Helen Sanders Cat Protection and Welfare Society


Volunteer Profiles

Meet some of our amazing CatPAWS volunteers.

Erica Elliott-Castillo’s lifelong love of animals shines through CatPAWS daily. Highlighting Erica is a bit difficult – putting into words the magnitude of how Erica helps this organization seems impossible. Between late night phone calls & texts and driving to a fosters house at midnight who may have a medical emergency with a kitten, are only some of the tasks that Erica does flawlessly, daily.  Erica is a dependable, gracious, and a knowledgeable team member who many other volunteers turn to for answers with pressing cat and kitten questions.

Erica joined CatPAWS in 2015 after helping a cat in a dire situation with another volunteer. At that time, she took on the transporter position in the organization. Erica drove cats and kittens to much needed vet appointments. Erica’s position evolved and as she got more involved and connected, Erica became the foster coordinator. In this role, Erica interviews possible fosters, pulls kittens from local shelters for potential fostering, helps educate & mentor all foster families, and books spay & neuter visits for fosters. Between dozens of cats that CatPAWS has in fostering at any given time, this is hours of dedication to a position that is truly a labor of love.

Erica is also a trusted resource on a multitude of problems that kittens have that include diarrhea, heart murmurs, herpes, and URI’s. When a foster subsequently has one of these issues, Erica is the first one to meet them at the Vet and work on a plan of action to help the animal. Erica has learned so much from these visits and has built relationships with many of the veterinary partners that CatPAWS works with. “So many times I learn something new at these appointments that will carry over into another case. It really is one of my favorite parts in this role that I play with CatPAWS,” says Erica.

Erica is particularly proud of the team and people that CatPAWS has built over the past few years. “All of us are here because we genuinely care about giving all our cats their best life. Yes, there are frustrations at times, but I know in my heart that our success is the culmination of so many people’s efforts,” says Erica.

Erica also speaks fondly of Deborah, CatPAWS Co-Founder, who has helped her during her volunteer journey. “Deborah was there for me when my cat Guiness passed and she is continuously a cheer leader for the organization and all of us volunteers,” notes Erica.

Erica has taken on some of the most vulnerable cats that CatPAWS has seen. A “foster fail” turned family member, Guiness, is one of those. Guiness had ‘FIP’ which Erica had suspected, and a vet confirmed, sadly. FIP tragically ends the life of too many cats too soon. Erica enjoyed Guiness’s short year and a half life and was nothing short of a doting & loving cat mom. Erica, with her kind heart & giving disposition, now has Wizard, another cat who is living with FIP. Recent medical developments are helping to prolong the lives of cats with FIP and CatPAWS has raised funds for this treatment with Wizard.

During an unprecedented year, Erica has continued to push CatPAWS forward. Volunteers like Erica are hard to come by. Her efforts don’t go unnoticed and we are beyond appreciative for her dedication.

Collaboration is key to any great partnership and that goes for our volunteer relationships as well! Julie Brown started with CatPAWS in 2016 which brought her and her teenage daughter together for weekly shifts at the Petsmart Cat Center. Getting to hold, care for, and spend time with precious kittens was one of the highlights of her week. “Some of our best mother & daughter times together were doing our weekly volunteer hours,” says the mother of 4. While the busy family of 6 never had cats while the children grew up, Julie and her daughter Emily always loved them, and this was a great way to give back to the community together.

Julie has been an active participant at our Sunrise Community Center Kitten events, has now begun fostering, and keeps her weekly shift at the Cat Center while Emily is finishing her senior year in high school. Her passion for the organization and its success is apparent from the moment you meet her. While COVID has certainly impacted in-person functions, Julie is proud of the work that CatPAWS continues to do. “Our volunteers and our outreach that help continue to educate and assist our community is something I’m really proud of. We’ve had a record year and it’s because of our volunteer dedication that we’ve been able to break records,” notes Julie.

And, while a cat wasn’t in the cards with young children, it didn’t take long for Emily and Julie to become attached to a certain kitty, Basil. After many shifts with the kitten, it was apparent that Emily and Julie were smitten. Coming home and swooning over Basil became the norm, and Julie’s husband, Bill, soon took note. One particular shift when Julie and Emily returned, they noticed that Basil had been adopted. While the two were happy that Basil had found her forever home, the two couldn’t help but have slight heartbreak over a kitty that the mother daughter duo had certainly come to love. Much to the family’s surprise, Bill had adopted sweet Basil, now named Phoebe, as the resident cat at the Brown house. Julie and Emily were thrilled! Phoebe has enjoyed her time with Buster Brown, the family dog, and her new little friend, Mackenzie who the family is fostering for the time being.

