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cats haven

Published in the July/August 2009 issue of The Pampered Pet Magazine.

the pampered pet magazine

Cats Haven
by Lisa Maliga
© 2009

Tall carpeted perches and trees loom near the walls and windows in what was once a dining room. Shelves and tables that once held meals and books now support small round beds of soft cloth and carpet. There’s an expanse of well worn hardwood floor that used to be walked on by people, but now the tread is softer and more agile. There is little noise, only some meows. This is Cats Haven, a place where cats reside until they find a new home. Here, the human visitor is outnumbered by dozens of these lovable feline furballs.

When walking into the house one is quickly greeted by the more sociable cats. Others are too busy getting their beauty sleep to be bothered and remain where they are. Some are occupied eating or playing with their friends to pay much attention to another human. Yet if a camera appears the potential kitty stars rush forward and pose obligingly.

Founded by Barb Wills in 1988, Cats Haven has grown a lot since then but it still is the “only cat specific group in Indianapolis,” according to Barb. The official mission statement is: “To provide a non-institutional shelter [no cages] for cats and kittens. Cats Haven was founded for special needs cats or kittens with birth defects, neurological problems, or medical issues or injuries that require veterinary care. Cats Haven strives to educate the public about available resources and proper care of companion animals.”

Due to the economy, the number of stray cats has increased. Sometimes adoptees are returned. The shelter is now at capacity and many loving cats are awaiting a good home. Each and every cat here is treated well and fed well. “At least once a week, [volunteer] Sue Hildebrandt and her partner, Mil, drive to Seymour, Indiana to the Wal-Mart distribution center. Rain or snow, ice or sun, they make this trip to pick up broken bags of dog and cat food and cat litter that Wal-Mart donates.” A similar organization also benefits from the donations: FIDO [Friends of Indianapolis Dogs Outside] an all-volunteer group that focuses on helping dog owners improve the quality of life for their outside dogs. In addition, Barb mentions: “We have supplied animal care and control with dog food, a dog rescue that is acquiring their 501c3 status and sometimes donate cat food when we have some to spare to Harmony Haven in Terre Haute. I still have to buy cat food and litter on a fairly regular basis as we feed Purina in most of the foster homes. Our feral colony up north [40 cats] loves variety.”

All donated money goes directly to the care and feeding of the cats. Barb is astute in the ways of saving money in order to fund Cats Haven. She uses coupons extensively and sells bottles and cans in order to keep the place running. Her 401k plan was cashed in. It’s all about the cats. There is also a food pantry for those families with cats and kittens facing harsh economic times. Giving away food to felines is something that Barb and all her volunteers feel is preferable to the alternative of the cats being sent to a shelter or even euthanized. Cats Haven is, was and always will be a no-kill shelter.

Ms. Wills believes that she has to, “Keep plugging on. Take responsibility as I can’t run off to Florida.” She also states: “I’m really good with bad results.”

Barb Wills, who had lived in the Holy Cross district, first began to care for felines at the age of seven when there was a house fire across the street and only two of five kittens survived. “My dad let me take one and my neighbor the other one. I ended up naming him Inky as he was glossy black with a white blaze on his throat.”

Later, a black and white female kitten came into her life when it crawled into her yard dragging its hind legs. After visiting veterinarian, Dr. Tysklind, Barb was given the task of expressing the cat’s bladder two to three times a day to make sure the female cat voided regularly. Dr. Tysklind thought that the kitten had been hit by a car and she was given medication and Barb confined her to a cage. After three weeks there was no improvement, and upon returning to the vet, x-rays showed a BB pellet lodged in the spine. Barb says, “I called around to several shelters around the state and found out that none would take her. They all said they would euthanize her then, there were people and other vets who said to put her down. I just couldn't do it. She was happy and got around well for a paraplegic cat. Her front legs were very strong.” The cat was optimistically named Phoenix in the hope that she would rise again. She did -- she lived for 13 years.

At Cats Haven, distinguishing one feline from another can be difficult when there are so many. As their names are often unknown, distinguishing monikers are given to each one. The cast of the board game and movie “Clue” have been given out to Colonel Mustard, Josephine, and Blanche. Some have been named after vacuum cleaner brands: Hoover, Eureka, and Kirby. Then there were the trio of “The Sopranos”, black feral cats who were named after the popular HBO gangster series: Tony Soprano, [Anthony] Junior, the son, and Carmela, Tony’s wife. Like their TV counterparts, they are pugnacious – unlike them they haven’t ordered any hits.

Some of the cats who are thriving at Cats Haven had existed in unfortunate circumstances before their arrival. Margo spent her life in a backyard breeder’s cage and at the advanced age of 14 years had delivered her last litter of kittens. All Cats Haven feline residents are spayed or neutered as soon as possible upon their arrival. Thanks go to the Hamilton County Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic which provides excellent care at a minimal fee.

Morgane Le Fay was a longtime resident of Cats Haven before she decided, on her own, to visit a pet adoption show one weekend. When she got there, a woman whose own cat of 17 years had recently died, was amazed at the striking resemblance between Morgane and her own deceased pet. They immediately bonded and Morgane Le Fay went on to a happy home.

Here are a couple of testimonials from some of the human admirers of this fine organization:

“Two of my seven kitties are Cats Haven babies and I love them so much. Thank you Cats Haven for all you do for the kitties of Indianapolis!” Stephanie D.

“Thank you so much for what you do. All those kittys are VERY lucky to have such a devoted person as yourself. Your friend Melodye”

The current location has been operational since 2003. In Barb’s previous facility, a location referred to as “Dodge City” on the eastside of Indianapolis, the rundown house was in such poor condition that every time it rained the walls had to be mopped. Now that the current Cats Haven is aptly named, it is in a better neighborhood, is larger, and this all volunteer non-profit organization is well managed and staffed by genuine cat lovers.

Volunteers don’t spend their time playing with the cats as some think when they first sign up for the task. Cleaning, serving meals, changing water and emptying out kitty litter can be laborious, as can the sweeping and mopping. Brushing and grooming the cats is another duty. Other tasks may include helping to transport cats to and from veterinarian visits. Maintenance is always needed so anyone who happens to be handy with a hammer or have other basic home repair skills is welcome. Due to insurance liability, all volunteers must be over 18.

The volunteers are a dedicated group of cat lovers. Breakfast is served early as volunteer Dzana arrives at 5:30 AM in order to help take care of the needs of many hungry cats and kittens.

No matter what kind of situation a cat has experienced before coming to Cats Haven, they are treated with the utmost respect. They live in an environment with other cats and will naturally find sympathetic feline companions. If they had hunger problems in the past, those are quickly gone as food is plentiful and available all the time. In one of the upstairs cat rooms the sound of New Age music is heard, further soothing the felines. The kitty room houses the younger cats. They have enough food, toys and carpeted beds to keep them occupied. A TV set is always on and kittens can pick up decorating and gardening tips as the HGTVchannel plays in the background.

Any donations of dry and canned cat food, scoopable and clay litter, cleaning supplies, gift cards [Target, Walmart, pet food stores, Lowes, and gas] are always appreciated.
Should you happen to see an adorable cat that just needs to come home with you, don’t hesitate to call or send an email!

For more information, please visit their online site at:
Cats Haven
P. O. Box 30206
Indianapolis, IN 46230

© 2009 by Lisa Maliga