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Norwich Bulletin - 12/31/2006

Memories Of A Decade

It was over ten years ago when my husband and I became rescuers after Clint found two little white kittens in a tire on the hospital grounds where he worked. We became mothers of ten day old babies. Clint had never had pets of his own before we were married and these were "our" first rescues together.

We began doing a public television show called "Pet Talk" for both Adelphia and Comcast. We had a great time finding guest speakers, going out on the road and featuring dogs and cats that needed homes. We became foster parents for an animal rescue organization and I have to admit we were not very good at it at first. In fact, we kept our first thirteen rescue cats, naming our last Baker, for our bakerís dozen. It was at that time we had a reality check.

It was obvious that we could not be a foster home if we were not going to adopt our rescues out. As hard as it was, that was the point we made our rescue rules; there are great homes available for rescues and we learned to say no. When we were full, we refused to take more cats in, when we were broke we did not take cats in because we could not pay the vet bills, and we never kept a cat because no one else wanted it. I am proud to say that we have placed every cat we have ever brought into our home unless we chose to keep it.

About a year into being foster parents we decided to begin our own rescue organization. My then twelve year old daughter drew our logo, we filed our internal revenue paperwork and Helping Paws was born. I even begged a city newspaper to let me write a weekly column for free, just to get known to the general public.

Oh, the plans we had! Forty three acres of land was given to Helping Paws in order to start a sanctuary. It needed tons of work and the buildings were in a state of disrepair, but we were certain we could do it. All that land, our big dreams and absolutely no money but we dove into it.

As we grew in reputation and size, our expenses also grew and there was no money able to be saved for the needed sanctuary construction. All our funds went to immediate vet bills and living expenses for our rescues, both dogs and cats. We did large scale rescues. The first was the Thanksgiving all of our volunteers were at our home for dinner when we got the call from a local pound that forty seven cats had been found in a cage in the woods. We took them all and called the press. We were asked by one of the larges cat registries to facilitate a rescue of sixty five Turkish Angoras. We took them all and called the press. We did numerous scientific laboratory rescues. We took them all and called the press. In fact, the press became our best friends as we found homes for every one of these cats in record time.

September 11th brought hard times to our country. We wanted to help but none of us had the knowledge to physically partake in the rescue mission. So we went to New York City and took 100 cats and 20 dogs that had lost their families in the tragedy. Each animal we took was rehomed in record time.

It was around that time that Helping Paws decided to become a cat only rescue organization. We had lost our main dog foster homes and had nowhere to put them anymore. So we cultivated more cat people and started to specialize in cats. Clint and had discovered the cat fancy shortly after we were married and we both became show judges. We studied cat behavior and began to offer counseling so people could solve problems and keep their cats.

So many years, so many cats. Helping Paws is proud to say over 3.000 cats and kittens have gotten homes (and altered) through our organization. But it has taken it toll on our volunteers. Last year after a very successful silent auction, our board members voted to change our mission. We no longer physically take in cats as our major way of helping. We are raising money to purchase vouchers in order to aid people who take in strays, are limited financially, or working with feral cat colonies. We take on food drives for the people who care for colonies all year round. We put rescue cats on our website and help place them but the person who calls us must be the foster home. We do have a limited number of cats we take in, but these are mostly from our local animal control officers.

Helping Paws has had major breakthroughs in the last ten years. Our land has been given to a group of young, capable people to realize the dream of a sanctuary one day. We still do behavior counseling and I actually get paid for writing my column now! I have been on radio talk shows and continue to host major fundraisers. We are the recipient of PETCO grants every year and we are part of the feral cat population control program through the State. Although we have suffered great sadness and loss at times, we have many, many happy memories and success stories to our credit in the last decade.

Thanks to all who have helped make Helping Paws what it is. Those of you who send your dollars to help the homeless cats, those of you who care for the feral cats that will never have a family, and those of you who have adopted from us, or rescued a stray on your own. Although our path has changed a bit, we still look forward to the next ten years and hope to give aid and comfort as we can.

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