CatPAWS is always looking for fosters, volunteers, and donors.

How does a busy mom fill her family’s extra time- with CatPAWS fosters, of course! Maybe you’re thinking that Melissa Sheffield and her family have fostered 10 or 20 cats this past year which would have been a feat in itself. No, Melissa, her husband Jason, and two gorgeous children, Katelyn (11) & Austin (8), have fostered 67 – yes 67- kittens this past year!

Melissa, a lifelong animal lover, was influenced by a visit to a family member out of state who had been fostering kittens. As soon as she returned home, she called her local shelter who was happy to turn over some kittens with little instruction on how to properly care for the small animals. “It wasn’t the best experience with the shelter,” Melissa admitted. That is when she discovered CatPAWS. About a year ago, Melissa was introduced to the team at CatPAWS who has helped her family become a ‘go to’ household for fosters in need. “The support we get from all the volunteers at CatPAWS has been paramount to our success as a foster family,” notes Melissa. “Erica, Beth, and Amanda (who came to my house very late one night to help me during a small crisis) have been so amazing to work with. The care they put into helping all these animals is inspirational.”

Melissa isn’t alone in caring for these kittens. Katelyn, her 11-year-old, has stepped up to the plate in a big way in helping these vulnerable lives. “Katelyn has truly taken on much of the responsibility in helping with their daily care. And, while we have had some hard goodbyes, we’ve had so much fun as a family doing this,” says Melissa.

This year, CatPAWS has had over 300 successful adoptions- a record for the 10-year-old non-profit. We can’t do it without the help of wonderful volunteers like Melissa, Katelyn, Austin & Jason!

How does a retired medical helicopter pilot spend his days? With CatPAWS, of course! As our database coordinator guru and amazing foster for our older cats, Lance Smith is an important part of the procedural elements that help keep CatPAWS moving forward.

How does a small, foster-based cat rescue organization keep up with vaccination records, medical notes,locations of each foster, and pertinent documents?? We do this with the help of Lance. Lance manages our entire database and updates pertinent and vital details on each cat and kitten that we help, treat, and eventually place in their forever home. His ownership of this critical data management function has allowed us to deploy our resources more effectively, better manage our intake, take more cats, track and maintain their health and effect more adoptions. This attention to detail and data tracking is the lynchpin of responsible organizational management.

A lifelong animal lover, he joined the CatPAWS volunteer team about three years ago after meeting a few board members at a Petco adoption event. With a special love for cats, Lance wanted to get more involved after retiring as a helicopter pilot.

With a big heart for adult cats, Lance is on the frontline helping make sure those cats find the perfect homes, too. “You will see a lot of people come through looking for kittens, and I understand why. However, we also know and value the importance of adult cats that need to find their permanent and loving homes. I love it when we are able to help find those matches too,” notes Lance. He prides himself on being able to take some of this cat population and being able to re-socialize cats that may have been in difficult situations or even at the shelter for too long.

With CatPAWS supporting the community now more than ever, Lance is always impressed with how this organization puts the well being of animals before other interests. “The people that are in this organization always put the animals first. Personal agendas don’t exist and ensuring our cats and kittens are matched with the right family, always takes precedence,” says Lance. “I love what this organization has accomplished and the proof is in the follow up letters that I get from many of our adopters.”

As volunteer coordinator, Clare Cusato is constantly inspiring, engaging, and ensuring CatPAWS volunteers are fulfilled and gratified in their roles.

About a year ago, Clare was intrigued by a friend’s post on Facebook. As we all do, Clare was scrolling through when a CatPAWS post caught her eye. A friend of hers had recently adopted a cat from CatPAWS and had posted an irresistible photo of a kitten that would kickstart her volunteer journey.

With two adult children now off to college, Clare had known that she wanted to volunteer when she was not adventuring & traveling with her husband. Getting involved with CatPAWS would no doubt soothe some of that empty nest syndrome that happens when children leave the nest.

Clare and her daughter had volunteered occasionally with other animal organizations through the years. While they adored some special dogs along the way, they always felt a special kinship to cats and kittens. Growing up, Clare and her family had both dogs and cats. It was a natural fit to have animals in the house while her two children grew up, particularly during those precarious teen years. “Our cat brought our family closer together,” said Clare.

