Adoption program matches people with older cats

Published on Thu, Jul 8, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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Walking up to Joy Moore’s Birch Bay home, one might notice the series of elaborate chutes winding down from her windows, under the stairs and into the back of the house.

The tunnels aren’t for laundry, but to allow her ever-fluctuating number of cats to go inside and outside and access a large, enclosed feline jungle gym without her assistance.

Inside the house, cats such as “Ruthie,” a gray tabby who is recovering from a fractured hip she sustained in a car accident, or “Mystique,” an all-black, long-haired cat who had lived in a cage for nearly two months, pop their heads in and out of the multitude of cat doors that dot the walls, and walk along strategically-placed carpeted ramps.

Moore, now retired, is a volunteer foster “parent” for cats through the Whatcom Humane Society (WHS) and also a volunteer for the Whatcom Education Spay and Neuter Impact Program (WESNIP), a non-profit organization that offers free and low-cost spay and neutering to pets with owners who qualify.

Moore said she started fostering cats – jokingly referring to her house as “Kitty Kollege” – in 2004 after her husband died in a car accident. For her, it was a way to cope with the loss.

”It was too lonely in the house,” she said. “I don’t think I would have survived if I hadn’t started fostering.”

Moore said she currently fosters 11 cats. Although she said she has housed up to 20 cats at a time, she now tries to keep that number under a dozen to give herself more time to volunteer with WESNIP. She adopted her 150th cat, Eric, two weeks ago.

Many of the cats adopted out are taken by older adults, such as Lorraine Carrie, 89, of Bellingham, a dementia patient who resides at The Courtyard, a care facility in Bellingham.

Since she adopted Juliet, her family as well as Courtyard staff said they noticed a huge improvement in her demeanor.

“It’s made a huge difference,” said her daughter, Lindsay Reid. “My mother was very active and independent, and so it was a hard transition to a care facility. The first six months was a complete nightmare. She was yelling and screaming ‘get me out of here!’ but when we brought the cat in, she became less and less agitated and the staff said they immediately saw an effect on her.”

“I think it’s very enlightened of The Courtyard to have animals,” she said.

WHS currently houses about 60 foster cats in 23 homes throughout the county. Their “Young At Heart” program offers discounts to adults over 55 when they adopt an animal older than five years, dropping the adoption cost from $115 to $55. That fee includes spay or neutering, shots, a microchip and a veterinary exam.

Emily Wyss, WHS’s adoption program coordinator, said often times older cats make a better adoption choice.
“A lot of people come in thinking they want kittens but when you really talk to them you find out what they’re really looking for is an adult cat,” she said. “You really know what you’re getting with an adult cat.”

A growing problem

WESNIP co-founder Patricia Maass said their program neutered or spayed about 5,700 animals in the last two years and works closely with the Humane Society to place animals in appropriate homes.

She said between the organization’s foster care program and WESNIP’s spay and neuter program, this saved more than 500 cats from euthanization in 2009, but with female cats breeding an average of three times a year with an average of four kittens per litter, the feral cat problem is growing exponentially.

“While we don’t have the exact numbers, there were 300 less cats euthanized in 2008 and we only worked half a year that year,” she said. “We worked the entire year in 2009 so we fully expect to see quite a difference in the euthanasia rate at the Whatcom Humane Society at the end of 2010.”

Moore said WHS is always looking for more foster homes in Whatcom County, but until more kittens are spayed and neutered, feral animals will continue to be a problem.

“As long as they continue to breed, without an aggressive low or no-cost spay and neutering program, you could have a gazillion foster homes and it wouldn’t be enough,” she said. “There’s a guy in the county who was putting his kittens in the freezer. We can make those people out to be bad but the reality is they don’t know what to do. That and when people are struggling with issues such as extreme poverty, a lack of information and a lack of resources such as transportation, their priorities are going to be different.”

Those looking to adopt an animal can fill out an adoption application at the Whatcom Humane Society’s office at 3710 Williamson Way in Bellingham or online at www.whatcomhumane.org.

Other animal resources

• The Whatcom Humane Society rescues stray and abandoned animals and offers assistance to qualifying low-income pet owners. Their phone number is 733-2080.

• The Whatcom Alternative Humane Society is a volunteer non-profit organization that practices a no-kill philosophy. They can be reached by calling 671-7445.

• Old Dog Haven rescues homeless and abandoned senior dogs and helps them find new homes. They are located in Arlington and can be reached by calling 360/653-0311.

• The Grey Muzzle Foundation rescues homeless and abandoned senior dogs and helps them find new homes. Their website is http://greymuzzle.org.