By Carol Broeder and Linda Gross
This spring a perfect storm struck Globe. But it wasn’t weather. It was cats. Cats, cats and more cats.
Cats and kittens—waves of them—washed into the Cat House shelter in Globe, operated by the High Desert Humane Society (HDHS).
Volunteers had been instructed not to take in more cats, but the need seemed so great, they did so anyway. People with kittens that had been turned away during the day were bringing them back at night and leaving them in boxes at the door. One young woman brought in “a herd of cats” because her boyfriend wouldn’t let her keep them.
It’s a familiar problem for those on the front lines who have to deal with all the unwanted, abandoned cats that end up in shelters or on the streets. Nationally, it’s estimated that nearly 70 million cats are left to live on the streets—and 80% of them die there. Of the 3- to 4 million cats entering shelters each year, nearly 70% have to be euthanized.
Those who run cat shelters know the numbers and do what they can to rescue animals, but the creatures keep coming, and cat shelters like Globe’s are constantly faced with hard decisions. The recent situation with overcrowding at the Cat House points to the problems that can develop when too many cats are taken in and the facility is not able to handle them.
To rescue any cat requires providing a minimum of care, socialization, immunizations and housing until a suitable home can be found. And that requires a good deal of money, time and luck.
Victoria Vaughan, a rescue volunteer, knows that firsthand. Vaughan is fostering three of seven kittens that had been abandoned at the local library when they were less than a week old. The unfortunate situation occurred at the same time the shelter was in lock-down mode after the City nearly shut it down for overcrowding.
The shelter’s new director, Cheryle Mariscal, said she took the kittens to Gila County Animal Control to be euthanized but was turned away because HDHS had already “accepted” the kittens. She next turned to Facebook to find individuals who might be willing to foster them through eight weeks to get them to adoptable age.
Vaughan and two others answered the call. Vaughan agreed to take three of the kittens and has managed to get them to a healthy, robust age of seven weeks. The other four didn’t make it.
Kittens that young have to be fed every two hours, explains Vaughan, adding, “I had a problem with them initially. They didn’t know how to nurse, and they weren’t pooping properly.” She helped them learn to nurse, and her dog, Abby, helped in mothering the kittens—including licking their behinds, something that might have saved their lives. Vaughan included a few well-timed enemas and some mineral oil in the formula, which all worked together to ensure that the kittens have remained healthy and will soon be put up for adoption.
“It’s an expensive proposition, though.” Vaughan smiles as she fondles the three kittens in her lap. The formula for small kittens costs $20 per can, and the three kittens have gone through just over $130 in formula alone.
And that’s just the beginning.
Before they are adopted, the kittens will also have to have their shots and be spayed or neutered. According to Mariscal, these additional medical requirements cost the shelter an additional $200 per cat or kitten.
This summer, Mariscal said, the shelter reduced adoption fees from $60 to $30 per animal to help spur adoptions. However, as Mariscal points out, even at $60, the shelter doesn’t recover its costs, which include over $3,000 in vet bills each month, another $1,500-plus for spay/neuters, and overhead on two buildings.
“A cat shelter is a community asset,” she says. “It is not designed to make money. It is designed to serve a need.” And the need is great.
Funding for the shelter comes from proceeds from the humane society’s thrift store in Globe, plus donations, the occasional fundraiser, and a sustaining grant from the United Fund of Globe-Miami. But perhaps most importantly, the shelter depends on volunteers to run the place. A small stipend is provided for Cheryle’s position as director, and there is one paid position. Everyone else is a volunteer.
For dedicated volunteers, serving needy animals means juggling work, home, and an often-demanding round-the-clock schedule of feeding and care.
Laurie Manzano balanced this act for nearly 14 years in Globe—beginning long before the Cat House opened. Manzano owned the Blue Mule Art Gallery with her husband, John Stalnecker, and ran a cat rescue out of the gallery.
