When I started doing rescue over a decade ago, my goal was simple— save lives by home-fostering cats and kittens. Now that I run my own rescue, I have a great deal more on my plate. Because I recognize I can do a better job and help more cats if I network with others, a majority of what I do these days is to locate good shelter or rescue partners to work with in a variety of ways.
One of my dearest relationships is with Animals in Distress in Wilton, CT. I know the ladies that run the organization. I’ve been to their shelter many times and they’ve taken on some lovely young adult cats that I’d have a tough time placing because I don’t have a brick and mortar facility. Over the years, I‘ve come to trust and regard Connie and Katherine, who run AID, as both rescue-peers and good friends.
©2013 Tina B. (Used with permission) Meet Romeo before he left Georgia for a rescue in upstate New York.
Sadly, earlier this year I learned a painful lesson about working with other rescues and it came with a price. What I never would have dreamed of happened- that just because a rescue steps forward and offers to help, doesn’t mean they’re going to provide the loving care I expect. They may not provide the health care or clean conditions I would insist upon. They might falsely represent themselves OR they may truly be good-hearted, cat-loving folks, but who have taken on too much and are overwhelmed, leaving the cats to fall victim to stressed and over-crowded conditions.
Two years ago I rescued a number of Siamese mix kittens from a municipal shelter in Georgia. The group was large so I placed them into two foster homes-one group went to super-foster, Maria.
Another person I’ll call Jane, who lives in New Jersey, offered to provide the funds needed to care for the cats, as well as make sure they would be safely transported to a rescue in upstate New York, called HEART. Great deal, right?
©2013 Tina B. (Used with permission) Romeo, struggling to survive, but still a loving, sweet kitty.
I was too quick to trust. I’d seen Jane around on the group emails and she was often paying for cats vet care and transport to either HEART or other rescues she worked with. She seemed reliable and trustworthy. She told me that HEART was a good place and Maria, made sure her kittens would be in a safe place by contacting the woman who runs HEART. She was assured they did home visits, were a non-profit rescue and truly loved and cared for their cats.
The kittens were vetted and transported. Maria checked in after the kittens arrived and heard that one of her kittens might stay with HEART and the other was getting adopted. We didn’t think twice about it, after all we had more kittens to care for. Everything was going great and now we knew if we had more Siamese mix kittens that we could get them off death row and head them north to find great homes.
But that’s not what happened.
A few months ago (which was two years after we'd sent our cats to HEART), I got an email that made me sick to my stomach. The woman who runs HEART had just been arrested and charged with Animal Cruelty. Over 80 animals had been taken from her home. Of them, a good number were cats, living in filth-and I mean FECES inches deep. The cats who had originally been healthy were now VERY ILL-MANY of them now had Feline Leukemia and other life-threatening conditions.
Sending these cats to HEART was worse than sending them to the Kill Shelter; at least death would have been swift—here death would come slowly and in horrific conditions.
©2013 Tina B. (Used with permission) Meet Peppy. She was healthy and thriving before going to HEART and now, due to a severe URI had had to have surgery on her eye.
The Broome County Humane Society in upstate New York (Facebook pg is HERE) was called to take in all the animals. I contacted them and spoke with the Director, only to find out they had no microchip or photo match for any of our cats. Maria frantically wrote to the Director of HEART who said the cats had been adopted out and that there was more to the story but she could not comment on it at this time. We checked her Petfinder page, which was only working for a day after we found it. We saw our kittens listed under the “happy tails” section. It meant nothing because any administer of Petfinder can set the listing to adopted and it goes to “happy tails.” We had to hope that because it was two years ago that the cats got out before it was too late.
It’s easy to immediately vilify the Director of HEART for causing these problems, but we don’t know both sides. I contacted her to offer her a chance to make a statement, but did not get a reply. I thought about what would happen if I was taking on kittens from other rescues. I trusted them to test the cats for feline leukemia and FIV, but maybe they didn’t really test the cats, then I put them all together in a group room. All it would take was one cat to sicken the lot of them.
I’m not trying to defend what happened, but I have to try to be fair and give her the benefit of the doubt…but…
A rescuer from Georgia contacted me. Her name is Tina. She sent HEART a lot of cats very recently and many of them were affected by the disgusting conditions in the home. Tina was the one who contacted Animal Control and turned HEART into authorities, but wait…Tina lives in Georgia so how did she know?
Tina had been calling HEART for an update on her cats. She couldn’t reach anyone or got suspicious answers. Whatever she was told, it didn’t sit right with her so she got in her car and drove over 1000 miles to HEART's location What she found shocked her to the core.
I don’t know how Tina managed. Many of her once healthy cats were clinging to life. Some had to be put down, some cost her (and are still costing her) thousands of dollars in Vet care. Her rescue group is small, with few resources. One particular cat named Romeo was in severely compromised shape. Undaunted, she managed to get her cats from HEART and brought them back to Georgia, furious, horrified, and heartbroken.
©2013 Tina B. (Used with permission). Teensy, a kitten who had to have her eye removed after the URI she had destroyed her eye. This could have been completely avoided if only she had been kept in a clean environment and provided with Vet care when she first fell ill.
