Pet Parents Day Painting Party Supports WPHS!

western pennsylvania humane society logo

WPHS logo

First of all, HAPPY PET PARENTS DAY this Sunday to all those lucky enough to share their lives with loving animal companions.

Second, celebrate Pet Parents Day AND help the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society with ceramics for the Pittsburgh Pet Parents Day Painting Party! Celebrate your best friend while helping other pets find their forever homes.

As a fundraiser for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, Heal from Pet Loss and Color Me Mine are hosting a painting party on Sunday, April 29 from noon to 6 PM.

color me mine logo

Color Me Mine logo.

Paint a cool food bowl, treat jar, picture frame or memorial plaque for your special animal companion. $15 covers painting and firing time, refreshments, treat bag and a donation to the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. There will be a wide range of pieces to choose from to accommodate various price ranges.

Color Me Mine is located at 5887 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, 15217, Squirrel Hill. Call 412-421-2909 today to reserve your two hour block of time. We may be able to accommodate walk-ins on a space available basis, but pre-register to guarantee your spot!

You are welcome to bring your well-behaved pet and enjoy an outing together.

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet

As part of the fundraiser, Karen Litzinger will be doing a CD signing of the award-winning Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet with profits going to the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. Consider having one on hand to give as a sympathy gift to a dear animal lover friend or family member.

Karen Litzinger, author of Heal Your Heart: Coping With the Loss of a Pet is a sponsor and organizer of this event. I’ve written about her and her wonderful CD several times on The Creative Cat in Heal Your Heart and in A Remarkable CD and Guidebook. Karen’s website is Heal From Pet Loss.

Pet Parents Day was founded by VPI Pet Insurance and this year is offering free e-cards to send to Pet Parents.

The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society is an open-door shelter on Pittsburgh’s North Side serving over 14,000 animals every year. In addition to providing shelter for every animal presented regardless of how it arrived, they provide low-cost spay and neuter and veterinary clinic services, dog training and owner education for any animal parent, humane investigations of animal abuse and cruelty cases, pet loss counseling groups and fun events of all sorts for animals and the people who love them. I donate to them and write about them regularly; read about them here on The Creative Cat.

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Shop for Your Shelters This Holiday Season

kittens in adoption cage

Kittens need lots of food and toys and attention!

While you’re out chasing holiday bargains this month, make sure you find some bargains for your local shelters and rescue groups too! You’d be surprised what they can use in addition to cat and dog food—also blankets, office equipment, household goods and cleaning supplies, for just a few examples.

If you check the “wish lists” of any organization that offers assistance to animals, you might be surprised at what you’d find they can use. On almost every list for the shelters and organizations here in Pittsburgh I find such various necessary items as Sharpie markers, paper towels and van maintenance service, things you’d never think of when considering donations.

two cats with cat tree

A cat tree can make several cats happy at once!

Donate office supplies = more money to spend on animals

Behind the front lines of rescuing, spaying, neutering, healing, housing and adopting animals, there is an administrative body of some sort even if no physical shelter exists. Records must be kept and stored, publicity sent, checks written and staff and/or volunteers taken care of in some way.

Money is always short at shelters and rescue organizations, so it makes sense that donating items that don’t directly serve the animals themselves either saves money, such as office supplies which are necessary, or just makes the atmosphere more welcoming and healing for both animals and staff, such as a multiple CD player or a DVD player which is not necessary but which plays soothing music or an entertaining animal DVD.

bunnies in cages

Bunnies like straw bedding and can also use newspapers.

Office basics everyone needs are copy paper, computers and printers, pens, markers and Post-its, and basic housekeeping items include brooms, mops, laundry detergent and paper towels.

Health care items such as gauze pads, hydrogen peroxide, Q-tips and more are used for animals as well as humans. Think of what you’ve seen your veterinarian or vet tech use.

When you donate items such as these, the organization can use they money they would have spent for spay/neuter programs, health care for injured or abused animals and outreach and education programs.

