Almost Home Provides Feline Refuge 7

Couple gives their lives to rescuing overlooked cats

It started out of a love for cats and trying to curb the feral population in their Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Rosanne and Tom Hayes quickly realized the feral cats were being mistreated by fellow neighbors and decided it was up to them to provide a sanctuary for cats no one wanted—the feral, stray, abandoned, and neglected.

Their love evolved into Almost Home Feline Refuge, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which has been around for the past 22 years. In the beginning, there were 15 cats and today there are around 100.

“We began to be known as the cat people. People would call us about a cat they found or one they had to give up and it just kind of took off from there,” Rosanne says.

When you walk into the cage-less sanctuary, you are greeted by several of the friendliest cats. Looking beyond the entry way, you see a cat paradise: black cats, orange cats, some extra fluffy, others lean, all lazing about everywhere and on anything you can think of.

There’s a general area where most cats reside. Beyond this, there are rooms for ones who are being tamed, ones with health issues, those recently rescued from abusive situations, and more.

“We don’t turn away cats based on how they look. Even the ugliest cat who no one wants, we’ll take it!” Rosanne says.

The Hayes’ passion was so great that they gave their home to the cats, building and adding onto it as the cats continued to trickle in—never turning any away.

What separates Almost Home from other cat rescue centers is the fact they are a permanent home for these cats, not a temporary home as they wait for adoption. Many of these cats will never leave due to various health and behavioral issues.

And if cats could talk, I’m not so sure they’d ever want to leave. They are loved and doted on as if they were the only cat there, all with their own names, stories, and quirky habits. There’s Harris, the talkative one and Winehouse, the one undergoing stem cell therapy.

Rosanne explains how certain cats won’t let you touch them, but that affection is still important, “Every kitty needs to know they’re loved. Even if I can’t touch them, I tell them every day how much I love them,” she says.

Recently, Almost Home has paired with PetSmart to assist in getting the cats in good health adopted.

Julie Reynolds, the adoption coordinator, notes that, “Up until now this hasn’t been the focus of the mission. Many of the cats are there for life.”

Right now, the operation is small and a work in progress, “We want to make sure the cats we’re offering are healthy and fully vetted. Quality instead of quantity. Once we build up resources and have more foster homes, we can grow,” Reynolds says.

The goal is to have 10 quality adoptions a month—meaning healthy cats and kittens going into forever homes. Reynolds performs interviews and home visits to ensure the cats go to suitable homes.

To keep the refuge running, Almost Home relies on donations and fundraisers. It takes $80,000 a year minimum for the operation alone, and this isn’t including medical costs for many of the cats. The majority of this cost is self-funded.

To put this number in perspective, the Hayes go through three cases of food to feed the cats each day, ranging anywhere from $60-$80. The laundry machine constantly whirs, doing 80 to 90 loads a week of kitty blankets and other bedding.

Rosanne’s goal for the organization is to help the community gain more awareness and ultimately get more volunteers who can come to the shelter.

“We do what we have to do to get by. There’s a lot of happiness with what we do, but there’s also a lot of heartbreak. The cats need us, and any help we can get means we get to help more cats,” Rosanne says.

It’s clear there has to be a very special person behind this organization to make it work. Lucky for these cats, they have Rosanne.

Important things to remember before adopting a pet from Dr. Steven Epstein of Animal Medical Center in Mt. Pleasant:

1.  A pet is for life. This is the most important thing to realize prior to adoption. Every member of a household should be committed to providing a safe and healthy household for the new pet.

2. It is also important to establish a relationship with a veterinarian immediately after adoption. A vet will be able to review and discuss a good vaccination protocol as well as a heartworm and flea prevention schedule. Discussions also will guide a new owner through all life stages of their new pet.

3. It is highly important to ‘cat proof’ your home. Make sure there are no toxic household plants, candles that can easily be knocked over, strings/yarn laying around as well as power and extension cords.

4. Lastly, its important to establish and encourage healthy litter box protocols to avoid potential inappropriate eliminations. Make sure the litter box is in a quiet, easily accessible area and cleaned on a regular basis. Our general rule is one litter box per cat plus an extra in a separate location.