BY TINA TRASTER
Time and again, cat-loving folks in Rockland County and beyond have reached into their pockets and given generously to Hi Tor Animal Shelter to specifically improve the lives of the cats. Anyone who’s adopted a Hi Tor cat, myself included, can tell you how dedicated Hi Tor’s employees and volunteers are, caring for as many as 240 cats who live in small boxes, stacked one on top of the other, in cramped, crowded rooms. But it is up to Hi Tor’s board to change course on the cats, and improve the conditions for these animals.
For years, Hi Tor has talked about rebuilding the shelter, and there is money set aside to at least get started. It is unclear as to when that will really begin. An interim plan to bring relief to the cats has been proposed but many remain skeptical as to whether Hi Tor board members will actually move forward, and whether they will do so on a reasonable timetable. I think it’s fair to say that animal lovers want action, not talk.
The idea to improve cats’ lives involves building a series of sheds or external buildings on Hi Tor’s property in front of the existing building. Rather than being cooped up in small cages, as they are now, the plan would allocate larger spaces, and the cats would co-exist in order to encourage socialization. The plan would allow for 75 cats to be relocated into these new structures, which would relieve some of the pressure in the existing, outdated, deplorable facility.
Back in the spring, a cat-loving architect, along with other cat advocates, met with Hi Tor representatives to move this theoretical plan to blueprints. Indeed, at no cost to Hi Tor, the architect and his team drew up specific plans for several weatherized cat houses. Hi Tor successfully secured needed approvals from the county.
During these meetings with the architect, there was a tacit understanding that there was a good amount of money available to get started with this project. Nobody could pin down Hi Tor board members on just how much money was in the fund, and we still can’t. One board member says there’s $15,000. Another says no amount of money has been dedicated for this project yet. Why not?
What Hi Tor is saying is that the project will need a fundraiser. Hi Tor is now looking for people to donate in-kind services to build these cat houses. Understandably, Hi Tor wants your help, your donations. But I believe Hi Tor should ante the pot and begin with a show of good will for this project. How else can donors keep reaching into their pockets?
In June 2017, the First Annual Paul Doctor Memorial 1K Flip Flop Fun Run for Hi Tor was held to honor Paul Doctor, who died at the age of 42 after a brief illness. Doctor died in January 2016. The fundraiser was organized by friends and colleagues who work with Doctor’s widow, Patricia Cardenas. Patricia and Paul had two adopted Hi Tor cats. Paul loved them and Patricia felt fundraising for Hi Tor would be a great way to honor his memory. Even at his funeral in 2016, donations to Hi Tor in lieu of flowers were requested.
More than $15,000 was raised at the Fun Run. Patricia was promised a cat house would be named in her husband’s honor. That fundraiser was nearly 18 months ago, and Paul died two-and-a-half years ago.
Hi Tor also needs to honor those who have donated, hoping and expecting their generous donations might make a material difference to the cats. The outdoor shelters are the answer. The shelters would be built to last. They would give cats the room to move around and allow them to act like cats. Happier, socialized cats are more adoptable. I brought home a Hi Tor cat a couple of years ago. I love him more than rainbows. He has leaky eyes, which is why I was told no one wanted him. Whenever I look into his beautiful eyes, I feel haunted by the other cats I saw that day. It is never easy to go into a shelter and adopt a cat: most of us wish we could take home every cat. But if there’s a way to improve the lives of those who are still there, those who are still waiting for a forever home, I can think of no excuse for Hi Tor to delay. The shelter must step up, offer a good chunk of funding to get started, and I believe generous cat-loving donors will jump in and make this happen.