April 16, 2005
Zoya is friendly, in a cat’s way. A 5-year-old calico with long brown-on-black hair, she looks picture-perfect in the light of the glass bricks and seems to know it. Lounging on a platform that matches her bright green eyes, she acknowledges visitors as graciously as one can without actually getting up.
Spring is "kitten season," and the fuzzy, cute little felines are beginning to appear in classified ads, bulletin-board notices and pet-shop windows. But for shelters like RESCUE, "kitten season" means crowded shelters and more foster homes needed to care for nursing strays. And every sweet, adorable kitten face popping into the queue means beautiful adult faces, like Zoya’s, must look longer to find a permanent home.
"Kitten season pushes the envelope for every rescue group," says Debi Mykitiak, who supervises the cat facility for RESCUE, a 10-yearold no-kill shelter working mainly from foster homes in Phoenix and the East Valley. "Our mission is to take animals off the euthanasia list at (Maricopa) County Animal (Care and) Control, and we save as many as we have spaces to fill."
RESCUE’s facility has 26 cats now, "but we will go to 40, if pressed," she says. Its capacity is small when measured against an oversized pet population that forces the county to euthanize as many as 100 animals a day. Kitten season brings a heavy tide of cats to the pound. Nokill shelters save what they can, but the demand for kittens can slow adult adoptions to a crawl. "We have another 50 cats in foster homes," she says. "Here, we house them in 13 rooms, depending on who gets along with whom."
Vanilla and Godiva are on a time share. The 4-year-old Vanilla (a blue creme longhair) doesn’t quite get along with her 1-year-old female roommate. So she glowers from her cage as Godiva, a spunky marbled Siamese, runs the ramp and rolls across the tile. "People still have this idea that a cat from a rescue, or a pound, had to have something wrong with it," says Mykitiak. Some are strays or from unexpected litters, and staff members shake their heads at the lame reasons owners give for turning in the others.
" ‘They’re moving’ is a big one, so they can leave the cat behind," she says. "I actually had one person tell me: ‘I’m going to Ohio and they don’t allow cats.’ "
Godiva returns to her cage, and Vanilla chases a bottle cap she’s been eyeing. "If you meet these cats," Mykitiak says, "or just look at their pictures and stories on the Web site (www.azrescue.org), you’ll see: They’re healthy, normal animals that would make great pets in the right home."
RESCUE keeps the focus on adult cat adoption. The kittens they get usually come with a nursing mother and are sent to foster homes for the first 12 weeks. "It gives them a better start," says Mykitiak. "They get their first set of vaccinations at 6, 9 and 12 weeks. And that time in a foster home socializes them better. They get more comfortable with people, with household noises. You get a better-adjusted adult cat."
Harley-Davidson scratches at his door. He’s kept away from some of the gentler cats because he’s a bit of a "rough player," but the black-andwhite 2-year-old is only a threat if you’re a tiny stuffed mouse. "He really has a sweet face," says Mykitiak. She drags a feather stick across the floor — and Harley charges, twitching with delight.
Kittens, with their huge eyes and tiny faces, are an undeniable draw. But for Mykitiak, an adult RESCUE cat is the thinking person’s alternative. "You really know what you’re getting from a shelter," she says, "because we’ve spent the time with the animals and know them well." At RESCUE, volunteers monitor and chart each animal’s diet and behavior. The $95 adoption fee includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations and screening for feline diabetes and feline
immune deficiency syndrome.
"The process allows us to fit adopters with an animal that matches their life," she says. "Do you want an active cat? A lap cat? Do you want a cat that gets along with children or dogs?" The matchmaking process seems to work: Of the 8,000 animals RESCUE has adopted out since 1995, their return rate hovers around 8 percent.
The choice may seem less glamorous, the faces less calendar-cute. But Mykitiak says that adopters who resist the kitten impulse for a shelter cat have a positive effect for felines of every age and stripe: "You open up room for someone else," she says. "For every animal you adopt, we’ll be back at the pound to rescue another."