Douglas sits patiently in his enclosure at Pet Depot on Route 1. He occasionally hops up on one of the higher levels of his cage, which he shares with another black cat, Brandi. Like a lot of male cats, he doesn't mind when his belly is rubbed.
Douglas and Brandi are both looking for new homes. They are two of the 87 cats removed from Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary before it closed Nov. 14.
While the focus of attention at Safe Haven has been 19 dogs that were euthanized, animal rescue volunteers hope area residents won't ignore the plight of the cats, who left the facility two months before it closed.
In August, then-Shelter Director Cindy Woods feared the cats at Safe Haven might be euthanized. Woods worked with Millsboro-based shelter Josie’s Place Cat Rescue to ensure the cats were examined, vaccinated, spayed and neutered.
Mel Longo, an employee of Pet Depot and a volunteer at Josie’s Place, said of the 87 cats, 20 to 25 were ferals that were released to farms; 20 to 25 more were kittens that were quickly adopted, and the rest were put up for adoption or placed with private fosters.
Pet Depot is hosting several cats to attract prospective owners.
Co-owner Joanne Sheppard said, “Our primary purpose in opening the store was for the health and the wellness of pets. A bonus to us was being able to help the rescues.”
Sheppard said because Josie’s does not have its own building, Pet Depot could serve as a destination showcasing the rescued cats.
“We have the space. It was doing a feel-good for us. We wanted to help. Why not?” she said.
Now, Longo said, the trick is getting the cats adopted, a task tougher than it looks because most of the cats are black, older and from Safe Haven. Longo said for some prospective owners, there is a backlash to cats that came from Safe Haven. She said much of the stigma is due to public perception of Safe Haven’s financial troubles and mismanagement.
“With black cats, it’s usually the superstition. Safe Haven probably had 35 black cats,” Longo said. Most people want the kittens, she said, but many of these cats are adults. "The Safe Haven cats that are being privately fostered are completely healthy and friendly. There’s nothing wrong with them. If they weren’t from Safe Haven, they’d be like any other cat. It’s just where they came from.”
Longo said most of the Safe Haven cats were surrendered by owners who thought because Safe Haven was a no-kill facility, they would keep the cats forever. The cats being privately fostered are between 6 months and 14 years old. Longo said some of the older cats have health issues; one needs eye surgery, and two others need dental work.
Longo said Josie's Place has tried to move the cats to other shelters, but the Safe Haven cats were removed at the worst possible time, August, when shelters were full. Cats breed from April to August, so by the end of the summer, shelters are full of kittens.
Josie’s Place is also teaming up with another pet rescue organization, Grass Roots Rescue, to host a fundraiser from 4 to 9 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8, at Annabella’s restaurant in Lewes. The event will include a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle. There will be no cost for tickets, but Annabella’s will donate a portion of dinner sales toward helping provide medical care for rescue cats and dogs.
“The dogs have had a lot of publicity, but the cats are out of Safe Haven. They’re forgotten now. We don’t want them to be forgotten - they’re not adopted,” Longo said.
Cats can be adopted through the Josie’s Place website, josiesplacecats.org or at Pet Depot.