Ail­ing, in­jured stray cats have guardian an­gels

Lo­cal non­profit helps spe­cial-needs fe­lines find for­ever homes

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Peggy O’Hare STAFF WRITER

Though there are two dozen cats in the room, Sherry Pfau can name them all and tell you from where they came.

There’s New­ton, who lost one of his front legs to an in­jury but gets around just fine on his three re­main­ing limbs. There’s Mr. Kitty, who’s at least 17 years old and whose tongue al­ways sticks out. Reg­gie, res­cued from a hoard­ing sit­u­a­tion in Mis­souri, has en­tro­pion, a con­di­tion that caused his eyes to scar.

All are in the care of Way­ward Whiskers Cat Res­cue, which saves the lives of stray cats bat­tling med­i­cal con­di­tions or in­juries and cares for them un­til they get adopted — no mat­ter how long it takes.

The San An­to­nio non­profit takes spe­cial-needs fe­lines off the streets and from lo­cal shel- ters, such as An­i­mal Care Ser­vices, the An­i­mal De­fense League of Texas, the San An­to­nio Hu­mane So­ci­ety, Palm Val­ley An­i­mal Cen­ter in the Rio Grande Val­ley and smaller shel­ters.

Way­ward Whiskers is one of the only res­cues in South Texas will­ing to ac­cept stray cats di­ag­nosed with fe­line im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency virus. FIV, as the virus is com­monly known, sup­presses the im­mune sys­tem, but a cat can live a nor­mal life span with the con­di­tion and may not ex­pe­ri­ence any com­pli­ca­tions.

Pfau, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, started Way­ward Whiskers in 2013 with a mis­sion to pro­vide the most un­for­tu­nate cats bet­ter lives and lov­ing homes.

“I know that if I didn’t get in­volved and if I didn’t in­ter­vene that they would not be alive,” Pfau said of the an­i­mals she helps. “And they prob­a­bly would have died a re­ally hor­ri­ble death.

“They’re lit­tle sen­tient be­ings and they suf­fer and they feel pain and they hurt. If I can do some­thing to al­le­vi­ate that, then it’s

worth it.”

Way­ward Whiskers wouldn’t sur­vive with­out do­na­tions, Pfau said. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­nual bud­get last year was $76,000, and nearly all its fund­ing comes from in­di­vid­ual donors.

The non­profit’s web­site notes that Way­ward Whiskers doesn’t re­ceive any city or gov­ern­ment funds. The group was awarded a $15,000 grant — a first — by the San An­to­nio Area Foun­da­tion ear­lier this year.

The non­profit doesn’t take in cats sur­ren­dered by their own­ers, but ac­cepts fe­lines fac­ing hope­less sit­u­a­tions, such as strays who are blind, have suf­fered a bro­ken leg or been hit by a car, are be­ing bul­lied on the street by other cats or are di­ag­nosed with FIV.

Some of those cats come to the group’s at­ten­tion through re­ports from the pub­lic. Way­ward Whiskers’ web­site al­lows visi­tors to sub­mit in­take re­quests, along with a de­scrip­tion and pho­tos of a cat in dis­tress. Other cats the non­profit helps come from lo­cal shel­ters.

“Our main fo­cus is just the spe­cial-needs cats that no­body else re­ally wants to take or deal with,” Pfau said.

Way­ward Whiskers doesn’t im­pose a time limit for how long they keep cats await­ing adop­tion.

“We don’t eu­th­a­nize for space or be­cause a cat can’t get adopted,” Pfau said. “We just hold on to them un­til the right per­son comes along.”

All the cats the non­profit of­fers for adop­tion can be found on­line.

Way­ward Whiskers re­cently took in Chase, a cat who was found in McAllen with se­vere dam­age to his face. How he was hurt was a mys­tery, but Pfau said it was pos­si­bly due to a se­vere eye in­fec­tion. Chase un­der­went surgery and lost one of his eyes, but he’s healed nicely. He also tested pos­i­tive for FIV, so he was placed into the non­profit’s FIV+ Sanc­tu­ary. In Oc­to­ber, he be­came avail­able for adop­tion.

The non­profit also took in two cats from Kuwait in Oc­to­ber — Ge­orgina, who had in­ten­tion­ally been set on fire, and Pip­pen, who had been at­tacked by a dog. Both cats have made a full re­cov­ery.

“We’re a pri­vate res­cue,” Pfau said. “We’re lim­ited in space and man­power, so we have to pick and choose what cats we ac­tu­ally can take in.”

As of late Oc­to­ber, Way­ward Whiskers was car­ing for around 50 cats. About half of them — 29 in all — were re­sid­ing at the non­profit’s FIV+ Sanc­tu­ary, at Pfau’s home in the San An­to­nio area.

The re­main­ing cats were housed in the group’s adop­tion room at Pfau’s home, on dis­play at the non­profit’s adop­tion cen­ter in­side PetS­mart’s Westover Hills store or go­ing through quar­an­tine pe­ri­ods that each cat is re­quired to clear.

Way­ward Whiskers also aims to ed­u­cate the pub­lic about FIV. Cats with the virus can be adopted and live suc­cess­fully in the same house­hold with other cats who don’t have the con­di­tion as long as they don’t fight or bite each other, Pfau said.

“There’s a lot of mis­con­cep­tion about it,” Pfau said of the ill­ness. “A lot of peo­ple think it’s highly con­ta­gious, and it’s not.”

Way­ward Whiskers typ­i­cally adopts out around 90 to 100 cats each year. But the non­profit is get­ting more ex­po­sure this year through the adop­tion cen­ter it launched in Fe­bru­ary in­side the PetS­mart store at Loop 410 and Texas 151. The group has placed at least 140 cats with “for­ever fam­i­lies” since Jan. 1.

Adop­tion fees vary. A cat di­ag­nosed with FIV can be adopted for $35. At the group’s PetS­mart adop­tion cen­ter, adult cats with­out FIV can be adopted for $75 each, while kit­tens free of FIV can be adopted for $100 each.

Ev­ery Way­ward Whiskers cat is spayed or neutered, gets vac­ci­nated and mi­crochipped, and un­der­goes test­ing for FIV and fe­line leukemia be­fore it gets adopted.

There are ad­van­tages to adopt­ing from a smaller, pri­vate res­cue, Pfau said.

“We know the cats, we know their per­son­al­i­ties, we know their likes and dis­likes ... so we can give you a bet­ter idea what kind of cat you’re get­ting,” she said.

Way­ward Whiskers serves a need in the com­mu­nity, said Clay­ton Cox, 19, a Ci­bolo na­tive and Col­lege Sta­tion res­i­dent who adopted two cats from the non­profit and fos­tered five other cats in the group’s care in the past year.

“Not a lot of places are go­ing to take on that kind of ex­pense, that com­mit­ment,” Cox said, not­ing the group helps an­i­mals “that would oth­er­wise be over­looked by other or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Billy Calzada / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Lora But­ler, board chair of Way­ward Whiskers Cat Res­cue, plays with a cat be­ing cared for by the San An­to­nio non­profit. The or­ga­ni­za­tion gets al­most all its funds from do­na­tions.

Billy Calzada / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Kate Medellin, left, board mem­ber and foster mother for Way­ward Whiskers Cat Res­cue, and Sherry Pfau, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the group, ad­min­is­ter eye­drops to a cat at the non­profit’s shel­ter.

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