Large animal rescues

And don’t forget large animal rescues as well—you may not be able to offer large animal feed, for instance, but they need office supplies, cleaning supplies and van maintenance as much as the smaller shelters.

Food and bedding donations

You can always donate the practical things that shelters need in great quantities and use up quickly—mostly food and bedding. All animals need to eat, and shelters will often take opened bags of dry food if your animals don’t like it and you don’t want to send it back to the manufacturer.

If you see pet food on sale, especially canned food, purchase a few cans to donate. Even a half-dozen cans provides meals to older animals, those with special needs or animals who are recovering from serious injury or illness after rescue.

Treats are always appreciated as they can help to train animals who may not have received any discipline, and they can also help a human form a bond with a distrustful animal who was neglected or abused.

In preparation for kitten season, there is always a need for kitten milk replacer formulas.

And don’t forget the wild animals in rehabilitation shelters—they can use things like canned vegetables and baby food, who would think?

animal cages in the hallway

As animals are transferred even more materials are needed.

Bedding is another constant need. Even shelters which don’t keep animals in cages need comfortable places for them to dig and curl up to sleep, and those animals with special needs or in recovery especially need soft bedding. All of it needs to be frequently washed or even discarded after use because of excessive soiling or contagious disease.

Donated bedding from personal care homes

When my mother lived in a smaller personal care home that didn’t have a laundry or linen service I took as many discarded sheets, blankets, bedspreads and pillows as I could to donate to local shelters. According to code, once items have been stained they can’t be used for human bedding, but once washed they can still be used for animals in shelters, and can even be cut into smaller pieces to serve more animals.

And old fur coats provide great comfort to neonatal or young animals missing their mothers, especially wildlife in rescue and rehabilitation centers.

You can imagine cleaning up after all those animals! If nothing else, a roll or two of paper towels can go a long way, as well as a bottle of bleach, even garbage bags.

two dogs on leashes

Two dogs found as strays, cleaned up and looking for a home.

Look around your home and check yard sales

That’s just a partial list, and you don’t really need to think of purchasing them yourself. Often you’ll find you have extras of things you don’t need, or, like the bedding from the personal care home, you’ll find things that others are discarding. You can also clean up at a yard sale or especially an estate sale where the house has to be completely cleaned out, and what else to you do with partially used cleaning products? One of my design customers hosts estate sales, and immediately packs up anything along these lines to be donated to a shelter. If you don’t take it there you can always suggest it to someone else who has access to it.

Shelter Wish List

So be creative when you are cleaning out old things, and when you hear of others cleaning as well. Make sure you check the wish lists first to make sure they can use it—and note that not all of them take food that’s been opened. Here are a few sample wish lists, from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, from Animal Friends, and from the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania. Each of them had a choice of “wish list” under “donate” on their website. You can’t get any more clear than that!

Imagine if everyone bought and donated a case of canned food and a big package of paper towels—what an impact that would have in saving the shelters money and in helping the economy go round! This holiday season, put at least one shelter or rescue group on your gift list.

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Don’t Wait to Spread the News

feral cat

A friend's feral cat.

You just never know when a half-grown stray or feral kitten will show up.

And I never used to know when I should say something about whether or not a kitten is spayed or neutered, or whether anyone was caring for the feral cats.

I sometimes feel I’m risking being known as the “crazy cat lady”, but over the years I’ve learned to always speak up. Sometimes I’ve been embarrassed, but usually I’ve been pretty glad I did because often I can spread information about low-cost spay and neuter and managing stray and feral colonies to people who really didn’t know this existed, or that the appearance of a kitten could indicate the need for such activities.

Last summer, on their Facebook page, the Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest posted that there were kittens behind their office, then posted a photo “for those who need a Friday kitten photo.”

I know their office is in a pretty urban area in the City of Pittsburgh, and it’s likely this kitten was stray or feral. Also, by her coloring as a dilute calico, she was likely a “she”. In any case, I figured it didn’t hurt to say something, so I asked if the kitty had a home, and mentioned that they should trap and spay ASAP if someone else didn’t or they’d have some extra kittens soon. The author replied that he thought the kittens lived in the yard behind the office, and asked if I was a neighbor.