As a dedicated team member, Clare is most proud of the education, outreach, and limitless dedication that the CatPAWS volunteer team continuously brings to adopters and adoptees. It is also vital to her to ensure that volunteers feel they are making a difference and getting the most out of their volunteer time. “Seeing our volunteers blossom in various roles is rewarding and a huge part of why I love this organization so much,” notes Clare. Clare is also responsible for “The Cats Meow,” the CatPAWS weekly digest which gives volunteers detailed knowledge and intelligence on each cat that CatPAWS is currently helping, adoption agency information, and includes humorous anecdotes on each kitty so volunteers stay tuned in to each journey. Volunteers like Clare are why CatPAWS is looking at having its best year yet! CatPAWS is always looking for fosters, volunteers, and donors. For more information, visit www.helensanderscatpaws.com

It is estimated by the ASPCA that 3.2 million pets are adopted each year from shelters across the country. One of the most important components that rescue organizations play in ensuring successful adoptions is personality matching. Volunteer Eden Amans always plans with this crucial component in mind.

“Personality matching is so imperative in ensuring a positive experience for both the cat & family,” says Eden. “CatPAWS plays a critical role in this as we match cats based on personality & demeanor with potential families versus placing cats and kittens out of sheer need or timing.” Eden, a life-long animal lover, dog trainer, teacher, and guru in helping with marketing efforts at CatPAWS, is proud of the work that CatPAWS has accomplished over the last few years. With more successful adoptions happening year over year, she is excited about the procedures and plans that have taken CatPAWS to the next level. “We set our cats up for success and are there with the adopter all along the way,” notes Eden.

With a heavy background in marketing and a master’s degree in education, Eden was essential in the “Coffee + Kittens” event- a partnership between CatPAWS and Starbucks that is continuing to grow. With the help of a friend who worked at Starbucks, they created a successful fundraiser for CatPAWS that included a $5000 donation from Starbucks. Contributions like these are vital in being able to help the community and continue to help vulnerable cats and kittens in the greater Orange County area.

“CatPAWS is always looking for fosters, volunteers, and donors,” says Eden. “No contribution is too small. Our volunteers are truly our greatest asset”.

“Complete Cat Care” is the phrase that Kit Gustavson feels strongly about when she speaks about CatPAWS. The recent University of Oregon graduate has been working as a foster for the past few years when she’s not serving up your favorite beverage as a barista or working her second job as an interior designer. To say Kit is driven is quite the understatement!

Kit prides herself in being able to volunteer as a foster with CatPAWS and truly has come to love the organization. Her mother, a long-time volunteer with CatPAWS and countless of other organizations, is her biggest fan and supporter. Kit grew up as an only child and all animals including fish, mice, hamsters, and birds were welcome in the Gustavson household. The family is happy to take whole litters that need fostering until the kittens can be placed in their forever homes. “In architecture, we talk about a complete design. It encompasses everything from start to finish. In my volunteer time with CatPAWS, I can relate this same practice. From the beginning, sometimes when the kitten is hours old, CatPAWS helps these tiny lives. Throughout the many fosters that my family and I have now had, we feel supported through the whole process. If there is an issue, CatPAWS is there to help. And, finding the perfect forever home is equally just as important. They take the time to ensure that it’s a match for the family and the cat. CatPAWS also follows up once the cat is adopted- it’s complete care from start to finish. To me, that is what makes CatPAWS so special,” says Kit.

Ruby, one of Kit’s most memorable fosters was with the family for a while. Ruby had an eye infection, was a ‘ginger’ kitty, and was the smallest in her litter. She unfortunately had lost an eye due to an infection but was still as loveable and playful as ever. Kit knew that Ruby was a special cat who would need to find a special home. To CatPAWS and Kit’s delight, an adopter had recently lost a cat with one eye and was looking for another one- Ruby had found the perfect home! Kit’s room is usually the makeshift nursery for the foster kittens and she wouldn’t have it any other way. We are thankful for volunteers like Kit and her mother, Dee. CatPAWS is always looking for fosters, volunteers, and donors. For more information, visit www.helensanderscatpaws.com

In 1978, Annelle Baum met Helen Sanders on the Jetty in Seal Beach. Helen was feeding her ‘jetty cats’ (which had to be close to 200 cats back then) when Annelle had let Maui, her beloved dog, off her leash. Helen, coming up from the rocks, yelled back to Annelle to quickly get her dog back on her leash. Conversations started from there and they quickly became friends. Both also volunteered at the Seal Beach Animal Care Center. Helen had been helping with the jetty cats for years…even when she received threats from the local community who wanted those cats gone.

