Animal Rescue of the Week: Episode 62 – Ten Lives Cat Rescue

Ten Lives Cat Rescue

Ten Lives Cat Rescue was founded in February 2018 with a mission to save homeless, abused, and abandoned cats. They are dedicated to giving second chances to those who have been forgotten: seniors, the physically & emotionally scarred, the behaviorally challenged, and those who need critical medical care. Ten Lives was started after its two co-founders saw a desperate need to help cats that were often deemed unadoptable or failed by the traditional shelter model. The “Forgotten Feline” program was developed to help this population of cats get the chance they deserve. They are a foster-based program that is 100% volunteer-powered. Since accepting the first cat into their program in May 2018, Ten Lives has rescued 464 cats from dire and desperate situations, provided exceptional veterinary care, socialization, and rehabilitation through their foster program, and has adopted 378 of those cats into loving homes. In 2019, Ten Lives was voted RI Monthly’s Best Rescue/Shelter!


Website: https://tenlivescatrescue.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tenlivescatrescue

Instagram: @tenlivescatrescue


“Welcome to the Animal Rescues of the Week podcast, where we feature outstanding organizations from around the country that are helping animals and the people who rescue them. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert connects animal shelters with volunteers to do animal transport and fostering. Learn more and sign up for free at www.Doobert.com. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal rescue!

 Ten Lives Cat Rescue was founded in 2018 with a mission to save homeless, abused, and abandoned cats. They’re dedicated to giving second chances to those who have been forgotten. Seniors, the physically and emotionally scarred and behavioral challenged and those who need critical medical care. Ten Lives was started when the two co-founders saw a desperate need to help cats, that were often deemed unadoptable or failed by the traditional shelter model.

Hi, Melissa. Welcome to the show. Hi. Thanks for having me. Of course. We’re happy to have you and learn more about Ten Lives Cat Rescue in Rhode Island. So you are one of the co-founders and the Executive Director, is that right? I am. Yes. Awesome. So could you just share a little bit about your organization and what a day in your shoes looks like? Sure. So we’re a 501C3 nonprofit organization. We are 100% volunteer power, and we were founded in February 2018 and our mission is to save homeless, abused, abandoned, and forgotten cats, while inspiring change in our community. And a general day for me, kind of changes from day to day. But it’s a lot of interaction with fosters and volunteers. A lot of work involved, helping cats get out of sort of dire and desperate situations and a lot of social media. Yeah, I can imagine. Now, with the whole pandemic going on, your day is probably totally different than what it usually is. Yeah, it definitely is. It’s put a little spin on our daily lives. Well, we’re all with you there. It’s definitely thrown everybody for a loop.

 So I’m just gonna throw this out there just by looking at the name of your organization, you guys just take in strictly cats, is that right? Yeah. So our rescue is cats only. We all have a love of dogs, but we’re focused on cats. Okay, so does that kind of relate to a little bit about your community? So, do you guys have an overpopulation of cats? Is that kind of why you guys chose to open a cat rescue? Yeah, and my rescue partner, Heidi and I, you know, we have both been volunteering in the cat rescue, shelter world for a while, and we both recognize that there was a problem happening in our community with homeless and stray cats and specifically with a population of cats that were being overlooked or failed by traditional models. Specifically under socialized or shy cats or cats that need critical medical care. And so that’s why we decided to primarily focus on rescuing cats. You guys in Rhode Island, you guys are definitely a smaller state. So does that tie into the community that you live in also? Yeah. So we have a really incredible community of animal lovers. They’re looking for ways to help, to get involved, and they see cats suffering in our community, and they desperately want to help. And so we believe that part of our responsibility is to provide those opportunities to them. We do have a significant stray cat problem in our state. And so that’s why our primary focus is on cats.