I answered that I was not, but that I was always concerned when I saw kittens or adult cats who might be stray or feral or headed that way, and I always offered a bit of information about TNR and spay/neuter deals at shelters, including the Homeless Cat Management Team (HCMT).

The author replied that there may already be a feral colony there because he saw kittens and cats last year, very skittish, and that he had a friend who was involved in TNR and would enlist her help.

In the meantime another reader commented to say thanks for the information, she hadn’t known about HCMT but was glad to find out the information and encouraged me to keep spreading the word.

I had been hesitant, but I was never more glad to have spoken up. I gave information to two people who are aware and will likely use it, and pass it on as well.

In years past, I would have headed over there to assess the situation, and if no one in the vicinity was interested in taking care of the situation, either caring for the colony themselves or trapping and moving them, I would have returned with traps and tried to catch as many as I could myself, taking them home and getting veterinary care, altering, feeding and re-homing on my own. Ah, the bleak 1980s and 90s, too many cats and not enough programs, but I was glad to have found a few sympathetic vets who knew what I was doing.

Along came TNR, the Homeless Cat Management Team, early spay and neuter for shelter animals and aggressive spay/neuter programs for adult animals at shelter clinics, and a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. With more options and more awareness, I could get away with handing out handfuls of information, posting flyers in the area and making a few follow-up calls. As my household grew geriatric and I was less willing to bring in rescued cats in miscellaneous condition, I had built up a network of concerned friends and converts who were glad for the information and I could focus on my rescues here at home, knowing I’d at least spread the word.

So now instead of doing the footwork, I do the social network—though I always carry good old-fashioned flyers with me, and often have conversations with people who are totally off the network. I work with or am a member of a number of local conservation groups and visit their land, and also use local trails. I also tend to go off on painting and photo forays to uninhabited areas on the edge of town such as the now-empty steel mills and industrial areas, and along the waterways that run behind everything.

Often, I see cats, settled into these quieter areas that afford protection, but an easy run to a dumpster or someone’s back yard where they might be fed. I’ve posted HCMT and clinic information in these areas, talked to people on trails who say they always see the cats, and also handed it to people in their back yard who were sympathetic to the cats and fed them though they found it difficult to keep up with caring for them, but felt they couldn’t stop now that they’d started.

I sometimes follow up with people I’ve sent information to, and it often takes a nudge to get people to take advantage of the programs. But each time it’s accepted, and often with gratitude, it confirms that animals, and especially cats, are increasing in respect in our society, and not considered the throw-aways they once were, and that we should always speak up and offer whatever we feel is appropriate. Helping even one cat with spay and neuter helps to solve the problem of feline overpopulation.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Help Animal Friends With a Cat Hoarding Rescue

Carrick rescue kitten

As if the overflow of kittens and cats isn’t enough during kitten season, Animal Friends in Pittsburgh on June 10 rescued over 30 cats from a house that was subsequently condemned in Carrick, PA. They couldn’t trap and remove all the cats on the first pass—the house was boarded up but humane agents had access to continue their efforts to remove all the cats.

All the cats were dehydrated, malnourished, flea-ridden and affected and infected with various conditions and illnesses internal and external. Two of the cats were actually in labor. All were treated by Animal Friends’ veterinarians, though a few needed to be hospitalized for various conditions.

animal friends logoBypassing any comment on the disaster of hoarding, a situation like this puts a huge strain on the finances, cage space and staff of any shelter already overburdened with too many cats and kittens who need medical care and homes. Animal Friends is a no-kill shelter and cage space is dear. Consider a donation to Animal Friends to help cover the costs of this rescue, or consider fostering a cat or two to allow more space in the shelter.

Read about the rescue and how you can help here, an article that includes video and photos: Animal Friends.


Want a Good Deal on a Used Cat?

five black cats at basement door

We do many things together.

“Cats are like potato chips, it’s hard to have just one.”

