Missy Zane is the founder and president of Howard County Cat Club, based in Columbia, Maryland. But she is more than just that, Missy is also “head cat mom,” admin, and the PR and social media person for the 501(c)3 rescue. Missy says, “I also do a lot of behavior counseling and provide other advice to try to keep cats out of rescue, decide which cats to take in our shelter – not all are a good match for us – and interview and approve adopters.”
Missy started Howard County Cat Club in celebration of the 20th anniversary of her cat sitting services.
The Howard County Cat Club is dedicated to keeping cats out of shelters because we believe that no cat deserves to live in a cage, or to be put to death because it is no longer wanted or in the way.
We operate a behavior hotline to help cats and their human companions resolve their differences. We advise people who need to place their no-longer-wanted cats in new homes; we have a no-kill, cage-free “group home” for cats with absolutely nowhere else to go; and we help feral colony caretakers with Trap/Neuter/Return.
A conversation with Missy
Why did you start the rescue?
I had always wanted to start a cat rescue, and our area really needed one. Starting an organization to help cats seemed like a good way to celebrate my cat sitting service’s 20th anniversary and give something back to the community. I really didn’t think anything would come of it, but I figured it was at least a good way to get our name in the paper. The director of our animal control agency at the time hated rescues, and I didn’t want to wave a red flag in her face, so I gave it an innocuous name and said we were a cat behavior hotline. The first call I got was about a cat who desperately needed rescue. That’s when I realized the behavior hotline would probably not work. When people are having problems with a cat, they just want him or her gone. They’re not interested in working things out.
What region do you cover?
The Baltimore, MD/Washington, DC area. However, one of my closest friends is a cross-poster on Facebook and works with shelters in the south. We sometimes take cats she’s trying to save from North Carolina, Georgia and rural Virginia. We’ve also gotten a couple of cats out of the very lethal and heartless Brooklyn shelter.
About how many cats can you shelter at a time?
We can shelter up to 18 cats in a cage-free, group home environment. We use foster homes for sick cats and cats who don’t get along with the others, but I prefer to have everyone in our shelter.
What is the hardest part about running the rescue?
Money and keeping the cats healthy and happy are the biggest worries. Saying we don’t have room for a cat we’d really like to save (we’d like to save them all) is the hardest part.
What is the best part about running the rescue?
Saying goodbye to a cat who’s going to an amazing forever home. This is always bittersweet. I took two cats (sisters) who had been with us for over a year to their new home recently and cried all the way home! We’re happy for them, but we miss them.
What would you say is the most common misconception about running a rescue?
I think the most common misconception is that a no-kill rescue is the perfect place for every rejected cat, no matter how old or sick. The truth is that no cat belongs in a rescue. It’s stressful and sad for all of them, even the cats who live in our beautiful, happy group home. If you’re absolutely determined to re-home your cat, it’s best to do it on your own with our help. That’s especially true of older, strictly indoor cats who have never seen anything but the four walls of their own homes.
What’s one thing you would tell someone who wants to start a rescue?
Before you start, have money in the bank and enough volunteers. Also have fundraising plans in place.
What has been the best way to collect donations for your rescue?
We have a donate button on our Facebook page and raise money that way. People on Facebook are amazingly generous, and when we do a fundraiser for a very sick cat, we always come up with at least most of the money we need.
What kind of fundraising events do you hold?
We do monthly craft and bake sales from March-November at a branch of our local library and raise a lot of money that way. A couple of our volunteers are fabulous bakers, and we have two volunteers who make beautiful jewelry. We usually make between $500-$700 at the sales.
Do you hold adoption events?
No. We like people to come to the shelter where the cats are relaxed and the people can spend as much time with them as they want to. Some stay for hours!
Do you find that it’s hard to come by volunteers or fosters?
When we need a foster, yes, they’re hard to find. We recruit volunteers on Facebook and never have trouble finding the people we need.
Is there a rescued cat that stands out in your mind?
There are so many. We started our shelter by taking 20 cats from a hoarder home. Another rescue took the other 20. They got all of the cats out of the house because they were closer, and they were literally running out the door with the last of the cats when Animal Control arrived. I loved every one of our 20 cats, but my favorite was Leonardo, a wise, older black cat and his brother. Another is Puck, who was rescued from an abandoned apartment in the inner city of Baltimore. A friend scaled a wall and broke a window to get him out. He went to live in a very small horse barn and helps his people with their chores, rides on the tractor with his “dad” and invites all the neighborhood cats over to his barn for parties at night. The dear boy has a great life!
Anything else we should know about Howard County Cat Club?
We’re no kill, never kill, under any circumstances. We treat sick cats and have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on many. We’re still trying to pay the last of a $7,000 hospital bill for a cat who had some kind of rare autoimmune problem. She’s fine now! We never separate litter mates or lifelong friends. Cats who come to us together leave together. Sometimes cats become friends in our shelter, and we adopt them out together, too. We do not adopt to “strictly indoor” homes because the strictly indoor lifestyle is too stressful and unhealthy for cats. We want our cats to have some kind of access to outside, even if it’s just supervised outdoor time or going out on a harness and leash.