Annelle is a lifetime animal lover with a 30+ year volunteer history. Having animals her whole life, she knew when Helen was no longer going to be able to care for the cats that someone would need to step in. Along with other founding Helen Sanders CatPAWS board member, Deborah Felin Magaldi, the two quickly formalized the organization when Helen passed away to continue the mission of saving & helping Helen’s beloved ‘jetty cats.’ Other pertinent beginning volunteers include Kelly & Marianne.

‘CatPAWS continues to set itself apart by pulling vulnerable cats & kittens from high kill shelters in the northern Orange County and greater Long Beach area. We also continue with our voucher relief program that helps families spay and neuter their animals at a discounted rate. And, during this difficult economic time, CatPAWS has also worked with the public to get gift cards to animal owners who may need some help with pet food & antibiotics,” says Annelle. “The gratification of our work over the years, our volunteer growth, and our true community impact makes me proud,” notes Annelle.

Retired now from the travel business, Annelle continues her own personal mission of volunteering not only with CatPAWS but also with the Seal Beach Philharmonic which brings music to local school aged children with their ‘music mobile.’

Annelle has held all positions in the organization as a board member, past foster organizer, past volunteer manager, Bowling Event chairperson for the last 10 years, and helps with the day to day responsibilities of running the non-profit. She continues to foster kittens and cats in need. Her volunteer heart, generous time & loving spirit towards all animals has not only helped CatPAWS thrive but has also set this organization apart from other rescues that are trying to accomplish similar goals. “Carrying on Helen’s legacy, Annelle continues to be part of the glue that keeps us together & serving our mission of helping cats,” says Deborah Felin Magaldi. “Being able to work with Annelle over the years and seeing our organization transform over the past 10 years has been one of my greatest joys.”

Volunteer in the adoption center, events, or kitty therapy - we can find the right fit for your interests and schedule!

2016 was a hard year for Mitchell Cohen and his family. With the death of a family member and the death of a pet, heartbreak was inevitable for Mitchell and AnnaMarie while they mourned dad and beloved Mazie. While they mourned for Mazie, AnnaMarie started peeking around at their local Petsmart knowing that new furry friends would no doubt bring some joy back into their lives. On a trip to the store one evening together, AnnaMarie pointed out two cats she had her eye on over the last few weeks. Within a heartbeat, they adopted two new kitties- MK & Ash.

This starts the volunteer and adoption journey that Mitchell has had with CatPAWS. With that adoption, Mitchell became aware of CatPAWS and decided that in retirement, it was time to start volunteering. New waves of life bring new journeys- and Mitchell was excited at the opportunity to give back to animals that had brought him so much love & joy.

“What sets CatPAWS apart from other organizations”, says Mitchell, “is the commitment to the cat over the length of its life. Most rescues focus on getting a cat into any home- that is not our mission at CatPAWS. “Our adoption committee seeks to find a solid match with each adopter. That helps ensure successful adoptions and reassures our foster home providers that the cats they cared for and loved are going to good homes. We often become friends with adopters and get regular updates about their cats. We love hearing from past adopters and know that for those cats we have indeed fulfilled our mission that they lead full and cherished lives.”

Mitchell is proud of the infrastructure of the organization and the high standards that are set in safeguarding important feline protocol. Mitchell has learned to administer vaccines, care for chronically ill cats, and take in even the tiniest kittens (bottle babies) who need to be fed every two hours. “We are truly saving lives here at CatPAWS,” says Mitchell. As an active board member with CatPAWS, Mitchell has taken the lead in organizing the Traveling Comfort & Therapy events that are held at local retirement facilities around Long Beach and Seal Beach. Once a month, adoptable kittens are taken to retirement homes for the residents to interact with and play with. “Seeing the joy that this brings to many of these residents is one of the many reasons I continue to do this important volunteer work,” notes Mitchell. “Cats have captured my heart,” says Mitchell. Helen Sanders CatPAWS is now in its 10th year and if there is any silver lining during the current pandemic, it’s the importance of what the human/animal connection looks like. For Mitchell, it’s comfort & tranquility knowing that animals always provide unconditional love.