Vancouver area felines hit the jackpot

Black and white medium-hair cat lying on a shelf
Cats of all kinds benefit from Rachael Ray Save Them All Grant to Humane Society of Southwest Washington
By Liz Finch

It’s fair to say that Michelle Reeves is a big fan of felines. Whether they’re fluffy Persians perched on a pillow in front of a roaring fireplace or scruffy, big-cheeked tomcats surveying the neighborhood from their outdoor perches, Michelle is all about them. That’s a good thing, because as the animal care supervisor and member of the cat team at Humane Society for Southwest Washington (HSSW) in Vancouver, Michelle plays a big role in saving the lives of more than 2,000 cats each year. And despite all that success, she is always looking to do even more for the cats in her community.

Although HSSW was saving an impressive 88% of all kitties entering the shelter as of 2020, that wasn’t enough for her. Specifically, she wanted to help more cats by expanding the shelter’s trap-neuter-vaccinate-return (TNVR) program.

[Community Cats : Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR)]

“Across the country, TNVR is the most humane, safe, cost-effective, long-term way to manage community cats, also known as stray or outdoor cats,” Michelle says. “It keeps them from being killed in shelters, reduces the population and creates safe, healthy communities for cats and people.”

When Best Friends presented HSSW with a $44,750 Rachael Ray Save Them All Grant to support its TNVR program in 2022, Michelle was over the moon.

“Getting these funds meant we could now take cats who aren’t the best candidates for our adoption program and fast-track them through the shelter,” she says. “We get them (spayed or neutered) quickly and return them to their neighborhood so they are not staying in the shelter any longer than absolutely necessary.”

Thanks to these funds, the save rate for cats at HSSW so far this year is more than 90%, which is great news for Persians, cheeky tomcats and everything in between.

Funding drives up lifesaving for felines

Finding positive outcomes for community cats is something the staff at HSSW has long wanted, but prior to 2016, returning them to their outdoor homes simply wasn’t an option. “At that time there was an ordinance in unincorporated Clark County as well as in the city of Vancouver, which are our two biggest jurisdictions, that prevented cats from legally being re-released,” says Megan Dennis, HSSW’s vice president of shelter operations. “If they weren’t friendly or we didn’t have someone willing to adopt them as working or barn cats, we had no choice but to euthanize them.”

[5 animal shelters with soaring cat save rates]

HSSW frequently found lifesaving options for those kitties anyway, and eventually the shelter was able to sponsor a bill to get rid of the ordinance preventing cats from being returned to where they were found. That helped HSSW reach the 88% save rate, and then it just had to secure the funding to help reach that final goal of saving every eligible cat. That's where the Rachael Ray Save Them All Grant comes in.

The grant is making it possible for HSSW to work in conjunction with Humane Society of Cowlitz County in Longview, Washington (41 miles north of Vancouver), and West Columbia Gorge Humane Society in Washougal, Washington (17 miles east of Vancouver) on several strategies to save the lives of at least 335 cats and kittens. That includes spay/neuter, vaccinations, returning cats to their original locations and veterinary care for such conditions as ringworm or panleukopenia.

“Cats are very resourceful,” Megan says. “We’re putting them on even better footing because they are vaccinated, dewormed and (spayed or neutered). And with funds to put toward other types of medical conditions, we’ve been able to bring in more cats from our partner organizations.”

“It’s paramount to find ways to invest in communities that are creating positive outcome pathways for our nation's most at-risk cats in a shelter system,” says Kaylee Hawkins, director of Best Friends Animal Society’s Pacific region. “What really sealed the deal with HSSW is that they are also extending these lifesaving services to shelter partner organizations in need, creating a new precedent for saving feline lives in the Southwest Washington area.”

A guaranteed ticket back home

Since being awarded the grant, HSSW has had cause to celebrate a number of joyful outcomes for cats who just a few years ago didn’t have options. This includes a couple of boys who are veritable poster children for that “cheeky tomcat” moniker. One of them is a red tabby who became the first to be released in 2022 after he was humanely trapped, neutered and vaccinated.

“With other routine vet treatments and neutering, he was medically cleared to head home by day five, however,” she continues. “Now that he is neutered, he is far less likely to engage in territory disputes with other males and less likely to obtain injuries in the future.”

Michelle also has fond memories of the appropriately named Cheeky Charlie, who spent 17 days at HSSW getting medical care. Although the staff tried to befriend him, this jumbo-sized boy wasn’t having it.

[Chubby cheeks are cute on babies, but they’re also adorable on cats]

“Once our vets gave medical clearance to release him, he was returned to his habitat where his caretakers will be able to watch over him from a distance while he lives his best life,” says Michelle.

Though some people question why HSSW puts so many resources into cats who are under-socialized and not house cats. Michelle says they are still individuals with needs.

“We strive to meet the needs of every individual cat in our community, no matter if they’re the perfect lap kitty or one who prefers not to be friends with humans,” she says. “The beauty of an animal is not always being able to interact with them, but rather to live in harmony beside them. Now we can make that happen for every cat in our jurisdiction.”

Interested in helping a furry friend?

Fostering can help people and pets alike. If you would like information on how to get involved, please contact your local shelter.

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