Manzano says she took in a maximum of 30 cats at any one time and would take care of sick cats and very young kittens at her home before bringing them into the gallery to put them up for adoption. Most cats were with her for an average of six weeks, and the longest stay was four months.
Over the years, Manzano adopted out more than 1,700 cats. “I’d get so sick of people dumping cats on our front door,” Manzano says. Her cat-friendly art gallery and rescue attracted a steady stream of people, but she found that she still needed to take cats into PetSmart in the Valley where adoptions were more likely. It was a 10-hour round trip, but it helped keep her numbers down at the gallery.
When Manzano and Stalnecker retired and sold their gallery, the Humane Society purchased a building across the street and opened a new cat rescue.
Originally designed to accommodate 25 cats, the shelter saw its population soar in recent years to 90-plus—far too many cats to house in the limited cages the shelter owned at the time. This left staff with no choice but to allow cats to free roam throughout the building, including the basement and ceiling ducts. Keeping the place clean and disease free became a challenge. As a result, adoptions dropped off. Neighbors began to complain about the odor.
At the time, Cheryl Brazell served as president of humane society’s board. Brazell says the board had been made aware of ongoing issues with the burgeoning cat population at the shelter, but it failed to step in to address problems. Brazell cited issues with keeping volunteers, lack of proper oversight, poor policy, and an overwhelming population of abandoned cats. The issue came to a head this summer, when the City threatened to shut the shelter down.
In July, Michelle Yerkovich, who serves as City Code Enforcement Officer, investigated after numerous complaints. Yerkovich acknowledges the situation with the Cat House was bad, saying she could have shut them down at the time based on the smell alone.
However, Yerkovich is quick to acknowledge the importance of the shelter and keeping it open.
“I want them there. The city wants them there. Cat lovers want them there,” she says.
The shelters’ director, Cheryle Mariscal—who once worked with Laurie Manzano at Blue Mule—understands the challenges that the shelter faces. She has been spearheading the board’s efforts to get the current population under control and to set up new policies at the shelter: limiting the number of adoptions, establishing regimens for housing cats (e.g., sick ones have to be quarantined), and guiding spay/neuter decisions.
Mariscal is working with Yerkovich to get the shelter into compliance and establish sound policy that will meet city codes—even those without clear definitions. For example, currently, no code exists specifying exactly how many cats can be housed at a shelter within city limits.
But with the number at the shelter estimated at 90 cats, Yerkovich turned to Gila County Animal Control for assistance. Officer J. C. Castaneda found a rancher in Roosevelt who was willing to take in cats that could not be socialized enough for adoption, to put to work as mousers.
Beyond the reduction in numbers, the addition of several large, new enclosures has been the biggest single improvement at the shelter, allowing staff to separate and house the cats in a clean, safe and cat-friendly environment.
Pinal Lumber donated the materials valued at $1,000, and retired craftsman Randy Bengtson volunteered to design and build cages with both the staff and cats in mind. The new enclosures are both easy to access for cleaning and include lots of perches and cat-friendly amenities, like walkways and cubbyholes.
Laurie Manzano came out of retirement to help restore order to the cat shelter and get things back on track. While she no longer takes sick cats home or bottle feeds kittens, she helps others take over this role, working recently with Vaughn.
If not for volunteers like Manzano, Bengtson, Vaughn and others, there would be no cat shelter.
“We have always operated on a small budget, provided by proceeds from the HDHS thrift store and donations,” explains Mariscal.
“We need more volunteers who are willing to give an hour or several hours a week to help,” Mariscal says, adding that the jobs can be as varied as the volunteer. “One person comes in on Saturdays, where she spends about seven hours just brushing cats.”
“This is a labor of love,” she concludes.
Update to the story posted on Sept. 9. The siamese kitten has been adopted.
Correction: The last names of Vaughan and Bengtson were misspelled in the print edition. The corrections were made with this article for our website.
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.