Napping in the sun, pouncing on toys, snuggling on laps. These simple pleasures, which most house cats take for granted, are exciting new experiences for the former laboratory test subjects at Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Wyoming.
Kindness Ranch is one of the only groups in the U.S. that brokers deals with labs to provide sanctuary for cats used in biomedical research. Caregivers focus on helping the cats adjust and enjoy their new life so they can get adopted and become carefree house cats.
When you drive up the prairie road to the Kitty Bunkhouse and see two dozen cats run out to greet you at the mesh fence, it’s obvious they’ve left their memories of laboratory life behind them. According to Tamra Brennan, Kindness Ranch ‘s executive director, that’s exactly their aim. “We have a really positive, communal environment for them,” she says. “Our animal caretakers spoil the cats rotten – they get love, they have cat friends and toys to play with, they get brushed and get lots of attention from us and guests. It’s a happy new life for them.”
So far, the workers at Kindness Ranch have rehabilitated and found homes for 80 former research test cats, and they hope to dramatically increase that number by expanding laboratory partnerships and creating a country wide fostering program.
Ripe for Adoption
The sanctuary averages 20 cats at any given time, which are housed in a large yurt ringed by an outdoor kitty run. Inside the yurt – affectionately referred to as the Kitty Bunkhouse – is a comfortable home-like environment, complete with couches, perches, climbing towers and toys.
“After the cats get here, it takes them a little time to settle in,” says Stephanie Bilbro, companion animal manager at Kindness Ranch. “Once they realize they’re getting all these toys, love and wet food, they become very social and friendly.”
The ranch is a home between homes for the animals lucky enough to go there, and those too debilitated for adoption are provided lifetime care. Behaviorally, just about all of them rapidly rehabilitate, even those with heavy emotional baggage.
When Fiona arrived, the dilute torti was stressed and unhappy. So Bilbro took the anxious cat home to give her special attention. After a few weeks, Fiona fell head over heels in love with one of Bilbro’s other cats, and then she finally relaxed. “Now she runs right up to me, rubs all over my legs and flips over so I can rub her belly,” says Bilbro, noting that Fiona is one of their most extreme cases.
“People think shelter animals and those coming out of labs are damaged, and they’ll have to deal with emotional scars all their lives,” she says. “While these cats went through things that most cats don’t, with time, love and the right environment, they bounce back quickly. We want to make people more aware that these animals are out there and that they need homes, too.”
After what these cats have been through, they certainly deserve it