Founded in 2009, OC Small Paws is a 501(c)3 cat rescue based in Fountain Valley, California. They have a small network of foster families and also have cats for adoption at six Petco locations throughout Orange County.
Mary J., the current president (and volunteer, foster parent, application/reference checker, fundraiser, adoption day coordinator, do-anything-that-needs-to-be-done person!), has been with the rescue since the beginning and has personally been rescuing since 2005.
The mission of the group is to provide health care and temporary housing for homeless animals and actively search for loving, permanent homes for those animals in our care.
With a core of about 12 volunteers, OC Small Paws adopted out approximately 175 cats and kittens last year!
A Conversation with Mary
Why did you join OC Small Paws?
This group does what is best for the cat. We have a cohesive group of dedicated volunteers who work together to take care of cats, not feed anyone’s ego!
What is the hardest part about running an animal rescue?
Keeping up with the vet bills. Our volunteers are much more familiar with cat care than fundraising! And although the adoption fee covers basic care, it does not cover extraordinary care, such as eye removal for Valentina due to cancer, leg amputation for Maribel who was hit by a car, or long-term vet boarding for Reina, who suffered permanent nerve damage that causes her to have no bowel control. Even a basic upper respiratory infection can run up the bill if we don’t have a foster with an isolation room, which means the cat has to be boarded while being treated.
What is the best part about running an animal rescue?
Bringing people and cats together – it’s such a satisfying feeling to see a cat go to a good home. And then we can go out and rescue another deserving cat!
What would you say is the most common misconception about running a rescue?
That the adoption fees are too high. Vet care is the biggest cost, and overall it runs well above the adoption fees we collect. No one makes money in this business!
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting a rescue?
Find a good vet that is willing to give you reduced rates for care and work out a payment plan with them. Solicit donations from every source you can think of. Treat volunteers like gold, because that’s how valuable they are to the rescue. Become partners with your local pet stores and join any programs they have available. Become a 501(c)3 so you can obtain the benefits of being tax-exempt. It also helps to have a large fortune – it will become a small fortune after you are done supporting the rescue!
In your experience, what has been the best way to collect donations for your rescue?
We’re still looking for the best way! Right now, partnering with Petco and getting donations from the Petco Foundation is our strongest support.
About how much money does it take to operate your rescue on a monthly basis?
Our vet bills alone average around $5,000 to $6,000 a month. We are continually struggling to meet our vet bills.
Do you hold fundraising events?
We took part in the iheartoc.org campaign last year, and we plan to do so again this year. iheartoc is sponsored by the Orange County Community Foundation. Mickey was our mascot last year.
Mickey was the perfect model during his photo shoot.
(And congrats to Mickey for being adopted this past weekend!)
Do you partner with any other rescues?
We have a loose affiliation with the Anaheim Fix Project. We have a few overlapping volunteers, and we have taken kittens from their group into ours to get them adopted. We also depend on a group of dedicated rescuers that monitor the cats available at the Downey Animal Care Center. They pledge funds toward the rescue of cats that are adoptable.
Do you hold adoption events?
We hold adoption events at six Petco locations in Orange County. Days and times are subject to change, so it’s best to contact us or call the store to find out about a particular weekend. We are at these locations: Westminster, Orange, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo.
Is your rescue currently looking for volunteers or foster parents?
ALWAYS!!! A rescue organization can only save as many cats as it has volunteers to look after. We post on VolunteerMatch and also at the Petco locations where we have cats to get volunteers. Kitten season is just beginning, too, and we are in desperate need of fosters to take care of kittens, moms and young kittens, and bottle babies.
Do you find that it’s hard to come by volunteers or fosters?
It’s both hard to come by volunteers and fosters, and hard to keep them! We have a core group of about a dozen volunteers that do the hard lifting of organization and keeping our adoption events running. Then we have other volunteers that help by cleaning the kennels, which has to be done every day at each Petco, and by helping on adoption days to entertain the cats and answer questions from people who stop by. Then there are the “foster fails” who end up adopting their fosters! This usually results in them not having room to foster other cats.
Anything else we should know about the rescue?
We have a lot of older cats available in addition to kittens. The older cats, though harder to adopt out, need help as much if not more than kittens. We are also one of the few rescues in the area that will take in owner surrenders. Owner surrenders are typically older cats (2 years old and up) and often have a hard time adjusting to a foster or kennel situation.
And if you’d like to share – what’s a fun fact about yourself?
I’ve been fostering since 2005 and have easily had hundreds of cats go through my house! The secret to being a successful foster is to have one more cat than you are comfortable with – then you are less likely to want to keep the fosters. When one gets adopted, you’re not only glad the cat got a good home, but you’re glad the cat is out of your house. Of course, then you have to go get one more foster to keep the cycle going. Deep dark secret: I’ve “foster failed” twice!