A rescuer should never have to worry about what happens with their foster cats if they go to another rescue. We can look them up on the web, see their web site, see their 501(c)3 papers filed with the IRS, we can see their Petfinder page, we can ask to talk to their Vets. Somewhere along the line we have to trust that this rescue will continue the good work we started.
In this case it was sending them to a slow death. We also found out later that the person who ran HEART DESTROYED ALL THE PAPERWORK she got from the rescues so none of the cats could ever be traced. We'll NEVER really know what happened to OUR FOSTER KITTENS.
It begs the question: How do you find a reliable rescue to work with? How do you trust again?
This is by all means not a complete list of what to look for and I welcome comments and suggestions because this is something we need to sort out together.
1. GO THERE. Go to the rescue group and take a look around. If they’re located too far away, then you’re going to have to do more work to determine if they’re legit.
2. Do they have a working website that is CURRENT or is it many years old and out of date?
3. Will they give you references to Vets they work with? What about adopters? What about fosters or volunteers? Some of that information may be private, but the more they are willing to give you the information you require, the more likely they are also transparent about how they do business
4. Do a Google search on them. Look for negative comments or positive ones.
5. Do they have a Facebook page that’s current?
6. Ask your friends that do rescue if they have heard of them-word of mouth can be very important
7. Make sure you have email, phone number and physical address. Using Bing Maps you can see an ariel view of the facility/home. You can also use Zillow to look up their residence.
8. If you have funds you can do a background check for criminal records. There are many websites where you can do that in a matter of minutes.
9. GuideStar will also show you if the rescue is a non-profit
10. Ask to see a copy of their adoption application or don’t they have one? That is a problem to not have a screening process for adopters.
11. Ask for photos and video of the facility if you have no other way to see it. It’s not foolproof but again, if they won’t do that, then there’s a problem
©2013 Robin A.F. Olson. You can see our kittens any time via our Web Cam.
With my rescue, Kitten Associates, for example, we have a web cam going 24/7. You can SEE the conditions in the foster room. You can also see what we’re up to via my blog or facebook page. We have a Petfinder account. I welcome questions and challenges about anything we do, any time. Our web site has our tax number and other information about us on it and you can easily contact me and I can give Vet or volunteer references. Being transparent about our operations and earning the trust of our peers and our community is something I take very seriously. It’s our credibility that’s on the line and I’m really proud of our good reputation.
With HEART, I can’t say what happened or if they were ever up to snuff. They seemed to be legit, but I never went there and I will NEVER let another cat go to a rescue unless I HAVE been there or I have a trusted friend go there and send me photos and videos. Even with that, the conditions can go to HELL. At some point you have to have faith they are doing a good job and will continue to do so and you have to keep checking in with them to make certain their facility maintains proper health standards and care for their cats.
©2013 Tina B. (Used with permission). Romeo, sick, clinging to life, needs very specialized surgery that only one place in Georgia can do and it's very expensive.
As for Romeo, the year old cat who’s suffering from multiple-severe health issues, a YouCaring Fundraiser has been created by his foster mom, Tina. She details Romeo’s journey on her fundraiser page, but this excerpt explains why Romeo needs our help so very much.
“...Then last month (4/1/13) Romeo turned worse after a short stay in boarding. He had stopped eating and playing. Romeo seemed much more congested and having trouble breathing. He also started gagging if he tried to eat. I suspected his esophagus was burned from an antibiotic. I started med's and syringe-feeding again but he was not improving like expected. I finally took Romeo to a specialist this week (5/21/13). The specialist found two very bad things that seem inter- related. The first problem is that his nose has completely closed over (choanal atresia) from chronic rhinitis so that he can no longer breathe through it or smell, hence the problem eating. The second problem is that he has a hernia - his stomach is coming up into his esophagus, probably because of him trying so hard to breathe. To get an idea of how hard it is to eat and breathe at the same time, try plugging your nose and seeing how hard it is to breathe and then try to eat something. It is hard and awful! No wonder Romeo is having such difficulties, but he definitely still wants to live.
The only fix is surgery to put a stent in his nose to open up the passageway. A stent is needed to keep it open permanently, otherwise, it would scar closed again. This would relieve the pressure and most likely ALSO fix the hernia. The cost is close to $4,000 which includes a CT and $2,000 for the stent alone. It is a complicated, although relatively short, surgery with great success and would give him immediate improvement. Right now, Romeo is on 3 different medications to keep his esophagus from getting more damage and he is being syringe-fed. ”
Your donation is tax-deductible and I hope you’ll be able to add your donation to the many already pouring in. We’re only to the halfway mark and Romeo’s time is running out. I just heard the Romeo is doing worse and we can't get him the surgery until we have ALL the money we need. Please SHARE if you CARE!
If you'd like to follow Tina's long-journey trying to re-save the lives of all her foster cats, you can visit her Cat Whispurrer Rescue & Consult's web site blog page.
Tina and I have both learned a heartbreaking lesson. As with all troubling news, the light at the end of the tunnel is that there are LOADS of TERRIFIC rescue groups and shelters that do amazing work, that are filled with devoted, loving volunteers and who will go to the ends of the Earth to provide appropriate care for the animals under their roof. To those organizations, I applaud you, as I hang my head in shame.