by Charlotte Jay and Elaine Richert
A single decision to help a single cat for a single week – that was the humble beginning of Cat Angel Network twenty years ago in August, 1996.
It started with a phone call from a cat rescuer about a pregnant cat on a Lancaster farm. The kitty was in danger of being sold to a company that used cats for experimentation. The rescuer was going on vacation and begged for someone to care for this cat for a week. We were horrified by the danger facing this mother-to-be, and since she was not expected to give birth for several weeks, we agreed to house the kitty in the storage room of a detached garage. But the kitty, named Mrs. Gray after a cat Charlotte had as a child, decided she couldn’t wait, and on the first day of her “visit,” five baby boys were born in Charlotte’s lap.
The rescuer never returned to pick up the kitties, and the mama cat and her kittens stayed. We found forever homes for Mrs. Gray and two of her boys, and these became our very first adoptions. (Want to make a guess who became CAN’s first “foster failure” and adopted the other three boys?)
News has a way of traveling fast, and it wasn’t long before people started contacting us to help with a cat shot with BBs, a thin stray, and unwanted cats at a housing development. With each additional cat we said, “Well, it’s just one more – no big deal.” Soon we began to realize that we would need to have a plan if we were going to continue to take “just one more.” So we worked out a system for the intake, care, and adoption of kitties. We cared for as many as our pocketbooks could afford, solicited adopters from a tiny ad in the Pottstown Mercury newspaper, and had a $35 adoption fee, with adopters signing a Spay/Neuter Agreement. As expenses (and the number of cats) grew, we began to seriously consider taking a GIANT next step, that of changing our informal project into a bona fide, non-profit corporation.
We discovered the process is neither easy nor inexpensive. There are pages of complicated forms to fill out, and thousands of dollars of fees to be paid. Our first challenge was registering a name for our non-profit that was not already being used in the state of Pennsylvania. In the ‘90’s The Oprah Show often featured her charitable “Angel Network,” providing assistance to people in need. From this we coined the name “Cat Angel Network,” with the inspiring acronym we love – CAN. Then in March, 1998, we were granted our 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status which allowed us to solicit tax deductible donations so we wouldn’t have to continue personal funding. We were on our way!
We realized that we needed capable people to handle the many functions of operating an organization and so a Board of Directors was formed. They created the mission statement that has guided us to this day with its philosophy of operating as a no-kill, all volunteer organization dedicated to the rescue, spay/neuter, and adoption of abandoned cats. Our motto “Together, we CAN make a difference!” reflected the acknowledgement that it would take the efforts of many caring volunteers to do this work.
We have indeed been blessed over the years with attracting capable, qualified, and cat loving volunteers. Some of our volunteers agreed to become foster parents, and these foster homes enabled us to increase the numbers we could help. Of course, we had no trouble acquiring the cats, but obviously this ability to foster additional kitties affected our need for an outlet for adoptions.
Our prayers were answered when we were contacted by the manager of PetSmart in Downingtown in early 1999 with the very welcome offer to become their store’s adoption partner. We have continued that wonderful relationship for the past 17 years. In October, 2005, Petsmart opened its Pottstown store, and we became the adoption partner in that store in addition to Downingtown. We’ve had a very successful and rewarding relationship with them for the past 11 years. Our association with this second store pushed our adoption numbers for the year 2006 over the 600 mark for the first time! We look forward to the opportunity to find many more loving forever homes through both our adoption centers.
Raising funds to cover the extraordinary expenses involved has always been a challenge. Two ongoing events have greatly helped to keep us going. In the spring of 2002, we held our first Annual Benefit Concert at the West Chester University, and we haven’t missed a year since. Our first auction was held on November 8, 2003. It was an art auction and was so successful that we decided to expand it and hold an Annual Auction that included both silent and live auctions of all-donated items. It has continued to be our major fundraiser ever since.
The funds raised through these efforts were instrumental in turning that detached garage on private property into a heated eight room shelter, plus a small storage area and a bathroom dubbed the “CAN CAN.” Volunteers installed flooring and painted walls, including the addition of beautiful stenciling in each room. Slowly but surely the shelter was outfitted with cages, cat trees, and all the equipment necessary to comfortably care for cats and kittens and prepare them for adoption. Today hundreds of kitties every year pass through the meticulously maintained rooms of the shelter on their way to foster homes or to Petsmart. Other cats, especially the shy and senior ones, have become life-long residents who are lovingly pampered by our shelter volunteers.
It is so satisfying to look back over the years and think about the thousands of kitties who have been touched by the work of CAN. Where would they be if we had not decided to open that storage room to Mrs. Gray in August of 1996? The many volunteers, fosters, trappers, veterinarians, donors, adopters, etc. who have been a part of this twenty year journey have to know that they have indeed “made a difference.” Looking forward, we are committed to standing together to improve and expand our efforts, for we know that the work continues!