 How do you guys usually take in the cats that you care for? They just specifically the stray cats in your community? Or do you take an owner surrenders? The majority of the cats that come to our rescue are cats that have been living out in the community, for one reason or another. We do have a small population of cats that come to us that are owner surrenders, and we take a fair number of cats that were previously living with elderly owners who had passed away. And so they end up having nowhere to go. So in those situations they would come to us. Now, do you guys transfer cats from other organizations as well? We work with another group in our state who focuses primarily on TNR, and when we have the ability to do so, we will take cats from their program that you know either needs socialization. Or maybe they’re friendly and they just need a foster home, so we’ll work with them on placement. 

You had mentioned that you guys are just volunteer-powered, so I’m assuming just from kind of talking to you a little bit, you guys don’t have a facility, you’re more foster-based, correct? That’s right. We’re a foster-based rescue, meaning we don’t have a shelter or facility. And all of the cats that come to our program, they reside in foster homes until they are adopted. Okay, great. So can you share with me a little bit about your adoption process? Do you guys usually put on adoption events? Or how does that usually work for you guys? So the cats come into our program and they have to go through a vetting process for spay/neuter, vaccinations, things like that. And then in different situations, they might need time doing socialization or they might already be ready for adoption. So we partner with our local pet stores like PetSmart and were able to host adoption events there. But we also have cats listed for adoption on our website or on Petfinder, and we have a really strong social media presence. So we have a lot of people who follow us and that are watching the stories as they unfold and waiting for cats to be listed for adoption. 

Oh, very fun and that kind of ties into you guys having that supportive, involved community, they’re always waiting for the next cat that comes up for adoption. Well, I mean, our community is just really incredible. We have sick or injured cats or older cats who need extra care. You know, they’re just right there, helping us, sharing our stories, donating to their medical fund, sharing with their family and friends and things like that. So we’re really fortunate that way. That’s awesome. There’s no better way to keep your organization going and happy and in that good light, then to kind of have that support system from your community. That’s great. I’m happy you guys have something like that. Absolutely.

So I saw on your guys’ site that you guys have a Forgotten Feline program? Could you tell me a little bit about that? Yeah, so we have a program, Forgotten Feline program like you said. That program is specifically geared towards scared and under socialized cats who have been living outside or who find themselves at risk of euthanasia in shelters because they’re deemed unadoptable. And so those cats come into our program and they are fostering with the specially trained fosters, who know how to work with them. And they have socialization sessions, positive reinforcement. And we believe that they learn their social skills through other cats who are friendly and social. And then once they reach a certain milestone in their socialization, they’re put up for adoption. And we’ve been very fortunate in that every cat, who has come through that program with us, has been adopted. So for the fosters that are more experienced to kind of help unsocialized cats, do they have, like, any certifications or anything? Or is it just experience from working with cats who are under-socialized? There’s no certification. It’s essentially experience gained over time. And, you know, this is sort of I guess, you would say, my speciality. I tend to get the cats that are under socialized or have some behavioral concerns, and so I share a lot of my failures and things that worked with fosters and they try out in their own setting. And then they are creative and they come up with their own things, that they find that works or doesn’t work, and they share with the group. So it’s a lot of trial and error, but we found that providing positive reinforcement, you know, being persistent and consistent and providing a feline role model, are really the keys to success. I love that you guys work together to make the process a little bit easier. And cats are just like people, you know, animals in general, we’re all different. We like different things. We respond well to all these different things. So I love that you guys trial and error and see what works for one may not work for another. 

So you had also mentioned that cats tend to learn from other cats, who are maybe socialized. So does that mean that when a cat gets put into this Forgotten Feline program that there’s already cats, within those fosters, to kind of help the unsocialized ones? Yeah, a lot of times there are. We don’t have many fosters who don’t have their own cats. We’re all cat people. And so, of course, after they’ve gone through the appropriate vetting, we have sort of a protocol in place on how to introduce cats, so that they can live harmoniously together. And one thing that we’ve actually found about these under-socialized cats is the majority of the time, they love other cats. They’re used to living either out in colonies or with other cats. And so they find comfort in that, probably more so than people sometimes. And so a lot of times we see their progress just skyrocket once they are introduced to the resident cats. I think that’s awesome that, you know, you guys go that extra mile to help those cats because you said that you work with organizations that do the TNR, which a lot of times you find cats who are not socialized and nine times out of 10 you get those organizations that just put them back in the colony. So it’s great to hear that you guys work with them. Yeah, and so we have a pretty thorough process in which we evaluate the cats that come into our program and decide, does this cat show promise or potential for socialization, or is it obvious that this cat is feral and we very much respect feral cats. And so in those cases, it’s obvious that they would be TNR’ed and they would be returned back to their colony because that’s the most humane choice we can make for them.

