Redwood City cat shelter may be forced to close
By Shaun Bishop
Daily News Staff Writer
Posted: 09/11/2009 10:50:14 PM PDT
On a recent summer day, Monica Thompson walked up to a nondescript warehouse in Redwood City and pushed past the screen door into a large room filled with nearly 200 cats.
Some were sleeping in cages, others crawling around a large enclosure with climbing posts toward the back of the building. Dozens were roaming freely around the room, rubbing against the legs of visitors. One was sprawled out on an overhead beam, napping.
"Every cat in here," the veterinarian says as she looks around, "was supposed to be killed."
Instead, Thompson takes them and finds them new adoptive owners through the Nine Lives Foundation, which she founded in 2004. Thompson calls them "death row kitties" — cats that were scheduled to be euthanized at other shelters because of behavior problems or health issues.
Sometime this fall, though, all those cats in the foundation's shelter may need to find another place to go.
With donations to the foundation dropping during the recession, Thompson says she can no longer afford the shelter's $40,000-per-month cost, 80 percent of which comes out of her own pockets.
She also runs a veterinary practice offering low-cost care for cats in a separate Redwood City building, and gives about $20,000 per month from her practice to the shelter. But she says that's not enough and the shelter may have to close or downsize significantly.
"There's only so much I can do by myself," she said.
For now, the shelter has stopped taking new "death row" cats as it tries to find homes for all the current residents in case it has to shut down.
Determined to save as many cats as she could, Thompson, 43, founded the foundation five years ago and moved into the warehouse on a frontage road along Highway 101. She says shelters all over Northern California now regularly e-mail or call her with offers to take cats.
She acknowledges shelters have to euthanize some cats because the cats are gravely injured or because the shelter runs out of space. But she believes shelters too often put down cats that have adoption potential.
"It's not (the shelter's) fault, but I still think there's so much that could be done that isn't," she said.
The accountants say she's crazy trying to run a low-cost veterinary clinic and an expensive rescue shelter at the same time. "I was an economics major and I know better," she said, "but somebody has to do this."
Besides the "death row" cats, Thompson has been giving her clinic patients another chance at life.
A couple months ago, a woman brought in a black cat that had been struck near a freeway onramp in Tracy. The cat's front left leg was crushed and her abdomenal cavity had been split open.
Thompson took the cat, waived the $100 surrender fee, then sewed up her stomach and amputated the leg for free.
"Cats with these kinds of injuries don't make it past the shelter," Thompson said as the recovering cat pawed at her. "And you can see she definitely wants to live."
The cat was adopted and named "Mimsy" by its new owners, who posted a grateful message on the Nine Lives Foundation's blog.
"Mimsy is becoming more playful and curious, too, and likes to be up on her hind legs to scratch her tower or swat at the Cat Dancer," the family wrote.
Rescue groups like Thompson's aren't a panacea for the thousands of unwanted cats that come into Bay Area shelters.
The Peninsula Humane Society is required to take all of the 10,000 dogs and cats per year that come through its door, said vice president Scott Delucchi. The humane society treats many of the cats but also has to euthanize some.
The organization put down 196 "treatable" cats last year, meaning "they had some issue that, given endless resources, they could possibly be treated and then placed into a home," Delucchi said. Another 1,265 "untreatable" cats, those that were simply suffering, were also euthanized.
"The ones we can't treat are often the real difficult cases that would be hard for any rescue groups to take on as well," Delucchi said.
Thompson says she has until the end of October to make a decision on the shelter's future. She's planning to run a "Coins for Cats" fundraising drive encouraging donors to collect coins through the end of the month.
She has also sent letters to donors and adoptive families asking for $20 per month to keep the foundation going.
"If they can just help us with $20 a month, that makes a huge difference," she said.
For more information or to donate, visit www.ninelivesfoundation.org.
E-mail Shaun Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.