Years ago, a friend of mine had a refrigerator magnet that read that phrase, and it still makes me laugh, and it’s still true.

More cats are owned as pets than any other pet—73 million as opposed to 68 million dogs—and I think it’s partly because of what I discovered. I had six cats plus fosters at the time, and there always seemed to be room for one more.

And unfortunately, there always seemed to be a big supply of cats to fill the need.

heart cats

Brother and Sister

Right now, in the middle of “kitten season” when shelters are overflowing with unexpected and unintended litters of kittens, it’s time to help take the burden off of shelters and foster families who have taken in cats and kittens to foster, so if you have room help to celebrate Adopt a Cat Month.

Read more about Adopt A Cat Month, co-sponsored by the Catalyst Council website, dedicated to helping the country’s most popular pet get the respect and health care they deserve, and American Humane, protecting children and animals since 1877.

Locally, Animal Friends is offering an adoption deal between June 1 and June 30: cats two years or older are priceless, and adopt two cats younger than two for the price of one! Animal Friends is a no-kill shelter, so adopting cats from them will open up more cage space for more cats.

The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society is also waiving adoption fees for adult cats and offering a two for one adoption special on kittens. The WPHS is taking in 50 to 60 cats and kittens each day and needs to find homes for cats every day in order to keep the flow of cats moving.

The Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania always has adoption deals and plenty of cats for adoption.

cat for adoption

Allie is still waiting!

And all the foster families in of FosterCat would love to see their foster kitties in new homes and then be able to help other homeless kitties! Allie, at left, is still waiting for her forever home!

So if you’re not already overflowing with kitty love, fill that spot with a homeless kitty!


Memorial Day Cat Adoption Special at WPHS

adult cats in cages

The adult cats at adoption event.

$0 Adoption on all cats over the age of 6 months…that’s right, adopt an adult cat for free!

“We are absolutely overflowing …” says Gretchen Feiser, Director of PR and Business Relationships at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. “I have over 200 cats ready for adoption and many more that need a foster home … The Western PA Humane Society’s North Shore and Fallen Timber Shelters are BOTH FULL of felines!”

A few days ago, she noted that the WPHS was taking in 50 to 60 cats PER DAY. Obviously, the situation is desperate, and cats must be adopted or fostered.

Normal adoption rules apply.

  • complete a cat adopter survey
  • adopting a cat (6 months or older)
  • lease must clearly state cats are permitted (pet deposit paid if applicable)
  • limit to two adoptions per household
  • must have photo id with proof of residence

Fee waived adoptions limited to shelter locations only.

Can’t adopt? How about fostering?

kittens back

Four kittens from the back of the cage.

Fostering cats saves more lives than you might imagine. Nursing mothers with kittens can relax in a quieter atmosphere than a shelter, and kittens grow up much more acclimated to a home and so risk fewer behavior issues. You can nurse a sick animal back to health in less time than it would take in a shelter. And there are always the neonatal kittens and puppies who need to be literally nursed by a human because they’ve lost their mom.

And last but not least, when cage space is at a premium animals are welcome to go home with a loving family for a two week cage break to enjoy themselves with a family, leaving space for other homeless pets.

All fostering is done with the assistance of the clinic at WPHS, which provides any veterinary care or medications the animals would need, and the animals return to the shelter to be adopted. Young animals and mom cats return to the shelter when the time is right for spay and neuter, ill animals only when they are well, and adults who need a cage break remain on the adoption list even while they are in a foster home.

Here is the link to information on fostering for the WPHS: http://www.wpahumane.org/foster.html

No room in your inn, but still want to help?

I can understand that one—at the moment, I have no extra space to foster and I feel really bad about that! But you can still help by encouraging others to adopt or foster, or donating money or food so WPHS can carry the overflow of animals and cover the cost of care and meals.

Here is the link to make a donation: http://www.wpahumane.org/member1.html, but to donate food or goods please contact the shelter to see what they need: 412-321-4625.

