My name is Zachariah Atteberry. I am a certified cat behavior consultant, registered veterinary technician and the director of Cuddle Cat Rescue in Hannibal, Missouri. I have over 8 years of animal care experience at 26 years old. My work started at the shelter when I was just 16 years old in high school. Many of you know the story – dropped out of high school twice, considered suicide more times than I can count. Animals have helped me through that and now I am helping save as many cats as I can along with helping other individuals succeed in life. Read this article about when we first opened.
Working with cats helped to soothe my anxiety and depression as a result of bullying at school and other hardships I have had through life. Working at the shelter made me reconsider staying alive instead of looking toward suicide as the answer to the problems in life. To help animals who were as unfortunate as I was in many respects one part of the solution to depression. This happiness and burst of confidence gave me the power to accept my asperger’s diagnosis and embrace it. Eventually I will finish my book when I get the time to.
First know that this article in no way intentionally bashes, criticizes or makes fun of animal control ran facilities – especially no shelter specifically. Many are trying their best. I tell it like it is because I do not waste my time sugar coating reality – many need to do better but are often under a ton of constraints such as money, time and pressure from the cities in which they operate. And these shelters often have to take very animal thrown at them. Volunteers are the back bone of improving such operations and education comes second then money and city compliance with TNR and other advancements.
Cuddle Cat Rescue is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization now located at 124 corporate square drive in Hannibal. Cats come here to transform into the best version of themselves and are eventually adopted out to new homes. Janet and I worked together to open up this rescue from the ground up – a dream we did not even know was possible. Started from one room in the house to three rooms in the house to a building. There is a person for every cat and a cat for every person.
We are a completely no-kill cat rescue and have never euthanized a cat unless they had a medical condition that could not be treated by a specialist. We had one Siamese kitten last year that had a broken back and it was really unfortunate that we could do nothing other than help him cross the rainbow bridge.
I learned everything about properly taking care of cats through trial and error at a fast paced animal shelter. Janet learned her skills from experience when we worked together to help each cat out during their recovery. I can tell you that creativity is the number one skill for success when money is not available to make things work.
I have even made my own enclosures. I honed my cat behavior skills by working with cats who hid in the litter box, hissed and growled or just did not want to interact with the world and had completely shut down. I got certified through IAABC for cat behavior consulting which gave me the skill set and the knowledge to work with the more difficult cats. There was one cat who bit me down to the bone but I still worked with them and got them adopted out.
It was hard to see healthy cats euthanized which often happens at animal control type facilities due to overcrowding and illness. I would leave heart felt notes on a cat’s log that I did not have control over what happened to them even though I tried to veto such decisions. I remember reading a note that read…is a happy, nice cat that deserves a home. In my mind every cat deserves a home regardless of their personalty, health or age. And I remember writing a poem (below) plus gave every cat a name because no cat deserves to die without a name. Ever – even if it is just one you and the cat knows.
I shall not leave you like this
Or let the heavens lay their claim…
Without one final kiss
And a well deserved name.
I obtained experience with vaccines, medications and shelter management skills while at the animal shelter. I reduced illness rate from 95% to 3% and raised the adoption rate exponentially in the shelter by mastering social media and photo taking. Started to invest in shelter medicine books and various educational videos. I had some training from a shelter veterinarian in a different state when I needed help or advice – I just called them. I tried something new every single day to better the conditions at the shelter. Sanitation was the first area I hit obviously. Even if I could give each cat just one more pet than the previous day or give them treats or canned food than it was worth it. Sometimes the shelter would not even buy kitten food and I had to buy it myself for the kittens.
Below are the cages that we made followed by a giant enclosure we use at the rescue when we get full or have an emergency come up and we have to house a ton of kittens or a sick cat quickly. Janet and I – along her husband had to put up the enclosure because it was impossible for one person to do. We also had a board member’s husband help with the biggest enclosure which was a project and a half. Again I will upload a guide at some point for this. The plastic panels needed to make these enclosures climb proof came to $50 for small size, $95 for the large. Climb proof for kittens up to 12 weeks.
