When Milo arrived at The Animal Rescue Alliance in Kansas City, the then five-year-old kitty was stuck in a carrier with a note attached: “My name is Milo, and my people can’t take care of me.” The cat’s former family had also enclosed a $20 bill.
Hilary Boorstein had recently started volunteering with The Animal Rescue Alliance, or TARA, after moving to the Midwest from the East Coast, and she could tell Milo had been well loved. TARA adopts animals out of PetSmart and Petco, and Milo had no trouble finding a new home. His story, it seemed, would have a happy ending. Then, out of nowhere, the cat stopped eating.
“The adopter was well meaning but hadn’t had a cat before and was very anxious and nervous when he stopped eating,” Boorstein says. “I was going over there every day to give him fluids. When we took him to the vet, he had severe fatty liver. He was yellow in places I didn’t know cats could turn yellow. They gave us about a 20 percent chance of him making it.”
Despite this grim prognosis, TARA volunteers didn’t give up on Milo. He moved in with a TARA foster who is a nurse, and several volunteers took turns feeding him through a tube every day and spending lots of time with him. Amazingly, Milo pulled through — and today he is not only surviving, but thriving.
“He was adopted by a retired woman who adores him to death,” Boorstein says. “He’s perfectly healthy — she just has to make sure he never stops eating. She’s an experienced cat person, so we felt comfortable having her take him.”
Founded in 2007, TARA is known for taking on the hard-to-place cats and dogs that other rescues might turn away. This is part of the organization’s mission to rescue animals in need, as well as a way to honor Tara Nagel, for whom the organization is named. A vet tech with a passion for animal rescue, Nagel was killed in a car accident at the age of 25.
“Her friends ended up founding this group in her honor,” Boorstein says. “Our president was one of her good friends. Tara was involved in animal rescue — animals were everything to her, so they thought this was the best way to honor her.”
With eight to 10 foster homes, the organization has cared for as many as 40 or 50 cats at a time, especially during kitten season. Boorstein started volunteering in 2009 and is now one of the heads of TARA’s cat program. She has fostered about 15 kitties during her time with TARA — including her first foster kitty, who never left.
“My first foster I ended up adopting,” she says. “I took her for a weekend in 2010 — you know, just on a temporary basis. She has a lot of medical needs, so it ended up working out well that she’s mine.”
Because TARA does not have a central shelter location, the kitties all live in the foster homes. This gives volunteers the chance to get to know the cats very well, allowing them to place the cats with the right adopter. Until animals are adopted, they have a home with TARA — and after animals are adopted, TARA continues to be a valuable resource.
“I think my favorite part is seeing the animals change,” Boorstein says. “We’ve watched cats blossom under our care. I’ve spent lots of time with them, one on one, trying to get them to open up and feel comfortable, and when that finally happens it’s one of the coolest feelings.”
But getting a cat to come out of her shell can be a daunting process. When TARA rescued a mother cat and two kittens who were abandoned after their owner went to assisted living, it took nearly two years before the kittens became comfortable around people.
“[The mother cat] and her kittens were left at the house,” Boorstein says. “She had seven kittens and only two made it by the time we were able to get her. She only weighed about five pounds — she put all of her energy into keeping those last two kittens alive. They were very malnourished. We spent hours and hours with these kittens, getting them comfortable with people. Now they’re in two wonderful adoptive homes. [The mother] has done really well also.”
In addition to the animals they rescue, TARA’s volunteers are also invested in each other. Boorstein says one secret behind the organization’s longevity is the fact that the core group of dedicated volunteers has remained intact — but the group remains open to new input and ideas.
“There have been new people that have come in and are very accepted,” she says. “In a lot of organizations it can be hard for new people to come in and feel like they can make a difference and be accepted. We are all friends and we spend time together outside of rescue. That makes it more fun — and when you do disagree about things, you can have a more productive conversation.”