NOTE: the cats pictured in this post are not currently adoptable cats at WPHS but are my own file photos from offsite adoption events and at the shelter.


Allie Really Needs a Home!

Shelters are full of moms and kittens and FosterCat wants to help as many as possible. Allie is ready to go home and that will free up space in her foster home to help save more cats and kittens. She needs to be the only cat—do you know anyone who might be able to adopt her?

Hi. My name is Allie. I am about two-and-one-half years old, so I am still just a baby myself.

I was found in a park in McKeesport in May 2009 with my five babies. A lady took us home until she could get us into Fostercats. We went to live with another lady, who still has me. My babies have found great homes, but I am still looking for that perfect person.

I am not shy, so I am great with people, even kids who will play with me, and even a dog might be okay. I love to play with flippy toys or just run around the house like a crazy cat. When I am ready to settle down, I like to do some snuggling. I will accept little kisses on the head as only a queen can. If you have a couple of sunny windows I can perch in to watch nature, I would love that.

I am frisky, a little feisty, and have some attitude, but I also have lots of love to give—just not to other cats, and that’s been the problem with people who’d like to adopt me because they already have other cats. It’s also the problem with being in a foster home, because there are other cats here too.

I would prefer to be an only pet, as I need to be the queen of my castle. Do you think I would be the perfect fit for you?

FosterCat would love to find Allie a fur-ever home before she reaches her second year anniversary in a foster home in May 2011. Allie’s birthdate is around September 1, 2008. She is spayed, tested for feline leukemia and negative, has all her shots and everything else a kitty could need to come home with you. If you’re interested in Allie, you’ll also find her on the Adopt Me! page on the FosterCat website and scroll down to find Allie’s photo.

fostercat logo

FosterCat Inc.

Foster Cat, Inc. is all about saving lives. It’s as simple as that. We are an all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to the proposition that all cats and kittens deserve safe, loving, permanent homes.

Our foster parents provide temporary care for cats and kittens in their homes until they can be placed for adoption. Their compassion provides the second chance that so many stray, abandoned or homeless kitties need, and the satisfaction of knowing that they have helped save the lives of these helpless animals.

FosterCat provides training and support, medications, food and litter as needed, and absorbs all veterinary expenses associated with the care of our kitties. If you love kitties and would like to be a part of our lifesaving team, consider opening your heart and home to cats or kittens in need. We promise you won’t regret it! If you can’t foster, you can still help save lives as a volunteer or supporting member.


“Spay Day USA”, Mimi’s Favorite Holiday

close up photo of a black cat

Mimi tells her story

“She’s such a good mother.”

“Some cats were meant to have kittens.”

“I don’t think we’ll ever get her spayed, she just loves to have babies.”

When I was raising my babies, I was an excellent momcat and plenty of people would look in the box and see my perfect kittens and hear us all purring and think it was the most natural thing in the world.

Well, of course I was a good mom—under even the worst circumstances, animal moms will always do their best.

photo of garden with black cat

Garden With Maia

I used to love my assignations in the neighbor’s driveway; I was careful to signal the two black toms from the next street over, and they were only too willing to show up on command. What a joy to feel my kittens grow, then giving birth and nurturing them, it was all so easy. I produced six litters of four kittens each in two years, nearly all of them perfect black kittens.

But when I realized I wasn’t the only one giving birth to a dozen kittens each year, and what happened to many of these other kittens and their mothers…I’m embarrassed at my behavior and sad for cats who lost their lives because of me.

You have to understand, it was all I knew, and I was totally powerless against my hormones. I needed a human to get me spayed or I’d still be out there producing kittens.

photo of black cat by door

Little Mimi in the Sun

Now my life is completely different, so much more full and interesting, I can sleep all day, I can play with toys, no kittens to tend to, and safer too, with no hormone surges making you want to run outside in all kinds of weather. You ladies think hot flashes are bad? You should try being in heat for an entire summer, even while nursing kittens! And those boys could be a little rough now and then, if you know what I mean.

