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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Second Chance at Living a Normal Life

By: John Walberg
A metallic red Nissan pulls up to the front of the Tustin PetSmart store, around 11:30AM. The medium size car parks in the blue handicap spot, covered by the shadow of the large department store building. The driver’s door slowly swings open and out steps an old frail, Italian woman, Fran Moore. She unbuckles her seatbelt and opens the truck of her car with the click of a button. Sitting in the back of the trunk are three vanilla colored crates holding eight different cats that have been rescued from a Santa Ana, CA animal hoarder. Squished behind the crates is an ordinary dark, coal colored table. A young female volunteer, Kelly Swanholm, approaches Fran. Kelly helps unload the crates and brings them into the PetSmart store.

While walking into the store, Fran and Kelly head back to the far left corner, where the stores “Cat” section is located. In this section are other cats that reside inside the store. PetSmart’s cat kennel area contains eight medium sized and one large holding areas. In each holding area, there are various types of cats sleeping near the plastic, transparent windows. In each holding area, there is a clean litter box, food, water and colorful bedding. The type of cats residing in these storage areas range from Torti’s to Calico’s to Tabby’s. In the large holding area is an eight year old, orange Tabby named Ollie.

Ollie is lying on his back, stomach up, while sleeping on his cotton cat bed. When Fran approaches the window, he opens his eyes and recognizes her. Ollie stands up on all four legs and stretches. He sits back down and lifts his paw up, tapping the window separating himself and Fran.



Fran and Kelly begin to set up the tables. Fran walks into the small space behind the cat kennels and brings out three cages. Once the tables and cages are set up, the cats are brought out of the crates. Inside crate number one are four kittens, two black and two gray, no older than ten weeks. Kelly slowly takes out the four kittens, placing them inside one of the cages. Inside crate number two are two brown calico mix cats. The two cats are from the same litter and are placed in the middle cage. Inside the last crate are two black and white cats, also from the same litter.

The Orange County Animal Rescue Coalition rescues and adopts out homeless cats from the Corona shelter. The organization does not take stray cats off the streets and require that all cats the organization adopts out are spayed and neutered. The organization mostly adopts out cats, but on occasion will foster and adopt out dogs if the Corona shelter is impacted. The Corona shelter is given cats from local animal hoarding cases in the Southern California area.

One issue that the Orange County Animal Rescue Coalition responds to is animal hoarding, such as in a recent case back in March, in Santa Ana, CA. The Corona shelter received a call from a family that complained about a foul smell coming from their neighbor’s house. Animal control arrived at the house and discovered sixty five cats living in a small, confined space. Fran did not see this hoarding with her own eyes, but heard about the gruesome details through a source that wanted to remain anonymous.

Animal control walked through the house wearing hazmat suits and respiratory masks, while capturing all of the cats. To trap the cats the two animal control workers had to use nets, to prevent them from escaping the house. Inside the house the cats were skittish and scattering around the halls. A foul, strong stench of urine was coming from the carpet. A thick layer of garbage and feces was covering the countertops. The cats did not appear to be healthy. Most were too skinny and were sneezing. A four foot pile of feces was found outside of the kitchen, with an unbearably, awful stench. Not a single litter box was found inside the house. None of the cats were spayed or neutered and were breeding amongst each other.

The animal hoarder was an elderly man, who has been battling Alzheimer’s for quite some time. name not released to the public. His house was so filthy on the inside that he had placed his own mattress out in the backyard. The elderly man regularly received neighborhood complaints about the hazardous environment he was living in. He was brought to a hospital in Santa Ana, CA, where he underwent a 5150 psych evaluation.

The cats were brought to a veterinarian to be treated for various illnesses after being removed from the elderly man’s house. The extremely thin and frail cats all suffered from upper respiratory and giardia, a parasite. There were also ear mites and fleas found in the fur of each individual cat. The two animal control workers fell ill to pneumonia, even though they both wore the hazmat suits, while trapping the sixty five cats.

