Small Rescues: The Unheralded Victims of the Economic Crisis


I’m sure we’ve all heard about how the wretched state of the economy is hurting shelters and rescues across the U.S. After all, when we’re struggling to make ends meet, it’s hard to lend financial support even to the organizations we love and care about. But this story remains abstract until it becomes personal.

Today, it became personal for me.

When I logged into Facebook this morning, I saw a heartbreaking post from PurrEver Ranch Sanctuary, a no-kill sanctuary and hospice for elderly and abandoned cats:

“My dearest friends, after much thought, tears & living in a house that is falling apart, in jeopardy of being sold, monthly electricity cutoffs, never knowing if we will have enough to make it through the month, just plain living in fear that we will all be homeless I’ve decided to close PurrEver Ranch unless a miracle happens very soon. A permanent safe facility is needed to continue. Please pray for us. Love rita”

Rita Wood, the sole operator and caretaker of PurrEver, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in Somerville, Tenn., has been rescuing cats for seven years. Her work began in May of 2004, when she stopped by her local shelter to tend to some sick cats in isolation — and found out that on that day, several cats were going to be killed. But she was able to save one of them, a cat who literally reached out to grab her. That cat, Special, was the genesis of PurrEver Ranch.

I know I’ve reported before on cat “sanctuaries” that were really horrific hoarding situations. But this is not the case with PurrEver. Rita takes in sick, elderly and abandoned cats and provides them with all the veterinary care they need, no matter what the cost. She feeds her charges high-quality food, medicates them with any drugs they need, gives them nutraceutical supplements to strengthen immune systems weakened by FIV or relieve the pain of arthritic joints, and gives every waking hour of every day to the care of these cats.

Hundreds of photos of happy and healthy cats, trips to the vet, and images of the home she’s made into a sanctuary prove her good intentions and excellent care.

But things have gotten increasingly difficult in the last two years. The leased property on which her sanctuary is located is up for sale. Donations have plummeted. She has made tremendous sacrifices, sometimes not even being able to meet her own basic needs, to help the cats who otherwise would have been killed or cast off to live a desperate life in the streets. And in spite of the support she’s gotten from the people who can afford to help, it’s with a broken heart that Rita has decided that she has to close her cat flap unless a miracle happens.

If the miracle doesn’t happen and Rita does need to close PurrEver Ranch, she has vowed to find safe, loving homes for every single one of the cats in her care.

Anyone who cares about cats enough to start a nonprofit sanctuary for felines in need, does not make such a heavy decision on a whim.

Rita’s story is just one of hundreds of similar situations happening all across the country. And although each one of these struggling rescues may be a drop in the bucket when we think of the millions of homeless cats scratching out an existence on the streets, waiting on death row at kill shelters, or simply looking forlorn and hoping that someone will come along and adopt them — each one of those drops is important.

I hope that by sharing the story of PurrEver Ranch, I may be able to do something to get Rita the miracle she needs — a permanent, safe home, or the financial wherewithal to keep going until she gets that safe home.

If you can’t help PurrEver, please find a small rescue in your area that is working hard to help homeless cats, and support them. A $50 donation to a huge organization won’t mean all that much, but to those one- or two-person operations run by volunteers, doing the right thing for the cats in their care in spite of the personal sacrifices they make, it can make a world of difference.

I’m writing this story with tears in my eyes because this time, it’s personal. But maybe it should be personal every time. Tiny rescues are the glue that fills the gaps in our cat care world, and I think it’s our responsibility to do whatever we can to make sure that glue doesn’t disappear.

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