By Joseph Robertia
Despite that last fall voters approved the borough to exercise animal-control powers and intervene in animal rescues, funding for the measure was not approved and borough-wide animal control remains in limbo. Animal shelters in Kenai, Soldotna, and Homer serve their respective cities, but they can’t do much for cats and dogs outside city limits, and their space and financial resources are stretched thin managing the animal intakes they deal with annually.
“I wanted there to be another option,” said Julie Furgason, of Kenai.
Six months ago, Furgason created a local branch of the Clear Creek Cat Rescue organization. In that time her new branch has found homes or staved off euthanasia for 25 cats and 12 kittens.
Originally begun six years ago to help find homes for cats of the Mat-Su Animal Shelter, the organization has grown to rescue cats in need on the Kenai Peninsula, giving them care and rehabilitation, and working to find forever homes.
“We needed more options for shelter and feral cats here,” Furgason said. “The city shelters do a great job, but they’re limited to working in city limits. There’s no boroughwide animal control to help cats in need or to enforce spaying and neutering outside the cities,” she said.
The Kenai Animal Shelter will take in animals from outside city limits, but doing can mean an overcapacity of cats. When that happens room must be made, through euthanasia or, now, by placing cats with rescue groups like CCCR.
“The shelters are great at working with rescues, and we take in cats from both the local shelters, as well as those from Homer, Anchorage and the Mat-Su,” Furgason said.
Jessica Hendrickson, chief animal control officer at the Kenai shelter, agreed that rescues like CCCR help when the numbers swell.
“We had seven kittens brought in today alone and we have three litters of kittens — 14 total — here already, so rescues do serve a purpose, and it’s great when people will come forward and foster. We have a good relationship with (CCCR) and other rescues and we’re fortunate they have the capabilities to do what they do,” Hendrickson said.
But CCCR doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar facility. They are a group of individuals facing the problem of having more cats in need of homes than there are fosters with which to put them.
“We don’t have a building. We operate by signing up foster families for the cats, and we desperately need more. We have six right now, but some of them can only take in one cat at a time or will only take in kittens,” Furgason said.
Carol Patti, of Kasilof, is one of those fosters. She’s a lifelong animal lover and had volunteered and fostered for shelters for years but felt compelled to do more. She wanted there to be more foster slots for cats, so she decided to set an example by taking more into her home.
“There are so many cats down here on the Kenai. It’s hard. A lot need to be spayed and neutered, some just need more time and places to go to be evaluated so they can find a home, and the help just isn’t coming in as fast as needed,” she said.
Patti was fostering three 7-week old kittens in August. She said the key to success is to earn a cat’s trust. She’ll get down on the floor and talk to them, use blinks rather than stares, tempt them with toys orwhatever it takes.
“Some are friendly right from the start, but some hide under the bed and it takes time to socialize them. They’re scared and need to be worked with. You have to let them know no one is going to hurt them,” she said.
Patti said that this training helps socialize them to people, particularly since cats that stay in shelters too long can get “kennel crazy” from their confinement and minimal socialization.
As important as the human element is, Patti said it’s also important to distinguish between cats that will tolerate living in a home with other felines. For this task, she has three adult cats, including her ambassador cat, a snowshoe Siamese named Alex.
“The new cats will come up to him and hiss but he’ll just meow at them and back up. He lets them know he’s there but he doesn’t push. He lets them know they can come out at their own pace and that makes them feel safe. He’s done a lot,” she said.
While Alex enjoys meeting the new cats that temporarily reside at the Patti residence, she said her other two cats are not so enthusiastic.
“They distance themselves. If the kittens are downstairs, they stay upstairs,” she said.
Patti has a lattice set up to give the cats their own space. She also has a 14-by-60-foot outdoor run she constructed out of old fishing net.
“It’s all part of treating them like a pet, making them part of it all and letting them be a part of everything going on,” she said.
Treating a foster like a pet is not without challenge, though, Patti said. It can be emotionally difficult when the cat does finds a home.
“You get attached, but you tell yourself they’re going to a good place and hopefully a forever home, and that’s rewarding,” she said.
While proud of the work CCCR and fosters like Patti have already done, Furgason said they need more volunteers to meet the numbers of cats at shelters and outside city limits. This could include those willing to foster, but also volunteers for to host adoption fairs, transport cats from place to place, take pictures and post ads on various adoption sites and, of course, offer financial help.
“We operate 100 percent on donations, but with that we take care of all the medical expenses, such as vaccinations, micro-chipping, and spaying and neutering. Fosters just need to provide a safe place, food, water and a litter box,” she said.
For those looking to add a cat permanently, CCCR’s adoption fee is $60.