The OCARC only was able to rescue eighteen from the Corona Shelter due to the lack of well being from the other remaining cats. The Corona shelter does not have a high budget or a large enough staff to take care of the rest of the forty seven cats. Most of them were euthanized due to the limited space and their poor health. “We pulled the cats that we thought were somewhat social and highly adoptable,” says Fran. The eighteen cats were fostered by Fran, Joan and Erica. About half of those cats rescued fell ill to pneumonia. The cats were under special care and were using a nebulizer to help clear out their lungs. Eight of the eighteen were brought to the adoptions on this Saturday, due to their fast recovery.

Around 12:30 PM, people begin to swarm around the cages filled with the kittens and other cats from the hoarding situation. Young children begin to stick their fingers inside the cage to pet the kittens. At this point, the kittens are not very active and are piling on top of each other to take a nap. In one of the windows, Jane, an overweight white cat, with green eyes, stares at the different people gathering around the kittens.

A young woman, Rosemary, walks up to the kittens and smiles, but passes sees Jane in the window. She makes her way through the crowd and looks through the window, at Jane. Rosemary’s husband walks up to her side and looks at Jane. Rosemary walks over to Fran. Rosemary asks “Can we please take a look at Jane?” “You certainly can. Just fill out this paperwork first” Fran says. Fran hands her a clipboard with the paperwork attached. Rosemary answers with a grin on her face, “Thank you!” Rosemary grabs the clipboard and walks away from the crowd, to fill out the paperwork.



Fifteen minutes later Rosemary brings the paperwork to Fran. While Fran reviews the paperwork, Kelly walks back to Jane’s cage to bring her into the play room. The play room is where people looking to adopt can spend time with the cats they are interested in. Fran gives the couple the “okay” to go see Jane. The couple walks into the room, where Kelly is sitting with Jane on her lap. Kelly hands Jane over to Rosemary and they instantly start to bond. Jane purrs as Rosemary scratches behind her ears.

Outside the play room, the crowd has dwindled down to just a mother and daughter. The mother smiles as she walks past the cages, holding her daughter’s hand. The daughter stops in her tracks but her mother whispers, “not today sweetie.” The daughter starts to frown as she leaves the “Cat” section with her mother.

Fran sits alone for a few moments, until the door to the play room opens. The couple walks out with large grins on their faces.
Fran asks, “So would you two like to adopt Jane?”
Rosemary answers, “Yes!”
“Great to hear, she’s such a sweetheart.”
“We both fell in love with her personality! We are going to go around and pick up a few things before for Jane. Is that alright?”
“Sure.”
Rosemary and her husband walk off to buy the necessary items for Jane.

At 1:50 PM, Rosemary and her husband meet back up with Fran, this time with a blue shopping cart. Inside the cart are a collar, medium sized crate, cat litter, litter box, food and toys. Rosemary’s husband hands Fran a check for a hundred and fifty dollars. Kelly walks out with Jane in her arms. She gently places Jane into the medium sized crate. Rosemary and her husband are ecstatic. Rosemary hugs Fran before leaving with her new addition.

Around 3 PM, a family of four walks up to the cage where the four kittens are placed. The daughter sees one of the gray cats, with bright green eyes. She immediately turns to her father and asks if they could adopt the kitten. At first the father is hesitant but agrees to fill out the necessary paperwork. As he fills out the paperwork, he tells Fran about their family cat that had passed away three months prior. The cat fell ill to a very rare disease and had to be put down. Fran approves the family’s application and allows the family to spend time with the gray kitten, inside the play room. Twenty minutes go by and the father steps out to speak with Fran about the history of the Orange County Animal Rescue Coalition.

In 2003, the OCARC was founded by Fran and three other women: Bonnie, Marty and Loretta. The women all met while volunteering at the Irvine animal shelter. After being at the shelter for over a decade, Fran decided she wanted to start her own organization with the other women, to save more animals. Fran and Bonnie were the most instrumental in forming the OCARC. The organization rescues and adopts out homeless cats from the Corona Animal shelter.

