The call came last month at a time when we were completely full in every one of our foster homes. Eight kittens, three cats, two mother cats with young babies - could we take them? I had been saying no to people for weeks because adoptions were down and donations at a standstill.
But these cats were from my own town and had been rescued by our animal control officer - we couldn't say no. And so we dug in our heels, made a bunch of calls, and now have lots more kitties who need homes this month.
Helping Paws has been in existence for almost nine years. During this time we have struggled to help people from many areas of Connecticut, as well as participate in the September 11th New York City rescues. We have taken animals from Puerto Rico in the past, as well as assisted in some very large out of state and in state rescues.
But the most important rescues, the most important place to Helping Paws is, of course, our own backyard. New London County, the Norwich area and first and foremost, my hometown and where Helping Paws main "office" is located, Colchester.
There was a time when Don Favry, Colchester's animal control officer, and I didn't talk to each other. As I look back, it was definitely both our faults because we had preconceived notions about the other, and we are both, well, a bit stubborn (Actually I am stubborn, Don is curmudgeonly). We made incorrect assumptions - stereotyped each other without ever putting forth an effort to work together.
A few years ago, I decided I didn't like the way the local towns did not give aid to people with cat problems. When people called me, the first thing they would say is the local animal control or pound would not help them because they don't deal with cats.
There are no laws on the books about taking care of your cat, except to insure they have a rabies shot. Cats are abandoned and left outside to fend for themselves all the time - and no-one cares except a small handful of organizations with very little money to do anything about the bulk of the cats. They are usually not altered (or they are altered AND declawed), and left to their own devices to find food and shelter wherever they can. Something needed to be done somewhere, and where better to start then in my own town of twenty years?
I wrote to our First Selectwoman, Jenny Contois, and requested a meeting with her and Don Favry. I was pretty certain I would be turned down - but I wasn't. That meeting was the best thing that ever happened to the cats of Colchester. I found out that the three of us actually had a lot of the same beliefs! Injured cats, abandoned, abused or neglected cats that needed help would now be able to get some relief with the Town and Helping Paws working together.
When the Town feels it is appropriate to undertake a cat rescue, the animal(s) are brought to Colchester Vet where they are assessed by two of the vets. Then I am called. The Town and I have worked out a mutually beneficial financial arrangement that allows Helping Paws to take the cats into the organization.
Neither one of us is solely responsible for the entire veterinary cost, and this makes it affordable for Colchester and the organization to be able to help cats who would otherwise remain homeless. We do not take people's pets and, of course, we can't take them all - for instance, I have nowhere to put feral cats so that precludes me from accepting non-adoptable cats. However, there have been several cases where we have been able to take the kittens from feral colonies at a young age and turn them into great little pets!
I would like to encourage other groups to approach their Town or City with a plan to start helping the cats. It's time for all of us to start looking outside the box and try to find ways to help each other, thereby helping the animals. I was amazed at what was accomplished at my first meeting with Jenny and Don and the result has been nothing but positive.
In two years we have placed about fifty Colchester cats by working together. While it is true, there are many we were not able to take, the fact is we have started to make a difference. It's also important to approach your Mayor or Selectperson in a positive manner - its no use accusing each other of what hasn't been done - its much better to find out what can be done from the day of your meeting on. Dwelling in the past doesn't do anyone any good, especially the cats.
This column is to send out kudos to Jenny Contois and Don Favry in their willingness to look outside the box with me - as well as a challenge to other groups and towns to do the same!
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