That’s what the animals would say if they could talk. Lisa Ward, co-director of Feline Friends Chicago, is most definitely on their side. I met Lisa years ago while volunteering with PAWS Chicago. I know a lot of animal-lovers but Lisa is more than that. She works hard for the animals and most specifically cats. Here’s her “friend of the animals” story:
Why do you like cats?
I actually love all animals, not just cats. Believe it or not, I really thought I was only a dog-person for many, many years. Right before I got married, my fiancé (and now husband) convinced me that we should get a couple of cats and the rest is history. There are literally too many qualities to name in terms of why I love cats!
Give me three?
- The purring.
- The way they know when I am sad and I need them. They circle around me as if they are trying to protect me.
- When they carry things around in their mouth. Tucker does this all the time. It’s adorable. (Tucker is one of seven rescues (six cats and a dog) lucky enough to reside with Lisa and her husband permanently.)
How did you get started in the cat rescue business?
In January 1997, my husband and I took in a little orange stray kitten who we named Webster. It was through the process of bringing Webster into our household that I met Toni McNaughton. We became friends. Not long after that, Toni and I heard about a group of cats displaced from a CHA (Chicago Housing Authority) building being torn down. We volunteered to help with vetting and re-homing the cats. We ended up taking over the project. It took several months and a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but we eventually placed all the cats (more than two dozen) into loving homes. That rescue project turned out to be the first of many Toni and I would do together.
This was years ago but just as Toni and I were wrapping up the CHA project, we started hearing about a completely new organization called PAWS Chicago. The founder of PAWS, Paula Fasseas, had the (then-revolutionary) idea of spotlighting adoptable shelter animals by holding day-long adoption events in upscale retail stores. Paula had also established a storefront adoption center on Clark Street in Lincoln Park, where volunteers from a number of local shelters were showcasing available animals on the weekends.
Toni and I approached Paula with the idea that this storefront adoption center could have a greater impact if it were open in the evenings, Monday through Friday, in addition to the weekends. Paula said she loved the idea and told us to run with it — provided we could staff the center entirely with volunteers and that’s exactly what we did.
Toni and I were the co-directors of the PAWS Cat Adoption Center (CAC) from 1998 until 2004. It was an incredibly fulfilling experience, but also an exhausting one. Neither of us had appreciated what a toll it was going to take to essentially run a shelter 365 days-a-year in addition to our full-time jobs. After six years, we went to back to Paula and were successful in convincing her it was time to hire a paid director to run the CAC. We were fortunate to recruit one of our existing volunteers to step into the role. At the time, both Toni and I thought we would just ride off into the sunset, returning to the (relatively) quiet lives we led before the CAC. (The CAC on Clark Street closed in 2007 when the new PAWS facility opened in Lincoln Park.)
What we hadn’t anticipated was how many people knew us, or knew of us, as a result of our time with PAWS. We continued to receive calls for help from people who had found litters of kittens who needed placement, or people who had pets of their own they wanted to give up. We weren’t comfortable not helping with these situations, but we also knew we couldn’t jump back into anything as all-consuming as PAWS had been.
A foster-based adoption program seemed the ideal solution — i.e., take in a few cats, put them into foster homes, and once adopted (and assuming the fosters were willing), take in a few more. Voila! Feline Friends Chicago! We’re a much bigger program today than I think either Toni (Co-Director with Lisa) or I envisioned back then but that’s what happens when the two of us decide to put our energy and minds together!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Where do you find the cats that are available for adoption?
Most cats in our program come from a high-kill animal control facility in downstate Illinois. A wonderful network of volunteers make the trip every other week to a little town near the border of Indiana to pick up cats (and dogs) and bring them to rescue organizations in the Chicagoland area. These are animals who would otherwise be euthanized — the effort of every single person along the chain helps to give them a second chance. Tremendous credit is due to this small under-resourced shelter, who proactively established relationships with Feline Friends Chicago and many other organizations to seek a way out for these wonderful animals.
