Three years ago, Kim Kmiec got a phone call. A cat had been shot through both front legs. As one of the founding members of Nashville Cat Rescue, Kmiec has seen a lot of cats pull through tough situations since she and two other women, Carrie Patterson and Megan Brodbine, started the nonprofit rescue in 2005.
But when she heard what had happened to the seven-month-old orange tabby they later named Timmy, she worried they wouldn’t be able to save him. The gunshots, which were probably intentional, had badly injured the young cat. Still, she told the caller to bring Timmy to her vet so they could assess the damage.
Ultimately, one of Timmy’s legs had to be amputated. His other leg was badly damaged, but a specialty vet was able to save it using pins and metal plates — a complicated procedure Nashville Cat Rescue could afford thanks largely to donations that poured in after the story went viral. This helped give Timmy’s story a happy ending.
“He lives life as a tripod, and he got a fabulous forever home with a family that has other tripod cats,” Kmiec says. “We had donations pouring in from California, Florida, Washington — it was just crazy. It went viral on our Facebook page and ended up on the news. He was precious — they were cradling him at the vet’s office with both legs shot and he was purring.”
Unfortunately, stories of abuse and neglect like Timmy’s aren’t rare. In middle Tennessee, Kmiec says people’s attitudes toward cats, especially street cats, can be a bit behind the times. She and her two partners founded Nashville Cat Rescue because of an absence of cat-specific shelters in the area. Groups existed that focused on dogs, rabbits, and horses, but cats remained woefully underserved, a need that was — and still is — reflected in Tennessee’s lenient stance on animal welfare.
“It’s definitely something that’s needed,” Kmiec says of Nashville Cat Rescue. “Tennessee and the south in general is so rough when it comes to animal welfare. Our laws are lax. The perception surrounding companion animals is still pretty backward.”
Fortunately in Nashville — an urban college town, home to Vanderbilt University, among other schools — animal welfare views are a bit more progressive. Some people living in condos, townhomes, and apartments want companion animals but choose not to have dogs because they don’t have yards or a lot of space, so they look for cats, which helps adoptions. But in more rural areas, Kmiec still struggles to persuade people of the importance of spaying and neutering.
“People don’t necessarily want to spend money getting the local strays spayed, because what’s the point?” she says. “It’s not their cat, so they don’t care. There are so many that it’s not a privilege, in a way. It’s such a common thing to have stray cats running around. Our efforts are to spay and neuter — we spay and neuter every cat that comes through our system.”
Without a centralized shelter location, Nashville Cat Rescue, which is an all-volunteer organization, relies on foster homes and adoption events to care and find homes for their cats. Everyone involved with the organization has day jobs, families, and pets of their own, but they dedicate their nights and weekends to cat rescue.
“I’m a teacher, and I have two kids,” Kmiec says. “All of our volunteers work, but they love cats, and they’re passionate enough that they want to give up their free time.”
Passion can be a good motivator, but cat rescue isn’t always easy. Most of the kitties Nashville Cat Rescue saves are pulled from other shelters — and Kmiec says there are always more kitties who need their help than they can possibly fit in their foster homes. That’s why she always encourages more people to jump on board and foster a kitty or two.
“We get more intakes than we could ever possibly help,” she says. “There’s only a small percentage of cats that we could ever get into our foster system, and that’s difficult when you see the need. You reach out to the foster homes and you plead and you beg, but there’s not always room at the inn. That’s hard, because you know they’re either going to be left to continue to reproduce or taken to a shelter where they may or may not be pulled in time. That’s mentally what gets to you day after day.”
But then, as in the case of Timmy the tripod, there are the happy endings, and for Kmiec that makes it rewarding.
“Seeing the pictures of cats in their forever homes makes it worthwhile,” she says. “And knowing that they’re okay somewhere and they get to live out their kitty lives in a great home — and that they were one of the lucky ones.”
All photos courtesy of Nashville Cat Rescue. Follow them on Facebook for more.