Well, I mean, that definitely makes sense, and it’s good that you guys evaluate them and kind of know that need. So, aside from that program, do you guys have any events or fundraisers that you guys put on to maybe get your community more involved with you guys? So we are out in the community a lot. You can generally find us at the local farmers market in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. You can find us at the Seaside Block Party that’s in Providence. We really love being out there and meeting people. We hosted our first annual fundraiser this past October, which was a sold-out event, and that was a bingo fundraiser. Everyone seemed to have a really great time, and that was just another great example of our community helping us out. We had a lot of local businesses come together and donate items for our raffle and silent auction. How awesome is that? I mean, honestly, I’ve heard a lot of different events and fundraisers, but I’ve never heard of anybody doing bingo, so that’s a good one. And who doesn’t like playing Bingo? I do! Yeah, Exactly. 

Well, good. I’m happy to hear that. So you guys seem like you guys have a very supportive community. You’ve got a lot of people behind you. It seems like you guys are really doing awesome. So I’m curious. What are some of your guys’ challenges? Not just now, currently, due to the pandemic, share with me a little bit about your current struggles due to the pandemic. But also those day to day usual struggles that you used to face before the pandemic. Hopefully, that makes sense. Yeah, of course. I think our biggest challenge like I think so many other groups, is recruiting fosters. We have a really strong foster base, but I think specifically for us because we take in so many under socialized sick cats. It’s finding fosters who are willing to work with the cats in our Forgotten Feline program. And we understand that working with under-socialized cats is not the right match for every foster. And so we’re asking ourselves what additional support can we provide to encourage fosters, to take a leap and to take a chance on one of these cats. So that’s kind of our everyday struggle, I would say.

 And then our current struggles, with the pandemic, would definitely be the fact that we’ve had to cancel all of our events and fundraisers for the foreseeable future. So we’re trying to figure out how to get around that. So this Saturday we are hosting a Pilates For Purrs event, which is going to be online, and we will have a great raffle with that. And we’re brainstorming on some other ways to like a virtual paint night or life constrain things like that. How fun and see this is where I think it is kind of getting organizations to think out of the box a little bit. Would you have thought of Pilates For Purrs, doing like something virtual, if COVID didn’t happen? I think probably not. We really thrive sort of being out in the community and meeting people and talking to people. So it’s been an adjustment. But I think one great thing is that when we’re doing this virtual event, this Pilates For Purrs, anyone can attend, right? Like if you can get on a streaming device, you can attend no matter where you are. That’s something cool. You know, that could get like a lot more people involved, and I know that it’s, you want to get support, especially from your community. But I think that, as I said, this whole COVID thing is just really getting organizations to think out of the box a little bit because you have to practice social distancing right now. You can’t just go and throw this ginormous bingo fundraiser right now. It’s just not gonna happen. Yeah, I think it’s important to remember that we are all doing our social distancing part. But there are still cats in our community who need our help, and rescues and shelters are still out there, saving them and trying to provide them with the best vet care as possible. So these virtual events and fundraisers help us continue to do that. 

