A halfway house for cats

Furry Friends, a Vancouver no-kill operation, adopts out 200 to 250 animals a year

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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Video

Furry Friends offers refuge to cats

David Cox, president of the board of Furry Friends, explains why the no-kill adoption agency's building is known as a halfway house.

David Cox, president of the board of Furry Friends, explains why the no-kill adoption agency's building is known as a halfway house.

Information

• Call 360-608-6098 to learn about adopting or fostering a cat, volunteering, or the free spay and neuter program.

Furry Friends website.

The face of the Furry Friends nonprofit cat rescue comes in the eyes and whiskers of cats such as Tasha, displayed in cages at PetSmart and Petco stores in the Hazel Dell and Vancouver mall areas.

But the no-kill organization’s headquarters is in a secret location in a Vancouver neighborhood and closed to the public.

“We try to keep it very quiet, because if people know we take care of cats, they’ll dump them here,” said volunteer Cindy Goodrich.

Based out of a three-bedroom house, the headquarters looks like any other residence on its shaded street. But it’s strictly the domain of cats. Inside, cats convalesce from ailments or take a break from showcase lights of PetSmart and Petco, where they are rotated in and out.

Volunteers call the building a halfway house rather than a shelter.

“The idea (is) we are in between wherever the cat came from -- sometimes it’s relinquishments, people have moved into an apartment that doesn’t accept pets, people

find them on the street and contact us -- and somebody who will ultimately adopt them,” said David Cox, Furry Friends’ board president.

The cats can’t tell the stories about their past. But some of the volunteers remember them well. Eight-year-old Tasha, for instance, was given up by her owner, who was forced to move to a long-term care facility.

“We pick up cats wherever they are, usually under a car or in blackberry bushes,” said Nancy McMartin, Furry Friends’ founder. “People call in and say someone moved and left, or it had a bunch of babies under the house. ‘Hurry up and come. My husband’s going to shoot it.’”

Volunteer Katherine Tucker said cats such as Tasha often go through a period of grieving when they come to the halfway house, especially if they’re given up by a longtime owner. Tasha was overweight when she came to the shelter, but shed weight soon after her arrival despite access to plenty of food.

McMartin founded Furry Friends in October 1999 to rescue homeless, neglected, abandoned and abused cats through the halfway house, foster homes, adoptions and educational programs.

McMartin, a late-blooming cat person, said her love of cats began when she met two kittens her daughter adopted. She began volunteering at Second Chance Companions and saw the need for a cat halfway house. Second Chance Companions is a nonprofit pet adoption referral agency, connecting owners who need to give away pets with people who would like to adopt.

“It kind of started in my living room,” McMartin said of Furry Friends. She and five other volunteers formed the nonprofit organization to be able to collect donations and to expand the program.

Goodrich and Tucker are among about 50 regular volunteers who now operate the organization.

Volunteers staff the house to feed and clean up after the guests and lavish them with attention. High school and college students regularly volunteer in the evenings. Volunteers select and bring cats to the PetSmart and Petco locations. They screen applicants and make home visits to ensure prospective owners have a suitable environment for a cat. The organization will not adopt to individuals who plan to let their cat outdoors or have it declawed.

“We really advocate keeping cats indoors because the potential problems of letting the cat out are potentially getting a disease, getting run over or killing other animals like squirrels and birds,” Cox said.

Additionally, Furry Friends seeks to educate the community about the importance of spaying and neutering. It has limited money available to pay for spaying or neutering pets owned by people on low or fixed incomes. Those interested in the service can call the organization at 360-608-6098.

“Spay and neutering are essential,” Cox said. “Our dream would be to increase our capacity, but in the long term make Clark County a no-kill county. The way to do that is to have a free spay and neuter program.”

About 15 cats are at the halfway house at any given time. Another five are at PetSmart in Hazel Dell. Kittens stay with foster families

Tasha and Butterfly, a vivacious 2-year-old calico, share a bedroom with a thrilling view of squirrel habitat. Some of the others include Smokey, who is as gray as his name; Henry, a half Abyssinian; and not-quite black cat Onyx. The trio share a living room filled with cat towers.

Each week, cats are rotated out of the halfway house to be showcased at PetSmart and Petco, where folks can interact with the felines and decide whether to adopt. Furry Friends operates the cat adoption center at PetSmart in Hazel Dell.

The organization adopts out 200 to 250 cats per year, Cox said.

Cox said the economic downturn hasn’t made a dent in adoption rates. However, the organization never takes in more cats than it has capacity for in its halfway house, PetSmart and foster homes, so its cat population is relatively small compared with the Humane Society of Southwest Washington.

“The cats are so grateful when they know they have a good home,” Cox said.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.