Every cat matters and every single day the entire board of Cuddle Cat Rescue seek to prove it to the rest of the world even if it does fall upon deaf ears to people who abuse cats, neglect them or just let them sit with treatable medical conditions for days. I never pretend to know the reason behind every behavior or illness but I always promise to get to the bottom of that behavior, understand it and work with it or correct it even if it is expensive, requires a specialist or intense research. You cannot put a price on a life when it comes to our rescue.
We have been in official operation for one year and a couple of mouths now at this point. The board of directors includes me, Janet Matson, Caroline Mcintosh, Bridget and Aubrey Boss. It is my our combined mission to better the quality of life for every single cat I meet because every cat matters to our organization regardless of how long we have known them. I have never made an excuse not to save a very sick or severely injured cat that I think I could save. The reality is this: if you do not see the worthiness of the next healthy cat you meet to find a happy ever after then you are not looking hard enough and need to try AGAIN.
Ways To Help Cuddle Cat Rescue
- Donate your money or time
- Ask your company to provide grants
- Ask your company to do matching gifts
- Share picture of our adoptable cats
- Run a facebook fundraiser for us
- Ask for corporate sponsorships for us
- Donate using Amazon wish lists
- Donate monthly using Chewy
Donate here if you feel inclined by clicking the following link: Donate to Cuddle Cat Rescue – all of our behavior support programs are free to help cats stay where they are most happy. All donations help defray significant medical bills this season which is already half of the amount we paid last year. We have actually spent a good portion of our own money to keep this rescue operating the way it should. Everything from vertical space to adding scratching surfaces and implementing calming supplementation for very stressed out or frightened cats can cost us more money that we take in but we feel they are absolutely vital to their well-being.
Cuddle Cat Rescue was formed in 2018 by Janet, I and the the caring citizens of Hannibal in direct response to the large influx of homeless and injured cats that we were seeing around our town and nearby cities. First hand our team witnessed neglect by various individuals where they would allow a cat to sit for days with an eye infection or infested with fleas which is not okay and never will be. One person turned a cat into us that had a broken leg for 2 weeks. We started out in our house with just a couple of pop up cages and a handful of cats that we rescued from a local animal shelter who were at maximum capacity. We slowly worked up in getting better cages at the rescue then we worked on getting better enrichment and medications.
We just rented out a building that we finished up fixing just today but there are still finishing touches we want. Until this point we were operating out of Janet’s home which she opened up for this cause. This is before and after with sweat and tears along with some very dedicated volunteers which includes our board of directors. The entire board of directors worked their keisters off. Volunteers are very helpful when you have to wake up at 4 am just to clean all of the cats and get basic work done by a reasonable hour. We bought our stainless steel cages from a shelter who was replacing their cages – and we had to nearly break our backs getting them but it was worth it to give the cats a great place to be.
In or building – our team of volunteers worked together to rip up the old tile, repaint the walls, tear down that old wooden wall and overhaul the entire place with the help of our landlords. A few workers even took days off to perform these tasks at their own expense, bought things to help out the building and painted on the weekend. The building was vacant for a while so needed some serious maintenance. We had one valuable member on our board of directors who had a moving truck (she works for a business who has that kind of equipment readily accessible) which allowed us to recruit 4 wonderful volunteers to facilitate our move to the new place in just under 6 hours. I was floored at the level of help. Everyone was tired by the end of the hauling adventure.
Update 2019: Cuddle Cat Rescue finally got a building and is working on developing and integrating more programs to help cats in the community. We started microchipping and offering pet insurance to newly adopted pets. In addition – all of our cats are now free roaming and we only pull from shelters that are overfilling with unwanted cats. We strongly believe helping out shelters rather than individuals looking for a quick fix to their problem, utilizing TNR and low cost/spay and neuter and going to a free roaming concept is the way to go for our rescue and I am hopeful it will prove helpful to the community long term.
