GREENFIELD — Throw in a few clouds and a couch or two, and this could be cat heaven.
For all of their shelter lives, these 23 frolicking felines, many of them young, abandoned ones from last spring’s mating season, lived in a rural Charlottesville building that had no running water and was barely heated.
It was more of a problem, and a huge expense, for their caretakers from Partners for Animal Welfare Society than it was for these cats.
Still, now that P.A.W.S. finally has its own Greenfield storefront, these kitties are in a much friendlier environment. They sleep, if they want, in cages stacked around the edges of the cat room in this newly rented 2,100-square-foot space in the Schakel Center at 3141 W. U.S. 40.
Toys are strewn about the floor, and the cats are happily busy with them. Spats over the toys arise at times, especially over the “tunnel,” but they’re usually not serious, says Betty Fahrnsworth, their principal volunteer caretaker, who on this day is busy with a three-hour daily routine of feeding, sanitizing and cleaning the room and cages, and cleaning litter boxes.
The Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals in September granted P.A.W.S. a special exception to operate a pet store in the business center. For the past several years, P.A.W.S. had kept its equipment and supplies wherever it could. Mostly, that was at Tractor Supply Co. on North State Street, where monthly adoptions are held; at a nearby TSC warehouse; and the homes of volunteers and P.A.W.S.’ director, Nancy Rubino.
Rubino’s relief at finally securing this space is as obvious as the P.A.W.S. logo on the front window.
“We’ve been looking for three years,” she said. “We saw a sign out front that (Schakel’s) had office space and warehouse space. And the price was right. We were tired of having stuff in this place and that place.”
Locating here is enabling the group to reopen its pet food pantry and to begin consolidating its spay/neuter and adoption programs.
There’s a small retail store in the front with pet supplies and toys, the sales of which help support the P.A.W.S. mission.
There is a second quarantine room for cats that are ill or have special needs. There is one cat sequestered in there now because she has food allergies and is restricted to grain-free food.
Between the two rooms is a storeroom for supplies and the pet food pantry where low-income families can obtain free food for their pets.
Cats can be viewed and/or adopted here during the current store hours of 4 to 7 p.m. Thursdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, but the main monthly adoption event will continue to be held at Tractor Supply for now.
An open house is set for 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26.
Rubino said she is working with other area rescue groups that want to pool funds with P.A.W.S. to sponsor spay/neuter clinics in the storeroom space.
Currently, Rubino and Fahrnsworth devote more than 12 hours each on Mondays to take in pets, make two trips for pickup and delivery to a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Noblesville, and then return the pets to their owners in Greenfield.
P.A.W.S. was initially founded 15 years ago to assist Greenfield-Hancock County Animal Management in an advisory and volunteer capacity.
Eventually, the group went on its own to focus on adoptions and the spay/neuter program, especially the $5 and $10 feline fix program for feral and other outdoor cats, which has been wildly successful.
Some 18 to 22 such cats, plus various other cats and dogs brought in by the public, are “fixed” each Monday.
“Since February 2011, we’ve now done 2,200 cats,” Rubino explained. “When we started this, we didn’t have any idea if people would take advantage of it. Now we have a four- to six-weeks waiting list.”
Rubino said the Humane Society of the United States uses a formula based on human population to try and determine the number of roaming cats in a given community.
For one Hancock County’s size, the estimated number is 8,000.
“I figure we have 5,000 to 6,000 to go,” Rubino said.
The program prevents these cats from reproducing and also improves the health of the overall population because the spayed and neutered cats also receive a 3-year rabies vaccine.
This program is funded by donations and grants from individuals, rescue groups and organizations like the Hancock County Community Foundation.
A grant was recently given by an individual on the condition that P.A.W.S. would begin accepting feral/outdoor cats for spay/neuter from the east side of Indianapolis.
The increased numbers point to the need for a local clinic.
Rubino figures that if partnering groups can pool enough money, they can hire a veterinarian to come in for a monthly clinic during which 35 to 40 cats could be spayed or neutered in a single session.
Long term, in the organization’s five-year plan, the group is in need of a facility about twice this size to establish a permanent, low-cost spay/neuter clinic.
“If anyone has a 4,000-square-foot or bigger space they’d like to donate to us, call (317) 445-9924,” said Rubino.
Short-term, P.A.W.S. is in need of a land-line phone and two expensive pieces of equipment: an industrial-size air cleaner for the new building, since the group was not permitted to build permanent walls; and a larger transport vehicle.
Donations also help fund adoptions. According to Rubino, the adoption fee for cats, for example, is $85, but the total amount invested in each is $125 to $175.
“We are still looking for donations and volunteers to help feed and clean,” she said.
Volunteers are also needed to help run a three-day route that includes 43 veterinarian offices in three counties that are selling volunteer-made catnip toys for P.A.W.S.
These simple 2-inch by 4-inch pieces of cloth with catnip sewn inside sell for $1 and are bringing in about $400 to $500 a month for the group.