“Feral cats often become strays through no fault of their own,” says Nicole Sawyers of Furry Friends Animal Shelter.
The image of feral cats that many of us portray can vary greatly, from furry and friendly faces to killers of wildlife or even spreaders of disease.
But for animal lover and dedicated volunteer Nicole Sawyers, that’s a different story.
“Stray cats often become strays through no fault of their own. Being able to give stray cats the help they need, and to find them a new home is so rewarding,” Sawyers says.
A cat rescuer herself, Swyers handles all the intakes at Barry’s Furry Friends Animal Shelter.
With her Furry Friends experience, Swyers has dedicated her time to providing comfort to the cats that keep coming, whether they need dental surgery, are pregnant, or have kittens outside.
“They just need a warm bed, food in their stomachs and a second chance – and we give them that chance,” she says.
She says the most satisfying aspect for Swyers is seeing cats thrive and be adopted into loving homes. She remembers once nursing a six-month-old kitten who was found outside with her siblings.
“He would hiss and growl at me when I went into his adoption room. If I got too close, he would hit me and cower in his cat tree.”
Swyers spent more than two months picking up the cat and petting it with a towel. Finally, one day he decided she was okay and started to come out of hiding and purr every time she entered the room. Eventually, he began to sit on her lap.
“Four months after being brought home, he was ready for adoption and then he found a sweet home and was the best feline companion,” she says.
Over the years, despite occasional shortages of volunteers and funds, Swyers doesn’t hesitate to go out of her way to help the more than 500 cats the volunteer-run shelter takes in each year.
“The cats move you to keep going — seeing them at the shelter, knowing they depend on us for their care,” she says.
In contrast to those who denigrate free-roaming stray cats, Swyers pointed out that they are just innocent, vulnerable creatures in need.
“Many cats that become strays are, unfortunately, left behind by their owners, often because the cat needs medical attention that the owner cannot afford,” she says.
Cats brought to the shelter as a stray are checked for a chip and posted as “found” in hopes of finding their owner. Failing that, the shelter gets the vet attention the cats need. Then it is put up for adoption.
Sawyers says it’s very difficult to balance life and her routine as a “cat rescue,” as rescuing cats can take place 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to sheltering the cats, she says, the shelter coordinates a very large foster care program for more than 150 cats.
“There are also a lot of activities that go on behind the scenes to make the rescue a success, such as fundraising, vetting, recruiting volunteers, and so on,” she adds.
However, Swyers acknowledges that sometimes taking a break is a must.
“For me, it’s important to make time to do rescue work, but also to take time away from him because it can get overwhelming, not to mention heartbreaking,” she says.
But in the end, the message that resonates with Swyers is that any stray cat that crosses our path deserves a second chance no matter what they’ve been through.
“Sometimes the second chance is finding a new home to live in. Other times, they live out their lives in the shelter where they feel warmth, food and love.”