So far we have saved over 200 cats since we launched Cuddle Cat Rescue. There are many times where we seriously thought that we would not have enough money to operate but the community has really come through for us in situations where we had large medical bills or needed highly skilled help to finish a hard project. Even having people to help with laundry is tremendously helpful to the organization because it can rack up quickly and take hours to do. The biggest bill was on Frost where it required a true specialist to fix his femur. We have had broken legs repaired, eyes removed, serious cases of upper respiratory infection, tumor removals and so on.
Our team is always fixated on the idea of figuring out the best arrangement for every new resident so that their stay can be as pleasant as it can be and so they can be adopted out to a new home. It is our mission to bring out the best in every cat. This is why we often utilize automatic treat dispensers and a laser light camera that we can view them from our phone. It allows unfettered access into how they are doing even when we are home and not at the rescue. This can as simple as honing play therapy to meet a cat’s specific needs or introducing calming supplements for shy cats.
What sets our rescue apart from a few other rescues is that we rescue FIV cats, FELV kittens and FELV adults, severely injured cats and cats with life threatening illness without a second thought. I do not believe in using the term unadoptable in most situations. It is a cop out responsibility. Most cats are adoptable with patience, calming supplements, time and understanding that no cat is perfect. We try to pull cats who truly need help – behavioral or medical. Most of our cats come from very high kill shelters.
Examples Of Cats We Have Saved
Lucas was diagnosed with septicemia of the blood stream with a white blood cell count of over 60,000. The veterinarian at Advanced Veterinary Care did not expect him to live since he was doing a nose dive as it relates to his overall health. He was dehydrated, flea infested and had a few bite wounds that had maggots crawling around. Lucas only had a 10% chance to live and I was faced with a decision to spend $1800 for that 10% chance or spend $50 to euthanize him. I ended up spending $1800 of my own money to save Lucas.
Lucas had intravenous fluids, many antibiotics, drugs to stop the diarrhea, vomiting and more. We had to clean him up 7 times a day for the first week. I cared for him and gave him fluids at home after he was discharged. Stayed up all night with him three times. I learned a lot about never giving up from when I had only a 10% chance of surviving in the hospital when my mom had her cancer diagnosis. So I happily spent $1800 even with the odds stacked against me.
His complete recovery took approximately 6 weeks long. It was the scariest case I ever had to save in my rescue career. Lucas started with a white blood cell count that was ten times higher than normal which indicates infection or/and inflammation is present. Never give up on a cat on being able to beat the odds. It is a just a number and does not ever count in will to live and will to beat the odds.
Millie – Broken Jaw
Millie had a broken jaw when she was presented to our cat rescue in several weird places that made it hard for her to chew. She was in extreme pain which was evident when she was not very active or social. I do not have a before picture but here is a picture of her crooked teeth when I took her picture after the surgical procedure. Still crooked but she can eat just fine after her jaw was wired and she is a happy little girl.
Millie was suspected of having her jaw broken by a large dog biting her in the face but it is not determined if that was the real cause or not since none of the physical examinations found that to be a likely cause. Unfortunately abuse often happens to the most susceptible creatures like cats.
Mr. Cow Cow
Cow Cow had a broken leg beyond any type of repair and was turned into the rescue from a concerned Samaritan. Cow Cow had his amputation and is doing very well on 3 legs now. He is a very sweet boy.
Cow Cow was shot in the leg with a gun. As you can see there are bullet fragments in the radiograph and pieces of broken bone. Cow Cow was also hit with a bat in the leg and in the face as some of his incisors are clearly curved and cracked in an irregular pattern that does not happen with normal tooth decay.
The inspector and our veterinarian said it was one of the most horrific acts of violence they have seen and one of the worst fractures that they have taken an x-ray of. It was obvious from first glance that it was an abuse case and that amputation was the best solution.
Dixie, Miya and Smoke
Dixie and Miya are two cats who are very similar when I talk about their individual personalities. They are a product of their environment and how well their owner understands them. They are independent cats that want affection on their own terms and at specific times rather than all of the time or when we want it. Those are times you must respect the cat and what they really want and thrive on rather than what makes us feel good.
