It was a dreary fall afternoon in early November, the kind of weather that slaps you in the face and tells you to stay inside — either that, or snuggle with as many kitties as possible ASAP. This day, I chose cats over moping. I put on the brightest yellow sweater I could find and drove across town to an adoption event for Kitty City Kansas, a Kansas City-area nonprofit dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding homes for cats and kittens.
It may have been gray outside, but inside the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. During the week, all of Kitty City’s residents live in foster homes, but every Saturday they’re available for adoption at Mariposa Veterinary Wellness Center in Lenexa, Kansas, where last year more than 550 kitties found forever homes.
According to cofounder Michelle DePrima, Kitty City is "very fortunate" to be able to adopt out of the same space each week. "It helps us tremendously because people know where we are, and we get a lot of return adopters and word-of-mouth," she says.
DePrimafounded Kitty City in 2008 with her friend Vicky Viner. After years of volunteering at other shelters, the women decided they wanted to try it for themselves. In addition to DePrima and Viner, the group consists of approximately 25 volunteers and foster families, who care for more than 125 cats and kittens.
"The real benefit of foster homes is that we know our kitties," DePrima says. "They tend to be better socialized, and the foster families know if they will be good with children or other cats or dogs. It helps us place them where they’ll be good fits."
Kitty City’s volunteers get to know their youngest residents especially well. They occasionally take in orphaned kittens who are as young as a few weeks old and require round-the-clock care. These fragile babies stay with Viner, who is retired and able to keep up with their demanding bottle-feeding schedules.
At the event I attended, Viner had brought her bottle babies along in an incubator, and when I peered inside they wobbled unsteadily on their feet, their eyes still sealed shut. I was suddenly profoundly grateful there were people willing to care for these tiny cats who were not much larger than turnips. Viner had brought some of her older kittens as well; they were fluffy and thriving, nearly ready for adoption.
DePrima points out that nursing kittens from infancy to independence is no easy task — and neither is fostering older cats.
"Our volunteers are incredibly important to us, and our foster homes as well," she says. "These people really put effort and time into having cats and kittens in their homes. It’s not a small job."
Nor is it cheap. Kitty City is smaller than many other shelters in the area and is staffed entirely by volunteers, so they have a harder time attracting the same attention and receiving the same financial opportunities as larger shelters.
"Fundraising is definitely the biggest challenge for us," DePrima says. "We try to keep something going all the time."
Some of Kitty City’s regular fundraisers include bingo at Hamburger Mary’s, raffles, and iGive, an online shopping application that donates a portion of each purchase from select businesses to a charity of the purchaser’s choice. Volunteers are always busy providing updates on Facebook and searching for other opportunities.
One recent fundraiser paid off nicely: Last month, Kitty City received hundreds of cans of cat food when they were one of 25 shelters nationwide chosen to participate in Friskies’ Internet Cat Video Awards.
For the holidays, Kitty City is hosting a photo booth with Santa at a local PetSmart. They’re also spreading some old-fashioned holiday cheer with a series of Benefit Wines featuring adorable photos of former Kitty City residents on the labels. The wines have been amazingly popular, and it’s no surprise. People are more likely to buy a particular wine if it has a stylish bottle or appealing label, and what could be more appealing than kittens?
"They’re kind of a conversation starter," DePrima says. "I have each bottle up on display at my house."
These fundraisers help Kitty City break even so they can continue rescuing kitties like Mr. Magoo, who was born without eyelids. An animal ophthalmologist in Lawrence, Kansas, has been working to rebuild his eyelids and help him retain his sight. This type of specialty care does not come cheap, but DePrima says Mr. Magoo’s sweet personality makes caring for special-needs kitties like him absolutely worth it.
Mr. Magoo is available for adoption, and DePrima is confident that he will find the perfect home. She’s seen the magic happen too many times not to believe it. For example, one of her former foster kitties had a partial blockage of her nasal passages that caused her to snort. DePrima worried this quirk would prevent her from being adopted.
"But some people came in and said, ‘I have Boxers; everybody snorts in my house. We don’t care. We love her,’" DePrima recalls. "I always say there’s a lid for every pot. It may take a while — it may take a year. But eventually they’ll find a home."
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