process before they are allowed to meet a cat. They also must live in California, as Maine Coon Adoptions does not ship cats out of state. And no matter what, if an adoption does not work out, Maine Coon Adoptions will always take the cat back. In fact, Lyford-Nojima recently welcomed a cat she adopted out eight years ago back into her home after his owner passed away.
"Once a kitty is in our care, they are our cat," she says. "We want to make sure they’re safe and sound for the rest of their lives.”
The downside of rescuing older and special-needs kitties is the cost. Last year, Maine Coon Adoptions spent $102,000 at the vet, with each cat costing an average of $525 to be vetted and ready for adoption, including dental and blood work, spay or neuter, vaccines, microchips, and worm and parasite treatment. As a result of this care, Lyford-Nojima always hears how happy and healthy her cats look.
"I treat all these cats like they’re my own," she says. "Many of them have had a lot of suffering and neglect in their life, and we don’t want that to continue."
One way the nonprofit organization raises funds to care for their kitties is by selling 12-month calendars featuring some of Maine Coon Adoptions’ most memorable residents (the 2013 calendar will be available in early December). The calendar not only raises money, it also allows volunteers to share some amazing stories. One of Lyford-Nojima’s recent favorites was a 10-year-old cat named Millie, who had lived her whole life in an elderly woman’s backyard and was undersocialized.
"When I got her, she was so ferocious," Lyford-Nojima says. "I had to put her in a cage and cover the cage on all sides, and the only way I could get food in the cage was to put on feral cat gloves."
Lyford-Nojima took Mille to her vet and told him she might have gotten in over her head — "which is quite a statement after all these cats." But the vet suspected Millie’s bark was worse than her bite. So Lyford-Nojima continued to work with her, as did several Maine Coon Adoptions volunteers, also known as Kitty Cuddlers, who socialize and care for cats in the two-room addition to Lyford-Nojima’s home, which is specifically dedicated to her fosters.
As Millie became more comfortable, the towels slowly came off her cage. By watching the other cats interact with humans, Millie learned that she was in a safe place. Over the course of a few months, she went from completely fearful to friendly. She even found her forever home at an annual adopt-a-thon sponsored by local animal-welfare organization Maddie’s Fund, where more than 2,500 animals find new homes in a single weekend.
"Millie is a particular sweetheart of mine," Lyford-Nojima says. "She showed such courage and trust — and she risked and found out that it was OK. And that I find very moving. I really credit our volunteers, the Kitty Cuddlers, who worked with her patiently over time. Our volunteers are the real strength of Maine Coon Adoptions."
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