When you buy a book from the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Virginia, you may walk away with more than just some great literature.
On these shelves you’ll find the perfect partner to curl up with (besides the the latest book from Big Stone Gap native Adriana Trigiani, of course!).
We’re talking cats and kittens; veritable furballs full of fun and love…and, in many cases, a little sass.
“People come to the bookstore just for fur therapy,” said Wendy Welch, who owns the bookstore with her husband Jack. “Sometimes they walk in and say, ‘I’m just needing to cuddle something today.’ They LOVE having the cats around.”
The system works for everyone. It helps get cats out of the shelters until they can be adopted, and it gives the felines a lot of socialization so they’re ready to make that next step into a forever home.
Wendy’s dedication to homeless cats doesn’t stop there. She is also the founder of a rescue group called Appalachian Feline Friends.
“In 2015, the Wise County animal shelter euthanized 486 cats,” recalled Wendy.
She decided she wasn’t going to sit back and watch that number climb.
“I knew there were a bunch of people working independently on cat rescue, and thought there must be some way of bringing them together to be more effective,” said Wendy. “So I reached out to a handful, and in May 2016 a small coalition formed, dedicated to the idea that we could work better together than alone, and rescue more cats.”
That’s when Appalachian Feline Friends began all its meaningful work. By July of 2016 they were a full-fledged organization with ten volunteers.
“That core group is now 26 people who have some daily, weekly, or monthly role within the organization,” said Wendy. “Plus our partners in urban rescues who help relocate some of our rural cats.”
The group includes an official fundraiser, two infant specialists (who foster newborns until they’re healthy and weaned), a photographer, designated cuddlers (yep, that’s a thing), a cleaner, a bookkeeper, and what’s known as an intake specialist.
They’ve even purchased and renovated a home to use as a sanctuary they call Hazel House. Volunteers rotate in to make sure the place is sanitary and all the kitties are cared for and getting along. Collectively, these dedicated people are putting in more than 50 hours a week!
The main message that Wendy and everyone with Appalachian Feline Friends want to get across is the importance of spaying and neutering to help reduce the number of feral cats wandering around.
“SPAY AND NEUTER, SPAY AND NEUTER, SPAY AND NEUTER,” Wendy emphasized. “If I had a dollar for every well-meaning person who has said to me, ‘We spayed our girl cat but the boy lives outside and we don’t want to interfere with his hunting instinct or make him a wuss to other cats,’ I could afford to neuter all those poor boy cats. You have to neuter the boys as well as spay the girls.”
In fact, we found out that if you’re looking for a cat to get rid of the mice and other rodents on your property, fixing him or her would be beneficial to you.
If you do get a male, neutering will not affect the hunting instinct or personality in any way. What it will do is decrease your male’s interest in roaming, fighting, and spraying urine to mark his territory.
VCA Hospitals back it up:
For some potential cat owners, spaying and neutering comes down to money.
“Lots of people in Southwest Virginia, a rural area with economic challenges, would love and be good to a cat but they can’t afford the initial outlay for fixing them,” said Wendy. “We want to offer scholarships to loving, responsible homes that would keep a cat indoors and have their own quality of life enhanced by this furball of love in their family. Right now all we can do is spay and neuter before we adopt our own rescues out, but we’d love to be able to help families.”
For now, the numbers prove that Appalachian Feline Friends is making a difference.
“In 2016, the kill rate at the shelter was just above 200 (down from 486 in 2015),” said Wendy. “We are determined that in 2017, the only cats put down will be those too feral to socialize or too sick to save. What we are doing shows, and it works, and it makes the world a better place. For people as well as cats.”
It’s all about the fur therapy.
“Animal rescue is human rescue,” said Wendy. “We all know that.”
Would you like to help Appalachian Feline Friends with its mission to spay and neuter more cats? Fetching Apparel is donating 40% of profits to AFF and Pleasant Hill Pet Rescue this month. Check out our Josie the kitty tees and so much more!
(All photos courtesy: Appalachian Feline Friends)