I wrote about Dixie at length and about how she came to the rescue for biting many people and displaying what the worker referred to as aggressive behavior. She even had her declawed paws x-rayed which showed some damage but not a ton so we are monitoring. Petting her or holding her when she did not want to be held would always result in a bite or a warning hiss. Pressing her limit always resulted in blood shed. Unfortunately the previous owner declawed her too in an attempt to stop the behavior.
Cats are often declawed because the owner does not understand cats and think it is the cure all for every behavior problem that pops up. Dixie is now one of my favorite cats after having her on a calming collar, calming cat food from Royal Canin, several diffusers and calming chews. She has hyperesthesia and is more sensitive to touch which is one reason that she lashes out at random times.
Miya had frostbite of both ears that were bloody and had to be removed surgically and had frost bite on her toes. She was a good cat most of the time but would attack you if she felt overwhelmed. Her toes healed just fine but her ears needed surgically repaired because of the damage from the frost bite. Janet Matson worked really hard with Miya to get her to open up with us and other people. Janet has always had a connection with calico cats like Miya and Maggie since we have met. They have attitude – but I like a spicy cat every now and again which explains why I have dixie and work with troubled cats.
Miya did not care much for our household so we found a household with more space and opportunities for being the independent cat that she is and it has worked out like a charm ever since. At our house she was so frightened that she would make waffling sounds before she attacked. Being around our cats or around other shelter cats scared her and result in her redirecting that frustration at us.
Here is a quick picture of another cat’s ear we fixed right at the same time – his name was Burrito. He was covered in ear mites which resulted in self-mutilation. The ear had to be sutured under sedation.
Smoke is a prime example of how a scared cat can be perceived as aggressive and euthanized at a shelter or animal control facility. We trapped Smoke from behind a stack of hay at a local grocery store. He was around one year old at the time of capturing him. Anyone – even me would have thought he was feral by the way he banged against the trap. We never euthanize and we always do an in-depth analysis and exam before we say for sure if a cat is feral, scared or a product of a poor environment that does not suite their needs.
Smoke jumped 6 feet from the floor of his enclosure to the top of the enclosure, to the sides, over my head and onto my arm and bit me. He actually bit several people when here. Of course he had his rabies vaccination – most of the time it was more of a warning. The first day he was just scared out of his gourd due to a new environment.
He went into foster care and did well but the foster parent could not hang on to him for that long. He was like a ping pong ball gone wild when he came back and many people would have quit right then and there. A shelter would have euthanized him right then and there.
It took a very long time for him to get used to just Janet and I but eventually he calmed down and got adopted. We put calming collars on him, gave him much more space than the average cat, vertical space, diffusers and so on. The combination of those things really helped him out. But even a well ran rescue is not where we want a pet to be – we want them in a loving home that values them as much a we do. He is now pampered and the only says they regret not adopting him sooner.
Maggie is the number one reason that we opened up Cuddle Cat Rescue to begin with. I often refer to her as the cat who started it all. She was a cat who was very down on her luck because she had a broken jaw that could not be repaired. The jaw had been broken several times and too much scar tissue had built up. Unfortunately she ended up at the humane society but fortunately I was over the cat care department and pulled all of the strings to give her the chance she deserved.
The shelter vet wanted to euthanize her right away regardless of the fact that she was playing and purring the entire time I was interacting with her. She showed no stress or pain during my behavior evaluation. I decided to save her and adopted her out from the humane society. I adopted Maggie to a lady that worked at a school for children with special needs. She was willing to blend up her food for her and give her a great life.
1 year later I met Janet Matson – the lady who adopted Maggie from the shelter. She helped me pay for college and help me through the stress of living up in Saint Louis. Maggie was the entire reason we opened up Cuddle Cat Rescue. Janet Matson ended up being the co-director of the cat rescue which was obviously meant to be because she had strong management skills and cared so deeply about every living being.
I have grown more and more sick over the years of people making excuses to euthanize a cat that has a defect or injury even though the animal is healthy otherwise. Maggie is a symbol of hope and a constant reminder of what we can do when we stand up for the less fortunate ones.