If you won’t listen to a human about spaying your cat, listen to a cat who’s been there. Give your cat a gift for Spay Day USA—get her spayed! If she’s already spayed, help another kitty to a new life.

Mimi’s 30 Reasons to Spay Your Cat

1. Eventually, she will outsmart you and get out the door.

2. Your kittens are no cuter than any other kittens in the world.

3. About 3,000 kittens are born every hour in the United States.

4. If you want your kids to see the miracle of life, have your own baby.

5. It’s not good for a cat to have a litter before she’s spayed, in fact, it’s bad.

[You may already know these things.]

6. Having your cat spayed after she is one year or after having kittens puts her at highest risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

7. Having a cat spayed before her first heat reduces her chances of developing breast cancer later in life to almost nothing.

8. Nearly every city has a low-cost spay/neuter clinic or program that works on a sliding fee scale.

9. An unspayed female cat is more likely to do two of the things humans don’t like cats to do—scratch furniture and spray.

10. A spayed female outlives an unspayed female for an average of two years without the health problems associated with reproductive cancers.

[Apparently, many people do not.]

11. An unspayed cat can have an average of three litters per year.

12. Cats have litters of four to six kittens.

13. Kittens can go into their first heat as young as 4 months.

14. No, it’s not incest when brother and sister cats or mother and son cats have sex.

15. One unspayed female and her progeny can produce between 98 and 5,000 cats in seven years.

[Find some of these people and give them this list.]

16. About 75% of all cats entering shelters in the United States are euthanized because there are no homes for them.

17. It costs U.S. taxpayers about $2 billion a year to round up, house, euthanize and dispose of homeless animals.

18. Every shelter in the United States is overrun with kittens every summer necessitating the euthanasia of otherwise healthy cats—and dogs—to care for and place the kittens.

19. At least six million animals are killed in shelters every year because there are no homes for them and no space in shelters.

20. Someone has to decide who dies, and someone has to kill them, letting your cat have a litter of kittens forces a person to make this decision.

[All of this information is available from your local shelter and on the internet.]

21. A cat is “polyestrous” and can go into heat—and conceive—the day after giving birth to a litter of kittens.

22. All kittens are cute, and the world already has enough of them.

23. Cats respond hormonally to day length and can go into heat as early as Valentine’s Day.

24. Cats can’t get along on their own outside, so don’t put mom and the kittens outside instead of taking them to a shelter.

25. Spaying your cat will not make her fat. Feeding her too much will make her fat.

[Let’s make 2010 the year we eliminate “kitten season”.]

26. Cats don’t have heat “cycles”, so once they go into heat, unless they find a male and mate, they can be in heat constantly, forever.

27. Spayed cats have absolutely no chance of developing uterine or ovarian cancer because those parts are removed.

28. Spayed cats can’t develop pyometra, a critical and common uterine infection, because they have no uterus.

29. You can safely spay a cat who is already pregnant up to a certain point rather than contribute to overpopulation.

30. The male cats coming to court your unspayed female will seriously mess up your storm door, and probably each other fighting for dominance.

black cat in sun

Mimi in Speckles

[I only stopped at 30 because…*yawn*…I need to take a nap.]

Also read “Help to Avoid Feline Breast Cancer by Spaying Early“, inspired by and featuring Mimi for more information on feline breast cancer and other reproductive illnesses plus links to spay/neuter clinics in Pittsburgh and around the country. Also look in the right-hand column on this blog under “Animal Assistance and Information” for links to local shelters and spay/neuter clinics plus a searchable database to find the clinic nearest you anywhere in the United States and parts of Canada. You can also do a search on “Spay Day USA” or any topic in this list and find plenty of information on the internet.


Shop for Your Shelters This Holiday Season

kittens in adoption cage

Kittens need lots of food and toys and attention!

While you’re out chasing holiday bargains this month, make sure you find some bargains for your local shelters and rescue groups too! You’d be surprised what they can use in addition to cat and dog food—also blankets, office equipment, household goods and cleaning supplies, for just a few examples.

