Foster Focus – Pedigrees in the Pound

A foster parent finds inventive ways to help hundreds of homeless pedigreed cats.

Quick, picture a cat in the pound. Chances are you imagined a cat of indeterminate heritage, but certainly not a show-quality feline, right? In a surprising recent trend, pedigreed cats increasingly are becoming homeless and showing up in animal shelters across the country.

Choco, a seal point Himalayan, was seized by Daytona Florida Animal Control along with 39 Persian cats in February 2008. Now he and others are being fostered and adopted into permanent homes thanks to Charlene Campbell, a southern Florida general contractor, animal rescuer and breeder.

“I think people are often shocked to learn that pedigreed cats end up in shelters, too. We’ve rescued and fostered Maine Coons, Persians, Siamese, Scottish Folds, Manx, Tonkinese, you name it,” says Campbell, who is a foster parent and the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s (CFA) southern region coordinator for the Breeder Assistance program. CFA is building a network of volunteers throughout the United States to help breeders in need, as well as the pedigreed cats in their care.

“Sometimes people have an injury, death, foreclosure or something that makes them unable to take care of their cats,” Campbell says. “We assist them, arrange for rescue organizations to take the cats or foster them ourselves. Just from February to September [2008], we got 450 into safe haven just in the Maryland to Florida area. Choco was one of my favorites.”

Since Florida has the fourth-highest foreclosure rate in the country, Campbell is not surprised that about 35 percent of her rescues in the state have been a result of foreclosures and job losses.

“The worst is when people just leave their pets in their [foreclosed] houses. The animals won’t be found for a while and when they are, they’re in bad shape,” Campbell says. “I wish I could tell them ‘Don’t do that; just please call us, and we’ll find someone to take them.'”

But Choco’s case wasn’t because of the mortgage meltdown. He ended up homeless due to a combination of his ailing caregiver’s inability to take care of her several pedigreed cats and a new pet limit law in her hometown. When Campbell was called about the seizure by animal control, she immediately stepped in to help the frightened cats.

“We set up a staging area in a horse barn where we planned to give the cats haircuts and baths,” Campbell recalls. “Then we arranged for assorted rescue groups from the East Coast that would come and pick up kitties, and four on the West Coast. I had to bring back 25 cats myself and set them up in my garage; they had to be shaved, bathed, and some had to go to the vet.”

Campbell tries to place as many saved cats as possible with pedigree rescue groups — there are more than 100 of them throughout the United States. With the help of 30 volunteers in her region who provide temporary homes, they foster the rest themselves sometimes for as short as a week but at times as long as several months.

As a Persian and Abyssinian breeder who occasionally shows her cats and a lifelong animal rescuer who has saved thousands of pets, Campbell believes she’s found the perfect way to combine her two passions.

“These rescued cats give you so much love,” she says. “Looking at them and knowing that they’re clean, safe, comfortable, have good food, are doing well today and that perhaps tomorrow that perfect person is going to adopt that cat — it’s a neat feeling to know you made a difference for that kitty. Doing this work makes me feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world.”

According to Linda Berg, chairperson of Animal Welfare for CFA, there are about 1,000 breeders and pedigree enthusiasts across the country who are part of their network of volunteers. But they need more foster parents to handle the increasing load.

“Right now, we’re seeing more need for the Breeder Assistance program, which is probably due to the economy,” Berg says. “Just last weekend, I had three shelters, animal control and two breeders call who needed us to take pedigreed cats.” She says it can be challenging to find much-needed adopters since most people don’t know that there are rescued pedigreed cats that need homes.

Campbell hopes that Choco will be one of those who finds his forever home soon. After a troubling bout of aggression during the first week of his fostering experience — which Campbell attributed to stress and anxiety from the initial rescue — and treatment for exposure to ringworm, Choco now is perfectly healthy, affectionate, playful and docile.

“Seeing how he was at first and what he’s like now, it’s a miracle,” she says. “He has a possible adoption pending, so we’re really excited. This is the greatest feeling!”

Cimeron Morrissey is a cat rescuer, award winning writer and Animal Planet’s Cat Hero of the Year. She also is a member of the board of directors of Homeless Cat Network, a no-kill feline rescue organization in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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