Before Marie Edwards adopted her cat, Big Red, she spent several weeks feeding him in her backyard. When she finally caught him and took him to the vet, she learned the kitty was FIV positive.
She was shocked by the doctor’s reaction to Big Red’s diagnosis.
“The vet had the shot in his hand right there, and was going to put him down,” Edwards says. “I told him to give me that cat back, and he said, ‘You girls are crazy. You can’t save the world.’ But Big Red lived with us for six years before he passed.”
Today, Edwards is the owner and founder of Ten Lives Club, a Blasdell, New York-based nonprofit that has rescued and adopted out more than 20,000 cats since 2001. The group has two full-time and 12 part-time staffers, more than 175 volunteers, and 12 stores where their cats are adopted. And thanks to Big Red, the rescue has no qualms about taking in cats who happen to be FIV positive.
“It’s not contagious, and it’s not deadly,” Edwards says. “There’s nothing different between FIV and other cats that I’ve seen in my 15 years.”
Since Ten Lives Club began, the rescue has grown “leaps and bounds,” Edwards says. This was all according to plan: From the beginning, Edwards wanted to create “a big, big organization” – but it hasn’t been easy. The rescue’s first accommodations were in Edwards’ garage, where her husband constructed a small facility to house the cats. For the first four years, Edwards worked seemingly nonstop, adopting out more than 3,000 cats.
“It was almost like 24/7,” Edwards says. “It put a lot of strain on my marriage and family, with volunteers coming in and out and people knocking on our door and asking us where the paper towels were and such.”
Today, Edwards is very happy with Ten Lives Club’s permanent location, where they do everything from surgeries to adoptions on site. The rescue still struggles to compete with larger organizations such as the Humane Society and the ASPCA for donations, but Edwards works hard to raise awareness for the group. She knows that without Ten Lives Club, thousands of cats in the Buffalo area would end up being euthanized.
“Right now we have our numbers ready from January through September, and just this year, we’ve taken in 1,163 cats,” she says. “We’ll be over 1,600 by the end of the year. Without us, where would those cats go? There’s no other group that can absorb them. Where would they turn to?”
It’s a good thing Ten Lives Club was there when Boston the cat was rescued three years ago. The handsome gray-and-white cat was caught in an illegal snare trap, a story that gained national attention and made people aware of illegal trapping practices in New York State. After being nursed back to health at Ten Lives Club, Boston was adopted by a loving family.
Ten Lives Club was also there when sanitation workers found several kittens, just hours old, discarded in a dumpster. Then there was the time a Ten Lives Club volunteer discovered a mother cat and several kittens duct-taped inside of a box while he was preparing for a garage sale fundraiser. All of them eventually found homes, including the mother.
“It was in August, when it was sweltering hot,” Edwards says. “The volunteer came in the shelter and opened the box with a knife, and out popped the mama cat and her kittens. Had he not opened that box, we would have put it in the pile with hundreds of boxes of garage sale stuff.”
Edwards is able to operate on such a large scale largely due to volunteer efforts. Since she doesn’t have many paid staff members, she says she wears many hats.
“Someone will say, ‘Have your marketing department do it,’ and I’m like, I wear the marketing hat, the accounting hat, the fundraising hat … I wear all of the hats.”
That’s why she partners with many organizations within the community to ensure the cats in the shelter receive ample socialization and attention. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, groups that serve individuals with disabilities, senior citizens, and anyone needing community service hours can all be found spending time with the cats at the shelter. Edwards says everyone is welcome.
“We never say no to anybody who wants to help,” she says. “I had somebody tell me nobody would let her 15-year-old granddaughter volunteer. But we welcome 15-year-olds here. They’re the first to come in on Saturdays and clean, brush the cats, and do the dishes. They’re valuable – they’re extra hands.”
Read about more Catster Heroes:
About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.