If you check the “wish lists” of any organization that offers assistance to animals, you might be surprised at what you’d find they can use. On almost every list for the shelters and organizations here in Pittsburgh I find such various necessary items as Sharpie markers, paper towels and van maintenance service, things you’d never think of when considering donations. And don’t forget large animal rescues as well—you may not be able to offer large animal feed, for instance, but they need office supplies, cleaning supplies and van maintenance as much as the smaller shelters.

two cats with cat tree

A cat tree can make several cats happy at once!

Behind the front lines of rescuing, spaying, neutering, healing, housing and adopting animals, there is an administrative body of some sort even if no physical shelter exists. Records must be kept and stored, publicity sent, checks written and staff and/or volunteers taken care of in some way.

Money is always short at shelters and rescue organizations, so it makes sense that donating items that don’t directly serve the animals themselves either saves money, such as office supplies which are necessary, or just makes the atmosphere more welcoming and healing for both animals and staff, such as a multiple CD player or a DVD player which is not necessary but which plays soothing music or an entertaining animal DVD.

bunnies in cages

Bunnies like straw bedding and can also use newspapers.

Office basics everyone needs are copy paper, computers and printers, pens, markers and Post-its, and basic housekeeping items include brooms, mops, laundry detergent and paper towels.

Health care items such as gauze pads, hydrogen peroxide, Q-tips and more are used for animals as well as humans. Think of what you’ve seen your veterinarian or vet tech use.

All the more for spay/neuter programs, health care for injured or abused animals and outreach and education programs.

And then there are the practical things that shelters need in great quantities and use up quickly—mostly food and bedding. All animals need to eat, and shelters will often take opened bags of dry food if your animals don’t like it and you don’t want to send it back to the manufacturer.

If you see pet food on sale, especially canned food, purchase a few cans to donate. Even a half-dozen cans provides meals to older animals, those with special needs or animals who are recovering from serious injury or illness after rescue.

Treats are always appreciated as they can help to train animals who may not have received any discipline, and they can also help a human form a bond with a distrustful animal who was neglected or abused.

animal cages in the hallway

As animals are transferred even more materials are needed.

Bedding is another constant need. Even shelters which don’t keep animals in cages need comfortable places for them to dig and curl up to sleep, and those animals with special needs or in recovery especially need soft bedding. All of it needs to be frequently washed or even discarded after use because of excessive soiling or contagious disease.

When my mother lived in a smaller personal care home that didn’t have a laundry or linen service I took as many discarded sheets, blankets, bedspreads and pillows as I could to donate to local shelters. According to code, once items have been stained they can’t be used for human bedding, but once washed they can still be used for animals in shelters, and can even be cut into smaller pieces to serve more animals.

And old fur coats provide great comfort to neonatal or young animals missing their mothers, especially wildlife in rescue and rehabilitation centers.

You can imagine cleaning up after all those animals! If nothing else, a roll or two of paper towels can go a long way, as well as a bottle of bleach, even garbage bags.

two dogs on leashes

Two dogs found as strays, cleaned up and looking for a home.

That’s just a partial list, and you don’t really need to think of purchasing them yourself. Often you’ll find you have extras of things you don’t need, or, like the bedding from the personal care home, you’ll find things that others are discarding. You can also clean up at a yard sale or especially an estate sale where the house has to be completely cleaned out, and what else to you do with partially used cleaning products? One of my design customers hosts estate sales, and immediately packs up anything along these lines to be donated to a shelter. If you don’t take it there you can always suggest it to someone else who has access to it.

So be creative when you are cleaning out old things, and when you hear of others cleaning as well. Make sure you check the wish lists first to make sure they can use it—and note that not all of them take food that’s been opened. Here are a few sample wish lists, from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, from Animal Friends, and from the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania. Each of them had a choice of “wish list” under “donate” on their website. You can’t get any more clear than that!

And as a reader reminded me, remember the large animal rescues as well, and wildlife rehabilitation organizations.

