Getting the “fur babies” home for winter

When 26 year old youth worker Jane Ruge first met Riku she wasn’t looking to adopt a cat. But she missed the company of pets and when she heard about the foster program through the Geelong Animal Welfare Society she saw an opportunity.

Ruge says that Riku is inquisitive and clever and has adopted some interesting habits such as running past doors in her house and high-fiving the door handles on his way past since moving in with her. Riku is a completely different cat to the one that Ruge first saw when she first picked him up from GAWS.

“He was so very sad when I went to collect him,” Ruge says. After a few days living with me he brightened up and seemed much happier. I fell in love with Riku and could not give him back, so I adopted him full time.”

Riku is one of many lucky cats and kittens to have found a new home because of GAWS which is one of the largest animal shelters in Victoria. And thanks to the cat adoption drive “Get Them Home for Winter” which aims to put 75 cats and kittens into new homes over 75 days, there is a whole new swathe of “fur babies” who are as happy as Riku. Animal drives or ‘specials’ are just one of the many things GAWS now do to make sure that lost and stray pets and animals are given the best care possible. The drive also makes use of the new veterinary facilities at GAWS, with desexing, vaccination, fleaing and worming all included in the adoption fees.

Ruge says she’d much rather a pet from a shelter than a pet shop or a home breeder.

“I chose GAWS because I want to support animals that need a second chance,” she says.

Specials such as the “Get Them Home for Winter” are a common thing at GAWS. The non-for profit shelter has been running for over 50 years, relying on money and donations from the public in order to keep its doors open. But it hasn’t been a smooth ride, with animal activists.
prompting the implementation of a no-kill policy after videos emerged of animals being mistreated at the facility.

The treatment of animals at the shelter has changed as a result, with euthanasia rates dropping significantly in the past two years. According to the GAWS 2012 annual report 75% of cats and kittens in the 2010/11 period were euthanized where in 2011/12 the percentage dropped to 50%, with a majority of euthanasia’s occurring due to medical reasons. Whilst this isn’t quite  “no-kill” it seems it is a step in the right direction for GAWS who have witnessed many changes during the past two years. A switch around in management has meant the implementation of a foster program-which means sick animals can now be nursed back to health without the risk of infecting other animals. There have also been multiple fundraisers held and more recently, a veterinary clinic added. It is these positive changes that have also seen more and more people volunteering for GAWS.

One volunteer, Brigette Bell moved to Geelong to take on a cattery attendant role last year and has seen many cats and kittens adopted through the shelter.

Bell says adopting out cats is a good feeling, but sometimes she’s found herself getting attached to the cats and kittens. She remembers fondly a big old ginger cat called Bugalugs who was surrendered to the shelter.

“He used to jump on my back and sit on my shoulders. The older cats have more personality.”

Working at the cattery inside GAWS isn’t all fun and games though. Being an open admissions shelter means that every cat or dog surrendered at the facility is accepted through the doors, including those who have been previously well looked after.

Bell says that surrender cats are usually older cats whose owners can’t look after them anymore.

“They use excuses like they’re moving house in a few weeks. These animals are really well looked after. It’s a sad excuse.”

But for every cat or kitten that is surrendered there is someone out there willing to adopt. Mel Tanner had been going to GAWS almost every second weekend for a few months trying to find the right cat for her and her family when she found Puss, who she describes as a beautiful fluffy cat who is playful and a ‘big smoocher’.

“He has the best personality and is my best friend. He used lie on me and be my study buddy.”

Tanner says she was happy with the adoption process and she would adopt from GAWS again.

Bell fondly remembers a couple who come into the shelter and asked to adopt the cat who had been there the longest. She says that people of all ages adopt cats and kittens from the shelter with older couple often opting for older cats, families for kittens and young adults opting for a mixture of the two.

“We’re always full of cats,” she says.

“They seem to be going out of the shelter quicker now because of the special though.”

Jane Ruge couldn’t imagine her life without Riku, despite her initial reservations about adopting him because of how often she travels on weekends. She says it is important to note that there are always ways to make pets fit into your life and they are also an important part of the family.

“Riku provides me with endless entertainment, and makes me laugh out loud on a daily basis. He gives me great cuddles and a whole lot of love.”

This story was written as part of an assessment for Deakin University, 2014.

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