Maggie lived 7 years with this condition and eventually died due to kidney failure in early 2019. She provided an endless amount of love for the entire time we had her and showed me what a special needs cats could really do. We had to blend her food and she made a mess but now we miss the mess she used to make.
Lily is a cat I adopted and is a good example of how easily people can give up on shy cats. Every cat I have started out shy and scared – overlooked and almost put on a euthanasia list due to that shyness. They need more exposure and given more opportunities to shine.
Lily slept in her litter box at the shelter for months which probably pushed away people who might have adopted her if she did not sleep there. Unfortunately the shelter did not give her more appropriate hiding spaces or a bigger cage to improve her confidence.
One of the usual responses from the public to a cat hiding in a litter box who is not trained in cat behavior is that the cat has a problem or a defect. The litter box provided her with comfort because it smelled so much like her when compared to the rest of the cage but many people choose not to observe the scientific reason for something.
People are often quick to jump to judgement and the worst reason behind something like this. I fostered her because she was not doing well at the shelter and within 1 month she was my favorite cat that I had ended up fostering. I adopted her one week after the end of her foster period because I know that her adoptability was so low at this point.
Autumn was a kitten that came to us with a severe eye infection – one of the worst eye infections I have ever seen in a very long time. The veterinarian was scared that the infection would end up spreading to her brain and cause rapid death as as direct result of the infection. You can tell from this picture exactly how severe that infection was and how little time she might have had left. Eye injuries and infections are always an emergency and is nothing to ever be taken lightly.
Autumn had a recovery period of about one month on antibiotics and fluids to drive out any infection or dehydration from poor eating and drinking as a result of having he eye infection. She did very well given how little she was and how extreme of an infection she had. She had to wear a protective collar to stop her from scratching her eye. She had to have special ointment for 2 weeks too.
Frost was surrendered to us after he was found abandoned outside in extremely ill health in negative 20 degree weather. The children of the people who found him kept him warm in the winter storm by covering him up and providing the shelter he needed. There were some day that it was negative temperatures and the kids still went out and gave him warm blankets and food.
Frost came to us with bloody diarrhea, bloody vomiting, ear mites, round worms, hook worms, tape worms, renal insufficiency and a broken femur. Frost was treated with high quality drugs that treated the diarrhea and vomiting, put on a special renal diet and had a FHO. Pain medications were the first thing we did on his arrival to the rescue. The head of the femur was removed and we are allowing scar tissue to build a new head.
Frost is now our primary mascot for Cuddle Cat Rescue due to the extent of his previous injuries and the fact that he will need some high quality care during the rest of his life which includes a special diet and exercise regimens. Frost had so much going on he really should not have made it past the first week of being here. He did play daddy to some of the kittens and lived in the cage with them during his own recovery.
Frost still has limited mobility but he can actually run and jump anywhere that he wants to now. He received laser therapy sessions to help out and is on the food he needs for his renal health long term. I bought the laser therapy package personally for him. Frost still mothers many of the kittens that stay here at the rescue. He is my favorite.
We pulled Orion from a shelter that was housing him in a stainless steel cage with no covers. We visited the shelter strictly by chance because I was on a business training trip for our rescue. He was 4 pounds under his ideal weight, dehydrated and had severe ear mites. I knew from the moment that we met him that I could not leave him like that. Orion was vomiting and had terrible bloody diarrhea that we noticed on his second week at the rescue.
Orion was diagnosed with IBD and we gave him special food plus medications to get this under control. The ear mites required extra strong medicine. He eventually found a very good home for him to live the rest of his day. He has dementia and sometimes cannot make it to the box and has the occasional runny eye but other than that he lives a pretty happy life.
Aspen and Fezzie
We are huge advocates of FIV cats and FELV cats. It is sad that there are vets that want to euthanize every one of them. There needs to be more informed veterinarians and individuals about these conditions. We have rescued and adopted out 10 FIV cats since starting the rescue and happily take them. We have two up for adoption now at the rescue. I do not believe FIV or FELV cats should be put down unless they are in ill health.
