Lifestyle

VIPP’s new adoption center gives cats room to stretch

Geoff Fletcher, vice president of Vashon Island Pet Protectors, visits with six cats up for adoption at the organization
Geoff Fletcher, vice president of Vashon Island Pet Protectors, visits with six cats up for adoption at the organization's new adoption center.
— image credit: Amelia Heagerty/staff photo

Vashon Island Pet Protectors realized a longtime goal to provide better, more permanent housing to cats awaiting adoption when its newly remodeled adoption center hosted its first Adopt-a-Cat Day Saturday, Sept. 6.

The manufactured home-turned-adoption-center just off Old Mill Road is home to about 40 cats — and according to Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP) volunteers, it comes at a critical time for those concerned about domestic pets. Not only does it replace a shelter that many considered crowded and inadequate, but it’s providing quality housing at a time when cat and kitten relinquishments, according to VIPP officials, are at an all time high.

The adoption center is an atypical place for cats in need of adoption. Unlike the rows of cages that define the shelters of many other animal welfare organizations, felines at the adoption center live communally. There are four rooms for the cats, each painted a different color and lined with ledges that stair-step up the walls.

“The nice thing about having separate rooms is you can say, ‘Put Scooter in the green room because he’s not getting along with Doc Morgan,’” said Geoff Fletcher, vice president of Vashon Island Pet Protectors. “You’ve got to recognize who thinks he or she is alpha and keep them in separate rooms.

“All these cats are loose; they can climb up; there are little hidey places where they can hide,” said VIPP President Barbara Drinkwater, one of the Islanders who founded Vashon’s powerhouse animal welfare organization 24 years ago.

The felines also enjoy an outdoor enclosure, where they can bask in the sun or enjoy the fresh air. In all, VIPP spent about $25,000 on materials to turn a run-of-the-mill white house — which VIPP purchased for $357,000 two years ago — into a cat sanctuary, VIPP officials said. Volunteers take care of the cats, feeding them and visiting with them, six hours a day.

“We have shy cats and bold and bossy cats, we have cuddlers and crooners,” said VIPP member Susan Madden.

While several foster families on the Island are giving dogs a temporary home, the Island needs more families willing to foster both cats and dogs, Drinkwater said. But the unadopted cat population on Vashon, where cat abandonment has been a chronic problem, is exponentially larger, she added.

All told, VIPP has 65 cats and kittens up for adoption, up more than 20 from a year ago, and has had more cats relinquished to it than in previous years, said Terri Fletcher, who is active with the cat adoption process at VIPP.

“I think the economy is part of the equation,” she said. “We always ask people why they’re relinquishing their pet, and a lot of times they simply can’t continue to care for them, or they’re moving to a place where they can’t have their pet.”

Still, VIPP is doing much more for its domestic animal population than the public King County Animal Care and Control-operated shelters, which were decried as “deplorable” by a citizen advisory committee a year ago. VIPP and other privately funded no-kill animal welfare organizations in the county, such as PAWS and the Humane Society, try to help the overcrowded public system whenever they can.

“On occasion, they send us an e-mail saying they have a particular dog or cat they’d like us to help with,” Drinkwater said of the county shelters. “We always try to help — but we still primarily focus on Island pets.”

The Fletchers are fostering a dozen kittens from three litters — two litters that were abandoned at Dockton Park and a litter that was relinquished to VIPP. Six of the curious, fluffy kittens are spoken for, but half the felines still need a permanent home.

“The kittens that were dropped off in Dockton Park, they were four weeks old,” Geoff Fletcher said. “That’s a death sentence. They could have gotten fleas, and the fleas would have sucked them dry. Plus, they’re not hunters yet.”

Animal rights activists say spaying and neutering cats is essential in helping to curb the burgeoning cat population, and VIPP — in concert with Fair Isle Animal Clinic — is working to address the problem. VIPP and Fair Isle offer a month-long program in which cat owners pay only $25 to spay, or $15 to neuter, their pets. VIPP also spays and neuters all the animals that end up in its care.

“We have a record number of kittens this year,” said Terri Fletcher. “Obviously, we haven’t been able to reach everybody with our Fix-a-Cat program in February.”

The lion’s share of the adoption center’s rehabilitation was done this spring and summer by Cindy Duntley, VIPP treasurer, and her husband Matt Lewis.

After VIPP members visited a state-of-the-art shelter on Orcas Island and got together to plan the shelter, the couple set out to make VIPP’s dream a reality. At that time, many cats were housed in cramped and less-than-ideal quarters.

“We felt at the time it was a good opportunity, because we saw a growing need to care for more animals on the Island,” Duntley said of the organization’s decision to purchase the home two years ago. “We needed a facility to care for a growing population of animals.”

The organization was able to acquire the house and its 4.6-acre parcel only because longtime Islanders Tad and Florence Truselo left enough money in their will for VIPP to make a significant down payment on property, Duntley said. Three subsequent bequests were also put towards the adoption center’s mortgage, enough so that VIPP is “making good progress towards getting it paid off,” Duntley said.

“These were people who loved animals,” Drinkwater said. “They are passing on that heritage, which is nice. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Someday, she said, the property’s acreage will serve VIPP’s dog population.

Each year, the nonprofit holds its Fur Ball auction, which accounts for half its operating expenses. Although she was concerned the state of the economy could affect the auction, Duntley said, VIPP raked in about $51,000 after expenses, a slight increase over last year.

“We did better than we could have expected,” she said.

The organization spent $112,000 last year, much of it on the extensive and expensive process it undergoes with each cat or dog before offering it up for adoption.

After spaying and neutering every cat that comes to the organization, VIPP microchips, vaccinates, de-worms and de-fleas them as well.

“They’re perfect when they go out,” Drinkwater said.

But the $75 fee that people pay to adopt one of VIPP’s cats “doesn’t begin to cover that,” she said. This month, the fee is even lower — $50 for cats or $35 for “senior cats,” the organization’s oldest cats.

VIPP has a 24-hour waiting period, so people don’t succumb to the “Oh, isn’t he cute,” syndrome, Geoff Fletcher said. “It’s a 20-year commitment in some cases, so we really want people to think through what they’re doing.”

VIPP is one of dozens of small animal welfare organizations in the county, each of which is critical in helping take care of the domestic pets in each community, said Rhonda Parks Manville of the Humane Society.

“We all have a role to play in taking care of our animal friends that are in need of homes and medical care,” she said.

Both the Humane Society and PAWS, which operates Cat City in Seattle, accept animals from the county when the shelters have space.

“Cats need help as much as possible in our community,” said Kay Joubert, PAWS’ director of companion animal services. “Cats are euthanized two-to-one compared to dogs. ... It’s clearly a reflection of the fact that communities need to treat cats at least as well as dogs.”

With the launch of the VIPP Adoption Center, Islanders seem to have risen to the challenge.

“All we need is for people to come down here,” Drinkwater said. “It seems so simple.”

VISIT THE CENTER

The VIPP Adoption Center is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. every Saturday for Adopt-a-Cat Day. Or, call 389-1085 to make an appointment at the new center.

Maps to the center, located just off Old Mill Road, are available at Pandora’s Box and Fair Isle Animal Clinic. Visit www.vipp.org for more information.

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