Early in her rescue career, Jennifer Hart learned street cats are not always what they seem. The president of Furry Friends, a no-kill shelter in Vancouver, Washington, once trapped a lot of homeless kitties, assuming they were feral. She quickly discovered that many of these cats were not feral at all.
“They were cats that had been left behind or abandoned and were just scared,” she says. “I took in a lot of cats from trapping situations that were obviously, after they had been in my house, not feral cats.”
For many of the 20 to 25 cats in Furry Friends’ care, Hart’s intervention has meant the difference between life and death. In one memorable instance, a pair of kitties named Reggie and Red came from the same trailer park in nearby Portland, Oregon, where they both struggled with numerous health issues. Reggie had such severe dental problems that he wasn’t eating. Exposed to the elements, both cats were too sick to survive the winter.
Fortunately, in Furry Friends’ care, Reggie got the dental care he needed, which sadly meant pulling all of his teeth. Furry Friends is still caring for Reggie. They also laced Red in a foster home, where the cat has gotten the love he deserves.
“From the first minute of meeting Red, he had my heart,” says his foster mom, Marilee. “As a volunteer for Furry Friends, and as a pet sitter, I meet a lot of cats. I care for and love them all, but Red was something special. He was such a wreck! He was pretty old (15), had half a tail, his skin was all scabby, he had bald spots, his coat was rough, he was skinny yet his belly was bloated, and his eye was infected. Yet he was nothing but sweet.”
Red was later diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and pancreatitis, which is frequently chronic and eventually fatal in cats. Despite his health concerns, Red has settled into his new home, where he maintains a sweet, loving disposition and has even made friends with his foster mom’s other cat, who is frequently standoffish.
“Red’s foster mom is so in love with him,” Hart adds. “It’s just amazing. He brings so much to her life. I did what I had to do — I had to take those cats. And they’re alive today, and they’re leading good lives.”
Nursing Red and Reggie back to health has involved significant financial investment, but at Furry Friends, Hart says, “It’s all about the cats.” This means making sure cats gets the medical care they need, as well as spaying or neutering, microchipping, testing for FIV and leukemia, and vaccinating. The cats are fed premium food and don’t live in cages.
All cats have a guaranteed home at Furry Friends until they’re adopted. The all-volunteer staff does its best to match a cat with each adopter’s individual needs. Though the shelter is not open to the public, it holds regular adoption events at a local PetSmart. This is all in keeping with the priorities of Nancy McMartin, Furry Friends founder, who retired six years ago.
“I had no idea what we were getting into with Red and Reggie or how much money we’d have to spend, but everyone here agrees — it’s about the cats,” Hart says. “Once they’re here, they’re ours now. We do everything we can to get them healthy again and find them a home so they can live out their lives.”
It’s stories like Reggie and Red’s that Hart says make cat rescue worthwhile. She points out that it can be exhausting, especially considering that she also works a full-time day job, and serving as president of Furry Friends is essentially another full-time position. Also, sometimes she and the Furry Friends staff cannot save the cats they rescue, and the loss can be devastating.
“We just had a cat — one of the most friendly, amazing, lovable cats who was only about two years old — and everything that could go wrong with a body was going wrong with this cat,” Hart says. “There was nothing we could do. It was heartbreaking. We have those that we can’t save.”
She’s quick to point out, though, that the cats they do save keep her going. She has seen sick cats nursed back to health, older cats get a second chance at a good life, and cats that seemed unadoptable find homes.
“When we have an adoption, and we get pictures, and the cats are in heaven, and the people are madly in love — that’s why we do it,” she says. “That’s the stuff that keeps me going when I’m really, really tired — these little furry creatures getting homes.”