Helen Sanders, carrying food to her beloved feral colony in the rocks by the sea.
Background and Inspiration
Although precise statistics are difficult to determine, animal advocacy organizations estimate that millions of animals are put to death in shelters across the United States each year. Because of their more prolific breeding cycle and other factors, the overwhelming majority of these animals are cats. Feral cats, homeless and largely unadoptable, are routinely euthanized, as are newborn kittens and pregnant cats that demand more care than many overcrowded, underfunded shelters can provide. In the 1990’s the concept of feral colony management began to spread, along with the practice of trapping, neutering or spaying and releasing (known as TNR) feral cats back into the colony. Long before that method even had a name, one woman, Helen Sanders, saw this problem of homeless, stray cats, and felt they deserved care, not death. Over the years she even encountered physical threats from people who wanted these stray cats shot, not fed, but she persevered. Born in 1935, Helen became a fixture in the small southern California beach town in which she lived out her life, pedaling her three-wheeled cycle, big basket in the back filled with bags of cat food. She used specially designed traps to capture cats and have them spayed or neutered and vaccinated, then would release them back into the colony. In addition to her work with feral cat colonies, Helen became known as the ‘go-to’ person for all things ‘cat’, spending hours counseling people in person or on the phone about problem behavior or illnesses. Even as she battled cancer, Helen continued her life’s work up until a couple weeks before her death, riding her familiar trike through alleys, hauling bags of cat food past the beach and over rocks to her waiting “Jetty Cats”.
Building on the Legacy
Shelters across the country are overwhelmed with abandoned and stray cats and unaltered cats perpetuate the tragedy of unwanted litters. Helen’s friends and supporters of her work resolved to help address this problem by creating an organization to continue her legacy of caring for cats and educating people by setting the following goals:
Promote spay/neuter through education and providing vouchers,
Support TNR efforts through providing medical care and food,
Save cats/kittens from public shelters where they would otherwise be killed
It is hoped that through the Helen Sanders Cat Protection and Welfare Society (HS CatPAWS) the staggering problem of pet overpopulation with its resultant tragic consequences can be eased and helpless cats whose only crime is to be unwanted can escape certain death and get another chance.
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.
How does a busy mom fill her family’s extra time- with CatPAWS fosters, of course! Maybe you’re thinking that Melissa 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.