The OCARC originally rescued cats from the Santa Ana shelter until it was shut down. Shortly after the Santa Ana shelter shut down, Fran tried to work side by side with the Orange County shelter. Unfortunately, the shelter was not cooperative and made it extremely difficult for Fran to work with them. The Orange County shelter wanted to charge a pull fee as well as an adoption fee, which Fran and the other women did not want to pay. Fran heard about the Corona shelter from her family that lived over in the area. She immediately got in touch with the staff and has been working with them since 2006. Over the last five years, the OCARC and the Corona shelter has rescued around 1,850 cats. There have been over 2,000 cats rescued since the start of the organization. The number of cats adopted out each week can vary. Some weeks there were in between five to ten cats adopted out. Usually there is at least one adopted out each week, but on some occasions there are none.

There are now over thirty five, volunteers not including the board members of OCARC, dedicating their own time to help nurture these abandoned cats. Those volunteers help out by cleaning the cat cages at the PetSmart store every morning and afternoon. Their responsibilities include changing the litter, giving the cats food and filling up the cats’ water bowl. A group of ten foster volunteers take in and nurture the newly rescued cats. Each of the volunteers brings three to four cats home with them at a time. When the amount of adoptions increase some volunteers may only foster one or two cats at a time.

Since the start of the OCARC the organization has rescued kittens, elderly cats and even cats with broken bones. According to Fran, “It’s always been very important to me to spay and neuter every single cat we adopt out.” Spaying and neutering cats is essential to prevent a large population increase of stray cats. There are several high kill shelters in the area and many innocent strays, consisting of kittens and adult cats that are being euthanized due to overpopulation.

According to the California non-profit organization, Social Compassion, there were a total number of 432,512 dogs and cats euthanized in 2009. People have been abandoning their pets because of the poor economy and the recession. Animal owners are over-breeding of dogs and cats. There are stray dogs and cats reproducing frequently because they are not spayed or neutered. These factors are the reason why there is no place at most shelters and why so many innocent animals are being euthanized.

As the clock strikes 3:45 PM, the family tells Fran they would like to adopt the small gray kitten. The family grabs a foldable cardboard cat carrier, off the shelf, near the adoption area. The father writes Fran a check for a hundred and fifty dollars. Kelly walks out of the play room holding the petite gray kitten and a tiny pink blanket. She lays the pink blanket down on the bottom of the carrier and places the kitten inside. The daughter walks up to Fran and hugs her tightly. Tears of joy form in her eyes as she thanks Fran for letting her family adopt the tiny gray kitten. She whispers to Fran that she’s going to name the kitten Mindy. The daughter walks back over to her father and holds his hand. The happy family leaves together with their new addition with them.

Fifteen minutes pass by. Fran and Kelly place the remaining seven cats into the three separate vanilla colored crates. Kelly breaks down the coal colored tables, placing one of them in the PetSmart storage area. Fran brings one of the crates out to her car, while Kelly brings the other two out with her. Fran clicks a button on her car keys and the trunk door opens. She places the three crates in the back of her car, while Kelly goes back in the store to grab the table.

By the time the car is all packed up, it’s now 4:15 PM. Fran thanks Kelly for the help and steps inside her car. She places her key in the ignition of her metallic red Nissan and buckles her seatbelt. The shadow of the PetSmart building covers the front half of the parking lot. Fran drives away knowing she helped two different cats find permanent new homes.

Reporting Notes:
One thirty minute interview with Fran
One ten minute interview with Kelly
Observed three separate four hour adoptions at PetSmart
Research from: http://www.animalshelter.org/shelters/Orange_County_Animal_Rescue_Coalition_OR_ARC_rId577_rS_pC.html
http://animalhoarding.org/
http://www.ocweekly.com/locations/orange-county-animal-rescue-coalition-812513/
http://www.adoptapet.com/adoption_rescue/73342.html
http://www.socialcompassion.org/

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