Fending for felines

ST. MARYS — One-year-old Nala seemed oblivious of the new adventure her life was about to take on. She rolled around on the ground, fetched sticks, and greeted everyone, who would lend a petting hand, with a healthy purr. But one thing was certain. A connection was made.
Lori Moon, of Newport, R.I., learned about her new kitten Nala through Sue’s Animal Rescue Team’s (SART) Web site. Since she was coming to the area for business, she called and set an adoption appointment this week. The two hit it off instantly, and Nala is now resting comfortably in her new Rhode Island home.
Such has been the luck of 437 felines in the area, thanks to an initiative that started out as a small grassroots rescue.
Sue Cheslock first began helping animals several years ago by
rescuing strays that found their way to her rural property. She would help the cats get healthy and socialized, and find them good and caring families.
Her rescues were not limited to cats, as Cheslock found herself saving other animals including some domestic ducks, an injured goose, an abused dog and a misplaced turtle. Her little operation began to grow, and it was soon after that Cheslock realized the need in the community for cat rescue.
Cheslock made a makeshift shelter in her garage and began to help rescue cats on a more regular basis. Fast forward to now, there are now 340 cats awaiting homes at the shelter, but in the meanwhile receiving excellent care.
And behind almost every one, there was a sad story to go along with their rescue.
“This is Bill,” Cheslock said as she introduced an affectionate adult cat.
Bill had been living underneath a house and fending for himself. Battle scars from fights with cats and other animals covered his body and many scars still remain. He came to the center with a nasty disposition, but now is a friendly, lovable cat waiting for the possibility of finding a forever home.
He now seems very happy, and quite content, sneaking from under a table where he likes to lay to be petted.
Another pair of cats had been left to die in an abandoned house trailer, on death’s door when they were found. They are now perfectly healthy and also await a new home. Cheslock told many more sad stories that accompanied most of the animals.
Cheslock said the center has 15 volunteers that help take care of the animals each day. One person in is charge of what happens each day and a revolving team of three to six volunteers also helps out at the shelter, located on Aqueduct Road in St. Marys, each day.
The center now has seven barns that house the cats, including the Sorority House (2-year-old females), The Carriage (adults), The Inn (adults), The Frat House (2-year-old males), The Caged Area (babies), the Nursery (1-year old kittens), and the Main Room (for young cats and babies). More than 100 pounds of food is dished out daily, and all the cats at the center are fixed, given their shots and wormed. To boot, the center is kept amazingly clean, without the accompanying smell one might expect to go along with a rescue of its size.
The center is currently full and is now no longer taking any more cats until more can be adopted out. However, the center still helps out in controlling the population.
They capture cats in known feral colonies one-by-one, and then fix them and give them needed health care before releasing them back in their known environment.
“It is our mission to have all strays in the area either at the shelter, or at least caught, fixed and medically cared for and put back in their familiar spot in three years,” Cheslock said.
The center received a scare in March of last year when a flash flood hit the center’s location during a rainy period. The center was covered with water as deep as 4 feet. Amazingly, all 297 cats at the center at the time found their way to high spots. Volunteers spent more than four hours in waist high water rescuing the animals. Many volunteers helped house the animals in temporary shelters until the area could be cleaned up and made suitable to return the animals.
The center experienced losses with much of its equipment. What could be saved was cleaned and sanitized.
The center also is currently faced with a food shortage. A donor who had been providing the bulk of the food for the cats has been unable to supply as much lately, and some of the center’s funds are now being spent to supplement the supplies.
Cheslock said that anyone wishing to help can as SART is welcoming donations. She said that it is important that cats have a healthy consistent diet, and the majority of the housed animals enjoy Purina Cat Chow Complete.
People can donate at the website at sartohio.org in an established PayPal account or by visiting the center. Interested parties can also help by volunteering or adopting a pet. However, the adoption process is well scanned to ensure the animals go to good homes. Appointments must be set ahead of time for adoptions.
For more information, call the center at 419-733-3650.