Yeah, definitely. So right now, with the whole COVID going on, do you have more people wanting to foster and more people wanting to adopt or have you kind of seen those numbers decrease a little bit? I was just looking at the numbers, and in March we had a 66% increase in our adoptions, which is like incredible, and we’re getting a ton of foster applications, which is amazing. Sort of the sticking point for us currently is just veterinary care. Spay/neuter clinics are closed and a lot of the partner events that we work with are having limited services. We’re trying to figure out how we can still save cats, with this increase of interest. But sort of this decrease in services, Yes. Have you guys upped, like, your adoption process? Like, have you changed it all due to more people being at home right now, as opposed to when they would go back to work or you guys just still doing the same process? So we’re still doing our same process. You know, our goal is to place our cats in the best-matched homes, so looking specifically at what they need and what type of home they will thrive in and making sure that the family is adopting a cat that’s appropriate for their home. So we’re still doing our matching process. We still have our adoption coordinators doing all the checks that we would normally do. So everything has remained the same. We just increased, I guess the speed at which we’re doing it.

 That’s good to hear. And like I said, I’m happy to hear that those numbers are rising. So another thing that I’m kind of curious about due to the whole pandemic is everybody in this industry knows that kitten season is either coming or already upon us. How are you guys either preparing for that or are you guys just going to take it head-on as it comes? Or what do you guys thinking for that? Yeah. So, kitten season is already here for us. We recently had two Momma cats, give birth to five kittens each. And so they’re, I think, about 10 days old now, And we’ve already had two other litters that are just about hitting the eight-week mark. And we had a group of kittens, they were bottle-fed, they didn’t have a mom, who are reaching about six or seven weeks. So we’re here, we’re in the middle of it, and, you know, we’re getting through it. Thankfully, we have a really dedicated group of volunteers who just are willing to take in these cats and see them through birth and make sure that their kittens are healthy. I think that one thing that we’re struggling with is that times are tough for everybody and we’re seeing a decrease in donations. And so we’re trying to figure out creative ways to get the supplies we need, Like kittens food and litter and things like that. I’m a cat lover. And so I love hearing that you guys were caring for Mama cats and their kittens. And you guys are still chugging along, even though this world is in a crazy time right now. And if any of our listeners are feeling generous and wanna take that extra leap and donate, they could really use the help with older kittens. Absolutely. You can find us on our website. We have a wish list right on the front page, and we’re always looking for things like food and litter. essentially. Well, I’m happy that you mentioned that and our listeners can now know that, ’cause it’s gonna be tough right now, especially. 

So I want to kinda up list a little bit from discussing the challenges and everything and just kind of ask you I mean, you’re one of the co-founders, what is something that your organization is most proud of? So I think that for us, we are incredibly proud of our volunteer base. They are incredibly dedicated. You know, when we say, Hey, there’s a sick cat in the community that needs help, we have five hands go up, willing to go out and get this cat and bring it to a foster or bring it to the vet. We recently had a cat that someone asked us to help, that was very sick. And then that person sort of stopped communicating with us. And our volunteers created flyers and posted them in the neighborhood that they knew the cat was in. But they didn’t know exactly where the cat was and went door to door asking people, Have you seen this cat? And they found the cat, which is great! So all of our volunteers are incredible. They are dedicated, they are just compassionate human beings. And I’m so proud of everything that they do. Awesome! I love hearing that, and that just goes back to show you you’re not just supported by your community, but you have great people that are actually willing to go that extra mile, to volunteer and foster and make sure that the cats are being cared for, which is just, it’s truly amazing to hear something like that. Yeah, and we really believe our mission statement is not possible without our volunteers. They are the foundation of this organization, truly. I’m happy to hear that. And I think that your organization is also doing something for them. 

It just makes me wonder, I love asking this question. What makes you so passionate about working in this industry? Like what led you down the path of, I want to be a part of an animal rescue organization? So this is not my full-time real job. Although it is, you know, it’s so I’ve been volunteering in the rescue, shelter world for quite some time. And then at one point I started fostering cats and it started off with sort of, you know, mild, tame kittens, and I worked my way up to more difficult or challenging cats. And the foster that basically inspired me to start Ten Lives, he was a former junkyard cat, FIV positive and he was a medical disaster when he came to us, and it took a lot of sort of TLC and socialization. But a year after joining our houses’ foster, he was transformed into a completely different cat. And he did find his forever home. And I get updates regularly, and he has turned into essentially a lap cat. So, you know, I think most cases a cat like that probably either, would have been euthanized or maybe put back outside. And his perseverance really inspired me to start Ten Lives. Oh, I love that you took a chance, right? You took a chance and like you said, that was a very special case. I know a lot of people turn their heads, you know, for cats that usually need a lot of the medical attention. I love that you get updates because that just adds that worthwhile token right in there. Yeah. I mean, the updates are the best part of fostering truly, you know. You know that they’re in a great home and to see them thrive and do well is really just like the icing on the cake.

