Make Each One Wanted

Debbie Nelson, executive director of MEOW Foundation.

Debbie Nelson, executive director of MEOW Foundation.

By Sherry Warner

Make Each One Wanted (MEOW): A fitting acronym for the Calgary-based, no-kill rescue foundation for cats. “MEOW Foundation was officially founded in July 2000, and our objective really was to be a rescue group that was solely dedicated to cats and their welfare — specifically stray and abandoned — that have no other resources,” says Debbie Nelson, executive director of the foundation.

Canada and many other countries around the world are facing a cat overpopulation crisis, something MEOW Foundation is working hard to correct. “Cats are really the most neglected, most numerous animals there are on the streets and the most undervalued in many ways. This probably is what has lead to the problems,” says Debbie.

Back when the foundation opened its doors there were upwards of seven to nine thousand cats that came through groups like MEOW Foundation and Calgary Humane Society every year. “And that of course doesn’t even account for the cats that were not assisted so it’s always hard to put a number on it,” says Debbie.

Over the years MEOW Foundation has rolled out several programs including its Adoption Program, a Spay/Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), and a Trap Neuter Return (TNR) program to help stem the crisis.

“In recent years with spay/neuter programs like SNAP, which was started by the City of Calgary, I do think there has been an improvement to some degree,” says Debbie. But, there is still a great need outside of Calgary and even in the city this year, she adds. “Every year we think we are getting on top of things and this year, kitten season has been as busy as it ever was.” MEOW Foundation starts seeing kittens in about May and then it’s constant through to the end of September.

MEOW Foundation adopts out between 500-600 cats every year. “We try to balance our numbers pretty closely because we are a no-kill organization, and so we can’t take in more than our capacity allows at the adoption centre and in foster homes,” says Debbie.

At this time of year (fall) MEOW Foundation houses about 60-70 cats at its adoption centre and then about 150 cats (mostly kittens) in foster homes. MEOW’s capacity at its peak is usually 225-230 cats and it may drop lower in the winter. “Our low season is usually January-February — all the kittens have been adopted and only cats available at that time of year are adults,” says Debbie.

The first line of defence in an overpopulation situation is to have the animals spayed or neutered, says Debbie. Through the SNAP program about 1,200 families annually receive financial assistance to spay/neuter their cats. MEOW partners with vet clinics that have agreed to work with the foundation and the clinics give MEOW a break on costs. “In the SNAP program the number of vets vary but on the whole we have about 15 clinics throughout the city that work with us on a regular basis,” says Debbie.

The SNAP program is for anyone who contacts MEOW who needs assistance. “They don’t have to be low-income, they may be experiencing some hardship or expenses at the time,” says Debbie.

The amount of the spay/neuter subsidy is based on family size, the number of working adults in the home and total family income. “Depending on those factors, we ask people to contribute a portion of the fee and MEOW pays the balance to the vet,” says Debbie.

The goal of the TNR program is to return about 100-150 cats to their community homes each year. About half of the cats trapped through the TNR program are put up for adoption because many are just frightened, socialized cats, says Debbie. “They’ve just been abandoned and intact — but it’s clear that they’ve been someone’s pet at some time.

“We were flying under the radar since about 2005, but in 2009 the city of Calgary officially recognized our program and it’s operation within Calgary and gave us greater leeway in returning cats to their communities and understanding that because they are not owned and don’t have a fixed address, the requirement to be licensed is also waived,” explains Debbie.

Feral cats are humanely trapped by MEOW Foundation then taken to a vet clinic where they are spayed or neutered, double identified (tattoo and microchip), vaccinated for rabies and upper respiratory, dewormed and given a full physical exam. “If they need any other work such as dental surgery, abscesses etc. we take care of all of that.”

Once finished at the vet, the cats come back to the MEOW adoption centre’s recovery room. Typically they stay for three to five days if it’s just a routine spay or neuter. Their behaviour is evaluated at that time as well to see if they are truly feral or just a frightened, socialized cat.

“If they are socialized then we put them into our adoption program. If they don’t have that level of socialization needed for adoption then they are returned back to their community and their caregiver,” says Debbie.

“These feral cats have very strong social bonds. We provide cat food to our caregivers that need assistance and if they don’t have shelters for the winter we will provide that too,” she adds.

MEOW Foundation keeps an extensive data base for these cats: where they live, who their caregivers are, what communities they come from and how many cats a particular caregiver may be looking after. MEOW also keeps in touch with its caregivers to make sure their cats are doing well or in need of medical assistance, which it provides for as long as they live.

All cats and kittens are spayed or neutered before they are put up for adoption. Kittens go on the Cat-a-logue at 10 weeks, go for spay/neuter surgery at 11 weeks and at 12 weeks when they are recovered they are picked up at their foster homes.

People use MEOW’s website and the Cat-a-logue to see what types of cats are available. “We try to give people an idea of the cat’s personality in the write up with the photo,” says Debbie.

You can apply online to adopt and usually within 24 hours one of MEOW’s adoption specialists will call you and review your application to get a better understanding of what kind of cat or kitten you are looking for. “We pride ourselves on knowing our cats well so we are able to give people the advice they need to match a cat to the family,” says Debbie.

The foundation has a 30 day policy. “Sometimes it’s just not a match made in heaven,” says Debbie. “We take the cat back, no questions asked. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out in spite of everyone’s best intentions.” If this should happen, families can decide to choose another cat or not, whatever works best.

The ultimate goal is for cats to find their forever home. Successful adoptions are dependent on prospective families taking into consideration a number of things before they adopt: cats live about 15-20 years so you must be prepared for the financial obilgations including food, toys, accessories, vet care, vacation care, insurance etc. (You can expect to spend about $1,500-$2,000 in the first year.) You also need to think about whether or not a cat will fit into your lifestyle.

For more information and/or to adopt please visit www.meowfoundation.com.