- by Peggy Rowland
Besides the uniqueness of being surrounded by cats, cat antics and cat merchandise, at Mewtopia Cat Rescue and Gift Shop, there’s also the feeling of being surrounded by compassion.
Director Ann Illsley holds Daisy, a scared orange cat and recent addition to the Mewtopia family of cats waiting for adoption. Mewtopia was Daisy’s last hope before being euthanized simply because she was abandoned. Now she’s taken care of by Illsley and more than 25 loyal volunteers who keep the Mewtopia cat residents fed, petted and in a clean home.
Relying solely on donations and sales from the gift shop, Illsley runs Mewtopia, located at 734 Mount Moriah, without any paid staff. For Illsley, keeping the rescue in top shape is an 80-hour-a-week job that comes with no personal monetary benefits. “I’ve worked many a job, but this is what I wanted to do, and it’s the most enjoyable, pleasurable job I’ve ever had,” Illsley proclaims.
Mewtopia is not only operated with compassion, but it’s the compassion of the community that keeps the doors open. From the veterinarians who offer discounted services, to those who bring in donations of bleach, litter or paper towels, it’s the kindness of cat lovers and volunteers that allows the Mewtopia feline family to live happily until they find their forever homes.
“We think of this as a happy place, because the kitties are happy here,” Illsley says. Some people tell her that they don’t want to come by because shelters are sad places. She responds, “No, we’re a happy place here.”
Part of Mewtopia’s cheery atmosphere comes from the large, colorful gift shop. “If it pertains to cats, we must have it here,” Illsley says. Mewtopia has a group of devoted seamstresses who make and donate toys, blankets, baskets and more to be sold in the gift shop.
Illsley and two other founding members, who are no longer involved with Mewtopia, started the cat rescue because they knew from their volunteer work that there was a need for more help for homeless cats in the community. Other local shelters and rescue groups often fill quickly, leaving no space for cats without homes. Illsley wanted to help fill this gap.
The cat rescue started in the homes of the founding members, and they participated in many fundraisers to get the shop doors open. “We felt we could reach more people by having an actual shop than working out of our homes,” Illsley adds.
Mewtopia, a no-kill cat rescue, has expanded in space since it began in 2000, and they offer a low-cost spay and neuter program available to area residents. With the program, organized by volunteer Tammy Lambdin, residents may have a cat spayed or neutered and given a three-year rabies shot for $45.
Illsley hopes to bring the spay and neuter program on-site in the future, and expand even more to care for additional cats. Yet she cautions that she will only take on as many cats as can be properly cared for at Mewtopia.
On average, the rescue houses between 60 and 80 cats, with a large influx of kittens around March. A few of the cats are allowed to roam freely in the gift area, but most are housed in either the cat room or the kitten room. The felines are let out of their enclosures to run around and play a couple of times a day. Plus, volunteers pet and play with them regularly to keep them sociable.
Smootchie, a friendly Birman, and Harper, a charming lynx point Siamese, are the two permanent cat residents at Mewtopia. They’ve seen many cats come and go, but some cats stay for a year or more before they find their permanent homes. These cats are called old-timers.
One of the old-timers is Oscar, a very loving kitty who was left behind when his owners moved in the middle of the night. Oscar is nicknamed “The Secretary” for his fondness of staying around the front counter and helping out. Asia, another old-timer, came in during Christmas of 2006 and was mostly feral. The spunky black-and-white cat is adjusting well, but still needs a little work. Then there’s senior-gal Mitey, or as the volunteers call her, “Queen Mitey.” She rules the cat room and everyone knows it.
Volunteer Debbie Mullins says, “You give them [old-timers] more special love and attention too. They know who you are when you open the door, and they come running up to you. It makes you feel good.”
The greatest needs of Mewtopia are money and volunteers. Even though Mewtopia is a nonprofit corporation, they still pay rent and utilities like other businesses. “We have a very dedicated group of volunteers, but we could use more, and we could always use more money. It’s very expensive [to run Mewtopia],” Illsley notes.
Adoption fees at Mewtopia begin at $100, but they are flexible. Ilsley is willing to work with people to help cats get placed in a good home, especially when there are two feline friends that need to be adopted together. The adoption fee covers spaying or neutering, as well as shots and other routine care that is given before the cats are adopted.
Illsley asks that children 10 and under meet their prospective cats before adoption to ensure a good match. All cats adopted from Mewtopia are expected to be indoor cats.
Whether visitors want to shop for cat gifts and accessories, stop in to pet the cats, talk about volunteering, drop off a donation, or look for a cat of their own, many kitties like Oscar The Secretary are thrilled to greet everyone at Mewtopia.
Mewtopia is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. Call 901-503-9328 or visit www.mewtopia.org for more information.