We also pull feline leukemia kittens who have a chance of beating the infection. If the kitten is negative under 12 weeks old then we always retest several times and almost 99% of the time – the kittens beat the infection. With FIV kittens who were tested before 6 months – they often test negative on a retest done at the proper time. One way a shelter screws their kittens out of having a chance to live is by testing them too early and writing them as positive. I do not every blame the shelter if they are willing to send them to somewhere that is willing to help them. I truly get it that some shelters do not want to mess around with it.
Fezzie was the first FIV cat we took from the outdoors. He was one of the best cats we had. I would hold him every single day, pet him and harness walk him during out adoption events. It took approximately 3 months for him to find the perfect home where he would be treated as a king but it was 100% worth the work. He would bite anyone who touched him at first but he was matted. After that he was extremely friendly.
Aspen is our current FIV cat that is up for adoption. He had an ear abscess that had to be drained and a scrotal abscess that caused inflammation of the penis which made it hard to urinate. All of this was the result of bloody cat fights and a raccoon attack. He had to be hospitalized for a week. He is now healthy and up for adoption.
I think it is important that people realize that FIV cats can and often do live a full life with proper veterinary care and diet. Aspen loves kids and all people now. He is up for adoption now and I am sure he will find a home soon. Many FIV cats die due to ailments that are unrelated to the FIV status which means that many ailments are either preventable due to good nutrition and care or it is just poor luck of the draw.
Another FIV cat we just saved. He had entropion which is when the eyes roll inward which often causes the eye lashes to scratch the cornea. The matting of his fur was so bad that we had to entirely shave him down to nothing and his teeth were so rotten we had to do a full mouth extraction. He had round worms, tape worms and ear mites in addition to these conditions.
Sir Hershey just got out of surgery last week and is continuing to recover. He will be our shelter mascot along with Frost for as long as we are in operation. We love both Frost and Hershey – they are wonderful cats. He has a very large appetite even though he has no teeth. It is often the case the he is begging for a third can of food at night when he is only supposed to get 2 cans per day.
We believe that their care would be best managed with me since I am a veterinary technician and they really show people what our mission is about. I am actually happy that Hershey is the shelter mascot now. Him and Frost are best friends.
Ozark had a broken leg that needed 4 pins and she had to have a cast on for 8 weeks with limited activity for a full recovery. She is a special cat in that she took a ton of work to heal up properly. She still has to rest after long, strenuous activity which is to be expected. But she is often right back at it after she has rested up and is ready to burn off her large tank of energy.
We are all about saving limbs rather than jumping to amputation and I believe that is an important concept that separates us from other rescues or shelters in some areas. We had another cat who had nerve damage to his arm and two vets recommended amputation but our primary vet recommended steroids and an exercise regimen to help get it some feeling back. The old college try panned out well and that cat is now happy and in a home with all four legs.
We even went through the effort of changing Ozark’s bandage twice weekly because she was so hyper that she managed to tip over hanging water bowls which made the bandage wet. Bandages have to be changed when wet. We even rushed 20 miles to a veterinary clinic to change it when it got wet on a Sunday.
Ozark now jumps and runs everywhere without any restrictions like she did with the bandage on. The other day she jumped in the air about 6 feet and did what looked like a flip. She did manage to sprain her leg when she jumped weird but the vet said her leg will get stronger with time and the sprain did not do any long term damage.
She is making up for lost time obviously because she is about as hyper as a 8 week old kitten exploring life for the very first time. She is a very special cat to us as every cat is but her personality and not afraid of anything lifestyle is encouraging.
Mocha is the very first cat that we had a specialist look at to confirm a medical condition about 100 miles from where we live. She has melonoma of her eye which had discolored it brown. The vet said it will never impact her health since it is slow growing.
Mocha has had significant trouble finding a home because she is black and people see this discolored eye and run. Plus being seven years old is another strike against her. I am hoping she finds a home eventually since she has been here for 6 months. She really is my favorite cat at the rescue. She sleeps with me, gives me hugs and is an overall awesome parrot cat and asks me to carry her around when cleaning.
