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Compassion for cats

Volunteers at two local organizations help cats get their full nine lives

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THE CATS MEOW :  North County Humane Society volunteer Jean Cox, who for the past four years has visited Atascadero’s Parfitt Adoption Center two or three times a week to care for its cats, provides a lap and love to abandoned cats - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • THE CATS MEOW : North County Humane Society volunteer Jean Cox, who for the past four years has visited Atascadero’s Parfitt Adoption Center two or three times a week to care for its cats, provides a lap and love to abandoned cats

A tour through the North County Humane Society’s Parfitt Adoption Center is a cat lover’s dream come true: a 2100-square-foot, cage-free facility where cats of every description lounge, loaf, and snooze on sofas, atop cat trees, and inside every imaginable kind of hideaway. Furry faces peer from kitty condos and cabinets; cats nestle in cat beds and sunbathe on the spacious screened porch. Any visitor who manages to find an unoccupied chair will almost certainly soon be holding a purring cat on their lap.

Amazingly, there’s no hissing or raised hackles and nary a whiff of cat odor.

“We have an incredibly hard-working and dedicated staff,” says Kayce Daniels, director of animal care. “They get here at 4:30 a.m. to begin cleaning, mopping, and scooping out litter boxes. And they genuinely love the cats and give them individual attention.”

Asked how it’s possible that so many cats can co-exist in such harmony, Daniels says, “I think on some level, they understand that this is a good thing, that if they weren’t here they would be out on the street. They’re showing their appreciation.”

Next door to the adoption center is the Dome, a sanctuary and permanent home for special-needs cats whose health or behavior issues make it unlikely they’ll be adopted. Most will probably live out their lives here in this no-kill, for-life rescue shelter, basking in the sun and playing together with their feline buddies.

“At last count, we had over 200 cats,” says Jan Jones, director of operations, “and half of these will never get a home.”

With mounting expenses, the North County Humane Society relies on donations, bequests, and their Guardian Angel Program, where for as little as $25 a month, a donor can support one of the cats.

Jones also stresses that the society’s name is misleading. “We service the entire county, not just North County. We help everyone. We even took in cats after Katrina.”

For all the difficult circumstances that bring cats to the North County Humane Society, there are also an abundance of happy endings. Most recently, Keller, an elderly blind cat who had learned to navigate the shelter with uncanny skill, found a permanent, loving home. And Oliver, a white-and-gray feral cat from South County who ended up at the pound after sneaking into a bread store to get warm, was successfully introduced into North County Humane Society’s feral colony.

“We really urge people to come visit, to take a tour of the shelter,” says Jones. “It’s really a magical place.”

The shelter is located at 2300 Ramona Road in Atascadero and can be reached by phone at 466-5403. Shelter hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free guided tours are offered Sundays and Mondays. To arrange a tour, call Sandy Rakestraw at 461-0547.

Like the North County Humane Society, the Feline Network is committed to spreading the word about the urgency of spaying and neutering.

Not long ago, a woman called the Feline Network to complain about cats living underneath her house in Oceano. When a volunteer investigated, she found that the cats were actually coming from the house next door, where some well-meaning but misguided people had been letting their cats breed ... and breed and breed.

“This is a recipe for disaster,” says Christine Collie, a Feline Network board member. “Many people have no idea how quickly two cats can become 20 or 30. They become overwhelmed and don’t know where to get help.”

Unfortunately such scenarios are all too common. In this case, the couple involved couldn’t afford to get the cats altered and were unaware that help was available. Volunteers from Feline Network got the adult cats spayed and neutered and returned them to the home. The many kittens were socialized in foster homes until they were old enough to be spayed/neutered and put up for adoption.

Founded by a group of compassionate cat lovers, the Feline Network offers certificates for residents of San Luis Obispo and South County, $25 toward neutering a male cat and $45 toward spaying a female. Volunteers trap feral cats, have them altered at local vets, then return them to their colonies. They also foster kittens and hard-to-place cats and match adoptable cats with potential owners.

“With the unstable economy, more cats than ever are in desperate need of homes,” says Collie. The Feline Network recently rescued four adult cats and two kittens whose owner had simply moved out of state and abandoned them. All too often cats are left behind when owners are evicted or get behind in the rent.

In addition to financial support from generous donors, the Feline Network is looking for kind-hearted volunteers to foster kittens, trap and transport feral cats, and help at Adopt-A-Pet events. Call 549-9228 for more information.

Lucy Taylor is a freelance journalist and author of mystery novels whom cats inspire. Contact her through the editor at econnolly@newtimesslo.com.

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