How many cats do you have available on a typical day?
Our capacity is 100% determined by how many foster homes we have available. The more fosters we have, the more cats we can take in. At any given time, there are 30-40 cats available for adoption through Feline Friends Chicago.
Our adoption fee is $85 per cat. All of our kitties have been combo-tested for FIV/Feline Leukemia, spayed or neutered, vaccinated for distemper, microchipped, and dewormed.
Who makes an ideal foster home?
Anyone who has extra space, time and love to share. We make the fostering experience as rewarding and easy as possible for our fosters. We cover all veterinary expenses. We can also help fosters on an as-needed basis by providing food and supplies. So really, the only thing these little guys and gals need is someone to love them and provide a temporary home until they find their “forever family”.
Who makes a good cat guardian?
A person who is responsible, committed, stable (financially and otherwise), pragmatic, mature and, most importantly, capable of putting the needs of others before their own. I always tell people a good gauge of whether they are ready to adopt a pet is whether they would feel ready to take care of a human infant — which isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Pets, just like children, literally need you for every one of the basic necessities of life. And although a human child eventually grows up and becomes self-sufficient, a cat or a dog is essentially a toddler forever.
What else can someone do if they can’t foster?
The biggest thing anyone can do to help us is to spread the word about our wonderful kitties to new people who are able to provide foster and/or adoptive homes. We also appreciate monetary donations. These help us cover the veterinary expenses we incur getting the cats ready for adoption.
Do you still help with Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR)? Trap-Neuter-Return is a method of humanely trapping unaltered feral cats, spaying or neutering them and releasing them back to the same spot where they were trapped.
Tell me about that. I have done several TNR projects in the past, but I haven’t worked on a TNR project in a while. The day-to-day operations of Feline Friends Chicago in addition to my job, just doesn’t leave any time for it. Toni and I have good contacts with a number of groups who focus exclusively on TNR. We have developed a whole packet of information to share with people who are interested in doing TNR. If someone comes to us looking for TNR help, we can provide the tools to get them started.
I have mentioned many times on It’s Easy Being Vegan that Lisa inspired me to go vegan. We met while volunteering for PAWS Chicago. Most people who volunteer with domestic animals are not vegan. They haven’t made the connection yet between domestic and farm animals. Lisa did in 2003 after being vegetarian since 1998. What connected the dots for you?
What “flipped the switch” for me was attending a Farm Sanctuary event which focused on living a more compassionate life. During one of the sessions, they showed film footage of an egg processing facility where male baby chicks were flying down this conveyor belt, then being dumped into garbage cans — alive — to be thrown away as useless by-products. I realized while sitting there watching this footage that altering my diet and lifestyle for ethical reasons by being just vegetarian wasn’t enough. I literally went vegan that day and have never looked back.
With a full-time job and other interests, such as training for triathlons, what keeps you going?
An unhealthy compulsion to make myself crazy! Kidding. Sort of. Honestly, I’ve always felt that the universe puts problems in front of us because we are able to do something about them — which for me means I must to do something about this. That sense of responsibility is the biggest thing that keeps me going. That, and the happiness I feel when I visit a cat we’ve placed in a great home; knowing I changed things for the better for that kitty.
Want to help? Here’s how:
- Volunteer with any animal-welfare organization that makes your heart sing.
- Ready to give and receive unconditional love? Adopt a cat. The cats featured in this post were available for adoption at the time of publication. For a current list of available kitties, check out the current listing here.
- Foster a kitty (or any domestic animal). If you do not live in the Chicago area, I assure you foster homes are needed where you live too. Do a google search to find a program near you.
- Make a donation or host a fundraiser. Money may be the root of all evil but it’s also the source for paying the bills.
- Donate supplies.
- Spread the word. Don’t be shy. Forward this post via email and on social networking sites. It’s going to take all of us to make the world a better place.