Time is running out for animal rescue group S.A.V.E. as they try to find permanent adoption homes for 11 cats owned by a lady who is battling cancer.
"She's in a hospital, in extended care," said Joan Pickersgill, a member of Safe And Victorious Endings (SAVE).
"We're hoping there are 11 families out there who would like to give a home to one of these animals... so their owner can know that her cats are in good homes. She is in a hospital fighting for her life."
SAVE got involved in the long-term rescue through Norwich Veterinary Services where they keep an account.
"Kaye (Magee) was there in June," said Pickersgill, "and someone at the clinic asked her if we would be able to help a lady who had terminal cancer, and had a number of cats."
Kaye Magee asked Pickersgill, who lived closer to the cat owner, to investigate.
"There were more than 30 cats," said Pickersgill.
About half were indoor cats, half outdoors. And one dog – a white shepherd.
"She (the owner) knew her time was limited and she wanted to make sure the animals were in good homes. So we committed to helping her out."
"When we make a commitment, we stick to it as best we can," said Magee.
Knowing the rescue was larger than they could handle themselves, SAVE reached out to a number of other rescue organizations. Ideally, they wanted assistance from four or five groups, each taking four or five cats.
"If that happens, we're good" said Pickersgill. "But we couldn't get them to work with us. They just said 'we're full.' It was the first of June, and that's right in kitten season. Every rescue is in the same boat. It's not that they don't want to help, they're all the same. They're full.
"I reached out to every rescue between Windsor and Toronto – I said I'll bring them to you. We'll get them vet checked, get them tested. These were already spayed or neutered... and in most cases they aren't. And the one rescue that responded was Purrfect Companions of Norfolk."
Purrfect Companions' Caitlin Fulton took one of the cats, Jasmine, injured by a car, and Cody, the four-year-old dog, home to foster.
"They were able to raise enough funds through their website – almost $2,500 – for these two animals. He got a home several months later in Ottawa, and the cat was adopted after surgery. They also had enough money left over after those two were looked after to provide us with a vaccine and wormer for the rest of the cats in the house."
Purrfect Companions also later took seven cats and found homes for them.
"Wonderful, wonderful group of people," said Pickersgill.
"So out of all those cats, there's only 11 left now out of more than 30," said Magee.
How did so many cats accumulate in one home?
"She rescued the cats," said Pickersgill. "It started out with a litter of kittens in the parking lot at work. One of them was run over and she took the other four home. Then somebody put a basket of kittens in her truck at work."
When people realized she liked cats, they started dropping them off at the front door.
"She did have a problem. She couldn't let them go, she didn't try to find them homes. She was a collector, in a way, and it became a problem. She had too many and it wasn't fair to them. You can't provide properly for 35 cats. But she really did the best she could do for them... until the last few months at least, until her health got bad.
"I really need a hundred sets of hands because these cats all want so much loving. Because they miss it."
If you are interested in adopting one of the SAVE rescue cats, which range in age from 4-5 years to eight years, contact Pickersgill at 519-586-3277 or 519-429-1419 for more information. They only accept 'indoor' environments.
"The cats are also available for adoption (one at a time) at Pet Valu in the Norfolk Mall. Lana Paton – a wonderful person – has adopted cats for our organization since she got the store/franchise," said Pickersgill, noting the adoption fee is quite reasonable. "It'll be three years in March."
Potential owners are screened at Pet Valu, and are required to fill out a questionnaire.
"Rarely do we have to take any of them back because they are screened so well," Pickersgill noted.
You can also contact Norwich Veterinary Services (519-863-3836). Photos of each cat have been posted on Norwich Veterinary Services' Facebook page in an effort to find homes.
When the cats needed rabies shots SAVE was able to take advantage of low-cost rabies clinics through Norwich Veterinary Services.
"Dr. (Christine) Barnes on her day off came to the house, rather than us having to transport all the cats. We had 18 cats at that time that needed a shot, and we got 12 of them that day (Oct. 2). She let us bring the rest of them Saturday morning to the clinic, so we got four more. So 16 out of 18 were vaccinated at $20, as opposed to having to pay an office visit. It saved us $800 by her willingness to do it on her day off."
SAVE takes advantage of a summer discount for spays and neuters at Norwich Veterinary Service when done by fourth-year veterinary students.
"I think they're the only clinic in the area that does that," said Pickersgill.
Norwich Veterinary Services has also directed several pet memorial donations to SAVE, as well as hosting a SAVE jar.
"It's a jar that says 'SAVE, have a heart, help local animals with their vet bills.' I also have one at O'Grady Insurance in Delhi, two in Port Rowan, and one at Pet Valu (Norfolk Mall)," said Magee.
If anyone would like to make a donation directly to the SAVE account, said Pickersgill, they can do it at Norwich Veterinary Services.
"And if some people have food or litter that they would like to donate, I know that people can drop it off at Norwich Vet or Pet Valu if they want to help out."
Each of the adopted cats were tested for two major diseases that affect cats – FeLV and FIV – either by SAVE or the adopting families. All of them tested negative. As of Sept. 1, only 12 of the cats were left in the house.
In September, however, they brought 'Red,' an older outdoor cat, inside. Its FeLV and FIV tests were both negative. But Red needed dental surgery and neutering before he could be adopted, estimated at $400-700.
"We took him in the 24th of November to have the surgery on the 25th," said Pickersgill, noting Red was re-tested at that time. This time the tests registered positive for FIV, and facing large vet bills with small chance of being adopted, Red was euthanized.
Pickersgill's niece in Port Rowan, who had been accepting $10-50 donations on Red's behalf to help with surgery costs, had collected almost $200, which Pickersgill said should be returned.
"Not only did they not want it back, they started donating more money."
The plan was to test each of the remaining 11 cats at a cost of $65 each before adoption. SAVE would re-test them again after six months. Four cats were tested Dec. 4, four on Dec. 8, and the last three were scheduled Dec. 11.
In the meantime, they are trying to find homes for the 11 cats. It's not an option, she stressed, they have to... for the owner battling cancer.
"They all appear healthy, they're showing no signs.... If a cat has FIV, the only way they can give it to another animal is either biting or mating. These cats are not aggressive. They are very friendly cats, they're not the least bit aggressive. I've been visiting them for the past six months and I've never seen a fight, never seen a sign of a fight."
"The beautiful thing is they're all sociable," Magee nodded. "They are all socialized."
FIV is not a disease that affects humans. Or other pets like dogs. Many cats can live their whole lives with it, said Pickersgill, up to 15 years, and never get sick.
"If people are going to have an 'only' pet, then have one of these. If you already have a cat who is FIV positive, get him a buddy. If you have cats and you have any questions or concerns, contact your vet."
SAVE is an acronym for Safe And Victorious Endings, primarily focusing on adoptions for older cats, as well as handicapped animals.
"Sometimes other rescues will be able to find homes for kittens and younger animals," said Pickersgill. "But if an animal has one eye, or lost a leg... if it has epilepsy or diabetes, they can't. So we'll help them out. Sometimes we can do a swap – they'll take five younger, healthy animals that we get, and we'll take one or two of theirs that are older – five or six or seven years.
"People have come to know what we do, and they've come from as far away as Windsor, because they don't want kittens."