Imagine if everyone bought and donated a case of canned food and a big package of paper towels—what an impact that would have in saving the shelters money and in helping the economy go round! This holiday season, put at least one shelter or rescue group on your gift list.


Don’t Wait to Spread the News

Urban forest kitten

Urban Forest Office Kitten

You just never know when a half-grown stray or feral kitten will show up.

And I never used to know when I should say something about whether or not a kitten is spayed or neutered, or whether anyone was caring for the feral cats.

I sometimes feel I’m risking being known as the “crazy cat lady”, but over the years I’ve learned to always speak up. Sometimes I’ve been embarrassed, but usually I’ve been pretty glad I did because often I can spread information about low-cost spay and neuter and managing stray and feral colonies to people who really didn’t know this existed, or that the appearance of a kitten could indicate the need for such activities.

On their Facebook page, the Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest posted that there were kittens behind their office, then posted this photo “for those who need a Friday kitten photo.”

I know their office is in a pretty urban area in the City of Pittsburgh, and it’s likely this kitten was stray or feral. Also, by her coloring, she was likely a “she”. In any case, I figured it didn’t hurt to say something, so I asked if the kitty had a home, and mentioned that they should trap and spay ASAP if someone else didn’t or they’d have some extra kittens soon. The author replied that he thought the kittens lived in the yard behind the office, and asked if I was a neighbor.

I answered that I was not, but that I was always concerned when I saw kittens or adult cats who might be stray or feral or headed that way, and I always offered a bit of information about TNR and spay/neuter deals at shelters, including the Homeless Cat Management Team (HCMT).

The author replied that there may already be a feral colony there because he saw kittens and cats last year, very skittish, and that he had a friend who was involved in TNR and would enlist her help.

In the meantime another reader commented to say thanks for the information, she hadn’t known about HCMT but was glad to find out the information and encouraged me to keep spreading the word.

I had been hesitant, but I was never more glad to have spoken up. I gave information to two people who are aware and will likely use it, and pass it on as well.

In years past, I would have headed over there to assess the situation, and if no one in the vicinity was interested in taking care of the situation, either caring for the colony themselves or trapping and moving them, I would have returned with traps and tried to catch as many as I could myself, taking them home and getting veterinary care, altering, feeding and re-homing on my own. Ah, the bleak 1980s and 90s, too many cats and not enough programs, but I was glad to have found a few sympathetic vets who knew what I was doing.

Along came TNR, the Homeless Cat Management Team, early spay and neuter for shelter animals and aggressive spay/neuter programs for adult animals at shelter clinics, and a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. With more options and more awareness, I could get away with handing out handfuls of information, posting flyers in the area and making a few follow-up calls. As my household grew geriatric and I was less willing to bring in rescued cats in miscellaneous condition, I had built up a network of concerned friends and converts who were glad for the information and I could focus on my rescues here at home, knowing I’d at least spread the word.

So now instead of doing the footwork, I do the social network—though I always carry good old-fashioned flyers with me, and often have conversations with people who are totally off the network. I work with or am a member of a number of local conservation groups and visit their land, and also use local trails. I also tend to go off on painting and photo forays to uninhabited areas on the edge of town such as the now-empty steel mills and industrial areas, and along the waterways that run behind everything.

Often, I see cats, settled into these quieter areas that afford protection, but an easy run to a dumpster or someone’s back yard where they might be fed. I’ve posted HCMT and clinic information in these areas, talked to people on trails who say they always see the cats, and also handed it to people in their back yard who were sympathetic to the cats and fed them though they found it difficult to keep up with caring for them, but felt they couldn’t stop now that they’d started.

That was also how we managed the “kitten problem” at the Agway, as I wrote about just recently.

I will probably follow up on this, and on a few other situations I’ve sent information to. But each time it’s accepted, and often with gratitude, it confirms that animals, and especially cats, are increasing in respect in our society, and not considered the throw-aways they once were, and that we should always speak up and offer whatever we feel is appropriate. Helping even one cat with spay and neuter helps to solve the problem of feline overpopulation.