 I really like to get to know why it is that people operate, you know, an animal welfare organization. It’s really fun to see where you started, how you started and typically, like the different jobs. Like some people go from being a lawyer and they don’t want to do this anymore. And then they go and they open this animal rescue. And it just amazes me that people make such a jump between occupations, so to speak. So I think it’s great, and like you said, this is your full-time job, even though it’s not your full time. Yeah, I think that’s the thing. You know, you have to be really passionate. And I think that is one thing about myself and the volunteers of this group is that we are incredibly passionate about our mission. Awesome.

 Well, do you guys have any future goals? Do you plan to have a facility one day or are you planning on maybe taking in other animals, even though I know you’re specifically cat rescue? But what’s the future like for your guys’ organization? So I think that the future looks really busy in 2019, you know, we helped over 300 cats, which was really remarkable. 2019 was our first full year as a rescue, so I expect that we’re going to continue to grow rapidly. We’re also working on a spay/neuter initiative that we hope to launch within the next few months. And, you know, we’re asking ourselves, what are the additional barriers that people in our community face, that prohibit them from getting their cats spayed and neutered? And what can we do to solve that? So that’s sort of our next big mission that we’re going to be working on. The spring and summer are typically busy months for us, in regards to events. So we hope to get back to that at some point when it’s safe to do so. And then in regards to a facility, I don’t know that that’s on the year horizon, but I don’t like to rule anything out. You know what? Sometimes the foster base just works. You’ve got that great supportive community, and then, you know, the facility will come down the line, and until then, just keep doing the great work you’re doing. And you guys definitely seem like you’ve got a good, clear vision for what you guys are wanting to do and you guys will get there. Yeah, it’s awesome, so we’re feeling pretty positive.

Good. So Melissa, how can people get in contact with you? I know you said right now that you guys are in need of some more fosters, possibly some more volunteers. How can one get in contact with you to sign up or overall, just get involved with your organization? Yeah, I would suggest visiting our website, tenlivescatrescue.org. You can find information about adopting, volunteering, and donating. We have a pretty active blog on there as well. And if you’re on social media, we’re on Facebook and Instagram, so you can find all of our rescue stories and see what’s going on on a daily basis. Awesome. Are you guys going to be sharing your virtual events on there as well, so people who aren’t in that area can hop on? Yeah, absolutely. So we have all of our events that are planned and booked, they’re listed on Facebook. And we promote them actively on Instagram as well. And we also have an events tab on our website too. So you can find out where we’re going to be, what we’re up to and how you can participate all on our website or Facebook. Okay, Great. Well, we will definitely check that out. I know I will, for sure. 

Well, Melissa, I have enjoyed having you on the show today and learning more about the Ten Lives Cat Rescue and a little bit about your community and just your organization as a whole. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us before we wrap things up today? Yeah, I think I would like to say, Take a chance. Take a chance on the shy cats, the under-socialized cats, perhaps the cats that are not coming directly to the front if you visit the shelter. You know, they might take a little more time and effort, but I think you’ll find that the reward will just be incredibly much greater. Yes, I couldn’t agree more. You’re gonna find the one. Even though they’re shy in their cage and everything, they’re out there. The perfect cat for you is out there. We completely agree. Yes. Well, thanks again for joining me today. Thanks so much for having us. 

Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a Dooberteer, sign up for free at www.doobert.com. At Doobert, we know that together we can save more animals.”

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