Enrichment and Entertainment
We understand the special need of every cat and tailor our rescue operations to best the specific needs of every cat that comes into our rescue. We take care of them as if they were our own. We are devoted to taking optimal care of every cat we bring into our rescue. We provide the opportunity to rest on the ground or up high, scratch on a variety of surfaces, exercise several times a day if they have to be caged and new experiences so they do not get bored. Everything from cat running wheels to puzzle feeding and catnip activities.
We never provide a cage lower than 4 square feet but really try to aim for 10 square feet per cat when we can because we want to make sure the cats are happy and have plenty to do throughout the day. It is almost criminal to give only 3 square feet to a cat or growing kitten. It causes stress which causes illness. Space to perform species typical behavior is key to happiness. If you do only provide 3 then you need to have kuranda beds and toys. We never want to be a like shelter who houses all of their cats in a 3 square foot stainless steel cage for their entire life.
We do live videos from time to time and had a phone controlled treat shooter and live camera that we are working on integrating into our new location once we have internet. I am a product reviewer for some popular pet companies so get to try some of the latest toys. The most recent one I tried was a remote control mouse with a tail that can make in many different directions and has the capability to hold up to 30 different tails. It can also go into automatic mode if you are busy.
Overall I think elevated space is the most important element we can offer our cats at the rescue and the ability to scratch when they need to exercise. This is the reason we are raising money for kuranda beds. At $30 a cage we will need a total of 16 to 20.
Our first project is the kuranda bed project where we will give every cat a kuranda bed so they can be elevated off the ground. In kitten play rooms we will end up having 6 to 9 nest cat towers so every cat has a place to lay down comfortably and rest. We just ordered 16 elevated beds this week. Scratch pads are being added to every single cage at the exact same time for maximum enrichment.
Our second project is to finish up the final design of our building. I obtained our license to operate in our new location which is expected to around $800 a month with utilities and rent being factored in. The actual rent is $300 per month. This price is very affordable for us but still hard for a small non-profit to do on some months. We are also always needing volunteers at our location. We ideally want to integrate the use of a few bigger enclosures for the cats who tend to not do well in a cage like setting.
We just finished painting and putting down linoleum in our two spare rooms which are now roaming rooms. One will be a kitten room and the other will be an adult cat room. Right now they are both kittens rooms due to the big amount of kittens we have. I am hoping this will give each cat the exercise they need and improve adoption rates for them. The more space a cat has the more they can act their best and look their best.
Our third project is to look into a cheap spay/neuter option for Hannibal that we could help put on once a year. We contacted Mizzou university and they are working on the plans of sending a spay/neuter van. First we are trying to track down grants that we can apply for and win. The details are far from finished but we are looking into this possibility.
We have a ton of projects but we will have to hash out the details before we release anything concrete. We are always looking for ways to do more for the cats here at the rescue and beyond. One important program I am working on is a cat retention program since I am a cat behaviorist. I help each cat stay in their home by providing behavior solutions and strategies to improve the human-animal bond. It is really about the human better understanding their cat’s needs and finding creative ways to meet those needs.
Tiny But Mighty
We originally did not plan to start a cat rescue. It was nothing even on our radar. We just wanted to help a hand full of cats from the shelter but we started to realize that there were a myriad of cats who had treatable health problems but were deemed not treatable, injuries and behavior problems that we had the knowledge to help alleviate that no one else did have. There was a large need that was not being met here in Hannibal. The original team that started the whole thing included me, Janet Matson and Caroline Mcintosh.
We also started to learn just how many cats were euthanized when they were wrongly assessed as aggressive in other towns and other states but were really just shy or scared. I will admit we barely get everything done every day with our small team and it is stressful but if we did not do it, no one else has the amount of drive around here that Janet and I do – along with our close knit team of volunteers and the community who is backing us in every endeavor we take.
This is a small community where everyone knows everyone which in my opinion is great – but it can be hard to secure funding for big projects since some organizations see us as too small to help. We have since expanded our board of directors to include other members of the community. We would be nothing without our loyal volunteers and highly skilled help which extends to our two veterinarians that we use – Hannibal Veterinary Clinic and Advanced Veterinary Clinic.
