Volunteers strive to help shelter’s cats

Volunteers strive to help shelter’s cats

Originally published on July 27, 2007

Sherry Woodard, animal behavior consultant for Best Friends Animals Society, gives one of the hundreds of skinny cats found at the FLOCK animal sanctuary some much needed love.
CHRISTINA EICHELKRAUT / PVT
Sherry Woodard, animal behavior consultant for Best Friends Animals Society, gives one of the hundreds of skinny cats found at the FLOCK animal sanctuary some much needed love.

By CHRISTINA EICHELKRAUT
PVT

SOCIETY NEEDS TRACTOR TO GET RID OF MESS

How to help

If you would like to volunteer, make a donation, or adopt a cat, feel free to show up at the shelter, located on 2171 E. Bond St.

To get there, take Homestead Road down to Silver Street (directly across the street from the Chicken Ranch), and turn right. Turn right again when you reach Vicki Ann Road, and Bond Street, a gravel and dirt road, will be on your right.

You’ll know you’ve reached the sanctuary (which is a little off the road on the right) when you see RVs and banners welcoming volunteers.

Taking a walk around the periphery of the For Love of Cats and Kittens (FLOCK) animal sanctuary early Wednesday afternoon, there was no escaping the fact that despite the rain that taunted the valley briefly the night before, it was yet another dry, hot day in Pahrump.

It was hard to imagine enduring the weather with a coat of fur, which is why Sherry Woodward, an animal behavior consultant with the Best Friend’s Animal Society, walked the perimeter of the property to check for cats “in distress” due to the heat.

Patches of fur poked out and shuffled from beneath some of the bushes around the property, and every 10 feet or so an alert cat crouched or lay in the shade of the fence, warily watching Woodward pass by.

“We’re trying to keep the ground wet for them,” Woodward explained.

When five cats erupted from a bush upon closer approach, Woodward said, “That’s really good for them, to get that close.”

She went on to explain that even in the short span of the past week, many of the cats were already looking better and had more “social skills” just by being fed consistently and being handled.

Dozens were found recently in the compound in Pahrump’s south end, many dehydrated and starving.

Feeding time for the cats, at least for the wet canned food that helps to rehydrate them, is around 7:30 p.m., and the rescue worker said that more and more cats are beginning to come out from their hiding places now.

“That part is really fun to watch, that they’re starting to enjoy being around people,” Woodward said.

Some of the cats, said Woodward, still had to be caught for treatment or check-ups using nets, but once they were caught, she said, most became very friendly.

“If you hold them like a baby, with their belly up, a lot of them just become limp in your arms,” the animal behavior consultant said.

Part of the reason for that may be because, according to Woodward, some of the cats in the shelter are believed to have been pets once upon a time.

“We’re finding cats with microchips,” Woodward said. “We’re finding people’s pets. Some of them are obviously cats who are used to being loved and are just starving for attention.”

Still, some of the cats’ ears are ragged from mites, and many seem obviously thinner than they should be.

Woodward is one of five staff members who are staying in RVs parked outside the two-and-a half-acre facility that was turned over to Best Friends after animal control officers shut the shelter down and took ownership of it from FLOCK.

When Best Friends staff members arrived, they walked into a sanctuary with nothing but brush, a few wooden cat hutches (basically a small, wooden teepee-like structures), and a yard literally covered in feces and urine.

The yard has been raked out and cleaned (it was essentially being used by the cats as one giant, unsanitary litter box), but there’s so much debris the society needs a tractor to get rid of the mess, of which Woodward said “the main ingredient is poop.”

A few small, white buildings sit alongside the premises, housing yet more cats enjoying the cool and shade.

Woodward said that upon the society’s arrival, the buildings had to be bleached and power-washed because they were covered in vomit and urine.

The society also brought in its own fencing in an attempt to parcel the shelter into more manageable sizes, so that each and every cat that is there can be examined and treated.

Now there are carrying cases and other shelters scattered around the property, and although many of the sleeping cats outside look thin and a little bedraggled, it’s easy enough to see without a formal head count that there are plenty of them, of all colors and breeds.

A couple of volunteers (there were about 12 one day this week, although last weekend Woodward estimated about 27 showed up) stopped Woodward on her rounds to tell her that they were going to towel-bathe some of the cats.

According to the volunteers, they were too sick to handle the stress of a full bath, and the volunteers were worried about aggravating the cats to the point where they would have difficulty breathing.

Illness and disease are rampant among the cats, and Woodward estimates that up to 39 percent of the cats have tested positive for feline immunodeficiency virus (the feline equivalent of HIV) or feline leukemia.

One cat, whom Woodward described as “a big, friendly, orange tabby,” tested positive for both and passed away yesterday.

The total count for cats that have had to be euthanized is now up to about 10.

But the cats they’ve managed to catch and treat, which isn’t all of them, are slowly but surely improving. Still, Woodward said the workers know there are many more to be helped, some even living out in the desert on the periphery of the shelter, but finding, treating, and keeping track of so many cats is a daunting task.

In addition, many of the cats are suffering from upper respiratory infections and untreated abscessed wounds which she believes came from cat fights over food.

Other health problems include ringworm and what rescue workers believe might be mange.

“We have some cats that look hairless,” Woodward said.

Because such conditions are so contagious, the shelter is in dire need of medical assistance, especially trained veterinarians.

At this point, however, any and all help is welcome, and volunteers don’t need to have any experience to contribute to the cats’ well-being.

“We can keep them busy,” Woodward said. “Even if they just want to come and love on the cats and let the cats love on them, that’s incredibly helpful.”

The Best Friends’ goal, as Woodward put it, is to turn every cat at the shelter into a “spoiled house cat” or “an outdoor cat that has a healthy life and is cared for.”

The kitties are already being placed for adoption, and all need a home and lots of love.

Donations are also welcome, especially scoopable kitty litter, which is beginning to run low. Toys, stainless steel bowls, or hard-sided carrying cases are also needed.

The volunteers could also use some help, including Gatorade and bottled water.

Monetary donations, in the form of Wal-Mart gift cards for miscellaneous purchases needed during the course of rescue operations, are also appreciated.

Anyone interested in volunteering is urged to contact Tiffani Hill, a Best Friends staff member, on her cell phone at (805) 698-5959.

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