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Going the distance for cats

Catnip Acres serves as a way station—and a spay station—for homeless kitties

From Animal Sheltering magazine September/October 2012

There’s plenty of room for resident cats to stretch in an outdoor play yard at Catnip Acres, where they’re cared for by two part-time staff.Kitties at Catnip Acres enjoy the fresh air on a spacious screened porch, complete with cat trees and soft beds for napping.

When she was called in 2003 to help trap a feral cat in a town near her home in Waynesburg, Pa., Carol Pultorak ended up with more than she’d bargained for: Three 5-week-old kittens were also onsite, living in the caller’s chicken coop.

Pultorak, who’d been trapping cats for years—making regular trips from her home to Pittsburgh, where low-cost spay/neuter was available—saw that the kittens’ eyes were crusted over and they were dehydrated, so she took them home to try to nurse them back to health, as she’d done with so many others.

The kittens did well, but when they had their first vaccinations at 3 months of age, one had a severe reaction. She became paralyzed and started having seizures. But her will to survive pushed Pultorak along in her personal mission to give all cats a chance for a good life.

She adopted the paralyzed kitten, named her Weebs, and began bringing her everywhere to make sure she got the round-the-clock care she needed. “I had a warmer in the car for her food, a kitty stroller, and a regular baby buggy. I’d cover her up in the buggy when I went shopping, and no one knew I had a cat and not a baby,” she says.

Pultorak estimates that she transported about 3,000 cats—owned, stray, and feral—to Pittsburgh for low-cost spay/neuter in the years that followed. In 2005, she journeyed to Asheville, N.C., to learn about the Humane Alliance’s model for a high-volume, high-quality, low-cost spay/neuter clinic. When she heard that Asheville area shelter intake was down by 70 percent, she knew the model was working.

In April 2007, Pultorak founded Catnip Acres, a nonprofit cat sanctuary and adoption center, on land adjacent to her home. She dedicated Catnip Acres to Weebs, who died in 2006.

In 2010, she opened a state-of-the-art surgical suite there, and happily gave up her long hauls to Pittsburgh.

Pultorak met her right-hand woman, Carin Camp, in 2008 at the veterinary hospital where Camp worked and Pultorak was a client. Camp, a retired veterinary technician, helped Pultorak figure out the design for Catnip Acres’ surgical suite. “When you do this for 20 years, you know just what you need,” says Pultorak.

They designed the space with an eye toward disease control. Disinfecting the suite and its equipment is easy because the walls are made of plastic sheets, the kind used in milk barns. The paint on the cabinets is wood-baked, the handles have no grooves to trap pathogens, and the drains in the ceramic tile floor make it possible to power-wash and sanitize the entire room.

It’s also designed for efficiency: The building next door serves as an additional holding area for the main floor, where a dumbwaiter can move four box traps per trip to the surgical suite downstairs.

Veterinarian Marina Siegert serves on Catnip Acres’ board and performs most of the clinic’s surgeries. Siegert, who learned her technique from Humane Alliance, has done as many as 86 cats in a day—Pultorak says it takes three prep stations to keep up with her.

Behind the clinic and next door to Pultorak’s residence, a tall privacy fence surrounds a large house, where around 75 cats currently live, 50 of whom are up for adoption. They lounge on bunk beds, cat trees, counters, chairs, the veranda—almost anywhere they please—and are cared for by two part-time staff. Nancy Peterson/The HSUSIn addition to spaying and neutering feral cats, Catnip Acres helps feral cat caretakers. “Since caretakers can’t transport 10 to 20 cats, we might as well do the trapping,” says Pultorak. When an elderly or disabled person has even a small number of cats, Catnip Acres traps and transports the cats to and from the clinic, and holds them overnight.

In 2011, Camp assisted Jane White, Catnip Acres’ official trapper at the time, in trapping cats on a nearby farm. The farmer had been feeding cats on his property for about five years, but he couldn’t afford to have them spayed and neutered. White and Camp trapped the cats and had them sterilized, but the cats couldn’t be returned to the farm because the farmer was moving to New York state. White and Camp went the extra mile when they transported the cats to the couple’s new home about four hours away. “The farmer and his wife were an older couple. They didn’t have much,” says Camp, “but they would spend their last dime for the cats.”

Caretaker Judy Rock loves her feral cats and Catnip Acres too. “I brought 24 cats here. I couldn’t have caught or paid for them. Catnip Acres was a godsend to me.” Rock says. She pays it forward by volunteering at the sanctuary.

“We’re into cats because cats are in crisis,” Pultorak says. Catnip Acres has spayed and neutered more than 4,482 cats since the surgery suite opened in 2010. Weebs would surely be proud.

About the Author

Nancy Peterson is the former Community Cats Program Manager for the Humane Society of the United States.