It is important to realize that finding one cat a home can start a domino effect – the cat makes the person happy and they have the will power to do more in their life. I survived depression because of my cats and have improved significantly with aspergers since working with cats. Below is a few more notable medical cases we took care of. Urinary blockage was probably the most expensive which is the last picture if you see how big the bladder is.
We got our rescue license so we could have the power over what treatment each cat got, when and how that treatment was carried out and maintained. The treatment plan initiated for some of the cats at various shelters was junk to say the least. I started the cat rescue – in essence, because I strongly believe in the gold standard for each cat or at least very close to that. I never believe in bare bones, just meeting the minimum and calling it good enough to go home. That will never fly with me and will get you fired.
We hope to operate for a long time but right now is make or break it time for our cat rescue. We had no actual overhead expenses while operating at the house but that is no longer feasible. Our own cats were getting upset, people do not like going into a house to adopt a cat, the neighbors were getting offended, the city wanted us to operate from an industrial location and we had too many cats to fit comfortably. Our neighbor almost shut us down and constantly threatened to report us for operating in our house which was not illegal but she wanted to see us suffer.
We will need to secure at least $800 a month to remain open for the public and to keep helping out cats in our community and surrounding towns. Renting the building space is approximately $300. This offer was extremely generous of the owner to do for us because we have very little left over some months after medical bills. But we also have to pay utilities and keep the heat or air conditioning on as needed.
I have donated a ton of my own money to keep this rescue stay open which keeps us afloat on some months when we have many expenses – especially unexpected expenses that come out of nowere. What really helps is manufacturer discounts and shelter programs that make medications cheaper than buying from a veterinarian directly. Zoeitis is the most helpful one where we can get vaccines for 80% off.
If we do not make it at the building then I do not know what would happen. We would likely have to lower our amount of cats that we can take because we would not have any other choice since we would have to operate from our home again. The reality is that our city needs us, the cats need us and we need the ability to help these cats. With the proper volunteer base and donation base – I know it can happen.
We have a few programs that we have pioneered here in Hannibal too. I assist with behavior cases at the rescue and from residents that have a cat that might be having behavior problems. I do complete and comprehensive consultations because I hate to see a dearly loved cat surrendered to a shelter when it could have been prevented. I cover anything from spraying to full out aggression. I have saved countless cats from being surrendered by simply being there and offering advice plus logical behavior solutions.
My specialty is disinfection, taming feral kittens, cat to cat aggression, cat to people aggression and inappropriate urination cases. I also get separation anxiety, pica (cat eats everything), excessive vocalization at night, clawing furniture and so on. This is just one of our programs. We have a seniors for seniors cat program and are working on being able to bring our mascot cat to nursing homes and schools.
Our rescue have always told people that it takes whatever it takes to save a sick or dying cat. Even if means that you sacrifice time, feed kittens at the same time you are trying to do a dozen other things and running specialized equipment like nebulizers. Because there is no giving up where I come from until it is clear that all options have been explored. No excuses. Two of board members even walked into the house of a hoarder to save starving and crying kittens and into a dangerous ditch to save a kitten that was hissing like crazy. There was mice and rats everywhere – it was just nuts according to the two brave souls who did everything in their power to save them.
I believe that I speak for our entire team when I say that I would rather try to high five the sky and fall flat on my face than to have never tried and regretted not ever trying. Regret over not helping out or taking the risk to do something great is almost the worst feeling you can have in my opinion. It is kind of like how it is better to love and lose that love than have never loved at all. All I ever ask is for people to try their damnedest. We have had some cats that were barely holding on that transitioned into super cat – a shining star of their previous self with TLC and highly skilled veterinary support.
So any help, donations, volunteer work or words of encouragement go a long way towards keeping the dream alive. We would be nothing without our team, board of directors, volunteers, donators and everyone else who has pitched into our rescue in some meaningful way. Last year our veterinary bill was $11000. That covered upper respiratory disease cases, diarrhea cases, eye infections, eye removals, leg repairs, leg amputations, skin conditions, abscess repairs and so on. Every cat matters and as long as we are in business we will make sure that mantra is followed to a tee.