Today we talk with Leslie Birrenkott, who is with Meow Village, an all-volunteer 501(c)3 rescue that is based in Aurora, Oregon. Leslie has been with the rescue for five years and is the group’s Development Director, a Board Member, and also does trapping and transporting activities.
Meow Village is a feral cat rescue, however they do take in stray, abandoned and abused cats. They have no physical shelter, but rather they use foster homes for the cats they take in.
Founded in 2010 by Ann Fore, the group’s Mission Statement is:
To improve the quality of life for feral and stray cats; provide food, water and shelter; address medical needs; perform trap/neuter/return (TNR) services; and find homes for stray cats that would not survive a feral lifestyle.
Concurrent with those efforts, and equally as important, Meow Village strives to educate the public of the importance of spay and neuter – and the need for owners to be accountable for their pets for their lifetime.
A conversation with Leslie
Why did you join the rescue?
In the summer of 2011, I was made aware of nine cats living in a 4’ x 4’ x 4’ tin shed – in the heat of summer with no windows or ventilation – living in absolute filth; all were anti-social (not completely feral); and they all had health issues. I ended up having to have one of the cats put down. Anyway, Meow Village helped me get the cats out of that horrible situation – to which I was so grateful! Once I saw how small the non-profit was and that they could use the help, I started volunteering and have never regretted it – such a great group! Also, out of the remaining eight that we rescued – we adopted two of the cats out to a vineyard and the remaining six live in my backyard. My husband built them their own little “cottage” so they are warm in the cool months and also have access to the outdoors as they want (we installed a “kitty fence” so they can’t get out).
What is the hardest part about running a cat rescue?
Seeing the horrific conditions some cats/kittens are living in; seeing them hurt, injured, hungry, suffering. Second hardest? Funding!
What is the best part about running a cat rescue?
Helping these same cats—fixing their injuries, getting them healthy, nurturing them and feeding them good food, fresh water, giving them a soft blanket and shelter. Giving them a second chance for a happy life.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting a rescue?
Volunteer for a rescue in the area in which they are interested. And it’s harder than you can imagine – emotionally, mentally, physically.
What has been the best way to collect donations for your rescue?
Facebook has, and continues to be, a great resource for funding, followed by grants, word of mouth, and crowd funding.
Do you find that it’s hard to come by volunteers or fosters?
Yes – especially since we are a feral cat rescue. It’s a much more physical job than a “regular” shelter volunteer position. You’re setting traps – often in very disturbing environments (hoarding situations) and in inclement weather – there is a lot of bending, lifting, transporting (we can’t afford to reimburse fuel costs), and of course it is emotionally challenging being exposed to so many sad situations.
Is there a rescued cat that stands out in your mind?
One of the more tragic actually involved many cats. “Gary” was a hoarder who lived on a small piece of property in Molalla. Over a period of two years, we rescued over 100 cats and kittens. Gary had some mental health issues which made it very difficult. Most of the time he was happy to work with us, and then out of the blue, he would trip all the traps we had set, eliminating the possibility of trapping any cats.
We would make good progress, then summer would come and the ones we hadn’t been able to trap were already pregnant and having babies. Many of the cats were in horrible condition – skin and bones. Some, once trapped, had to have an eye removed; kittens with URI so bad their eyes were glued shut. Some died before we could rescue them. It was very disturbing.
The good news is that we ended up rescuing every single remaining cat and kitten. The kittens were fostered then adopted; and the adults were placed in barn homes, where they would have food, water and shelter for the rest of their lives.
Anything else we should know about the rescue?
We are the only feral cat “rescue” in Oregon – our focus is trapping feral cats/kittens and relocating them to barn homes via our “Barn Livin’ is the Life for Me” relocation program. We are very small – we have approximately 15 foster homes and a core volunteer staff of about seven who do all the trapping, transporting for spay/neuter, and delivery to barn homes. I don’t think the ladies would mind me saying that of the seven women in our core group the majority of us are in our “young” mid-60’s – not too bad for 614 rescues in 2014 and 757 rescues in 2015!
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I grew up on a farm and loved horses. When I was eight years old, I thought it would be fun to take my horse into the house – and it was – until my mom caught me.
Thank you to Leslie for sharing Meow Village with us! You can connect with the group on Facebook and their website. You can also donate at their website – and they are always looking for fosters and volunteers!