Volunteers’ dedication gives stray cats a new life

January 10, 2023

Volunteers’ dedication gives stray cats a new life

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor

MEARS — In the past year, the Oceana County Animal Friends organization has found homes for nearly 150 stray cats.

“Most of these cats were outside freezing and starving,” said Oceana County Animal Friends Vice President Amy Vanderwilk. “Our mission is to help abused, neglected or homeless cats.”

Amy Vanderwilk cuddles one the many cats that Oceana County Animal Friends is helping.

The dedicated group launched over 20 years ago and has evolved over time. In its earlier days, OCAF re-homed fewer cats, but it also helped abandoned dogs find homes. Now, the nonprofit group strictly focuses on kitties.

OCAF President Kathie Babbin stepped back recently due to health reasons after many dedicated years helping her four-legged friends.

The group moved into its current Mears location last summer. It’s a “fixer upper” house owned by Amy and her husband Wesley Vanderwilk, who is in the process of renovating it. The organization is renting the house from the couple. Eventually, the upstairs will be remodeled into a rental space for a tenant who loves cats.

Thanks to the new location, a romper room for the cats opened in August. Now, the kitties are free from their cages, allowing them to roam freely and play.

“It’s so much easier to clean and take care of the cats this way,” said Secretary Carol Horness of the new site.

A cat that was attacked by a wild animal prior to coming to OCAF is recuperating from its injuries now that it is receiving proper care.

A few cats stay in cages in the front part of the house due to injuries or pregnancy. Once they have been vaccinated and quarantined, they can join the other cats in the romper room.

Right now, there are 16 cats in the shelter. The amount of cats varies weekly and seasonally, with March being the busiest month. “That’s kitten season,” said Carol. They’ve had as many as 30-40 cats at one time. The volunteers lovingly name all of the cats.

They take the cats to PetSmart in Norton Shores every Saturday to connect them with responsible owners.

Of the 146 cats OCAF re-homed in the past year, 103 were adopted through PetSmart. “PetSmart is an amazing partner to us,” said Amy. They can stay in their adoption center, too, so people can see them every day.

A group of 14 volunteers — all women — work tirelessly to help their furry friends. Many of the women’s husbands also are involved in the effort.

Everything is donation-based — food, litter, veterinary care, toys, etc.

“We’re involved in TNR as well — trap, neuter, release,” said Carol. “We’re now involved with someone else who is going to take that part over, so we don’t have to spend so much time doing it. In the last year and a half, we have taken down or depleted three feral colonies — one in Hart, one in Mears and one in New Era.” The location in New Era was a house filled with 47 cats.

The amount of feral cats proliferated by non-neutered felines is staggering. In seven years, a single pair of cats and their offspring could produce 420,000 kittens, according to www.animalrescueprofessionals.org.

“Anybody that has a cat that is not spayed or neutered, they need to get it spayed or neutered,” said Amy. “Do your part.”

OCAF helps pet owners who can’t afford veterinary care get their animals fixed. “We will help you get your animals fixed for a reasonable cost,” she said.

The romper room now allows the cats to roam and play instead being stuck in a cage.

A $75 donation is required to adopt kittens; $60 for adult cats; and $125 for two kittens. The cats have been neutered, vaccinated, de-wormed and de-flead. “And if they had any physical needs, they went to the vet,” said Carol. An application must be completed. Visit the OCAF Facebook page for more information.

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