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Felines up for adoption at Kiski Valley Cat and Kitten Rescue

| Sunday, Aug. 19, 2007

The homeless lay sprawled across the shelter floor, soaking up the afternoon sunshine and stretching long tongues in slow yawns.

Thanks to Renee Gazarik and a handful of volunteers, their worries are few: what's for dinner, who gets the prime sleeping territory, the occasional hairball.

Gazarik runs the Kiski Valley Cat and Kitten Rescue in Allegheny Township. It's a temporary home for more than 200 cats without owners. Since the shelter opened in 2000, it has gained a population of abandoned, abused, sick and feral cats who have, more or less, taken the place over.

"They're everywhere, cats in every room," Gazarik said, opening doors to revel felines young and old roaming, snoozing, battling or lounging. Most of the cats are not caged, but have free range indoors. They're separated into four buildings, all with heat and air conditioning: One for kittens and new cats requiring close attention; one for feral cats; one for adult cats; and one for the sick, including 12 who have leukemia.

None except the deathly ill will be euthanized, as the Kiski Valley shelter operates on a no-kill policy.

"I couldn't have done it any other way," Gazarik said. "I could never euthanize a healthy animal."

As a result, the shelter is full to capacity.

"That makes it harder," she said. "You make a lifetime commitment to these animals, and the numbers of them don't really go down. You can't help everybody who calls."

The shelter survives donation-to-donation and is unable to accept new cats.

It is not a unique problem among no-kill shelters, according to the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

While Allegheny County and Pittsburgh have seen dramatic improvements in dog and cat overpopulation, surrounding counties still are having significant problems, said Gretchen Fieser, a spokeswoman, due to many shelters in those areas that are full and turning away animals.

The society took in 13,000 unwanted animals last year, she said, and 807 in the past two weeks, an average of 57 per day. The humane society, along with many shelters in the state, kills animals who are sick, aggressive or otherwise unlikely to be adopted.

There are plenty of unwanted cats left in the area, but Kiski Valley cannot afford to take them all in.

Costs are substantial -- $125 goes toward 300 pounds of cat litter alone each week -- and include food, utilities and veterinary care bills. Small grants come in from year to year, Gazarik said, but most of the rescue's support comes from the hard work of local helpers.

Everyone involved with the shelter works on a volunteer basis.

Max Proviano, 13, comes in each week to take care of the animals with his sister, Cassidee, 10, and mom, June.

"It teaches us responsibility," he said, petting a cat.

Gazarik describes the volunteering as a family affair -- many parents and kids volunteer together, and often bond in the unlikely circumstance of gritty chores.

"Yet I can't get him to do anything at home!" June joked.

The shelter opened in 2000, after Gazarik noticed that her daughter had been feeding a pack of feral cats in a nearby barn. Of the 20 cats there, 10 were pregnant females. Gazarik -- struck by the problem of feline overpopulation -- felt compelled to do something.

She bought the property next door to her home and renovated the buildings there, which had been unoccupied and filled with sheet metal and debris for decades. With help from her family, she cleaned out the spaces, wired them and installed windows and amenities. They were almost ready for feline residents when the project hit an unexpected bump.

"The night before the cats were to move in, the roof blew off this building," Gazarik said. High winds from a spring storm had blown it off the walls.

It was replaced, and the first of the homeless cats moved in.

The shelter now provides them with food, care and ample volunteer attention.

All of the shelter's feline inhabitants are up for adoption. Bringing home a cat from the shelter requires $100, which covers spaying or neutering and vaccinations, and an application to ensure the cats go to a responsible home. Potential adopters can visit the shelter by setting up an appointment with Gazarik at 724-727-7032.

"I used to think these cats had no home," said Debbie Watson, who volunteers with her daughter, Erika. "But this is a perfect home."

Additional Information:

Getting involved

For more information about adopting a cat or volunteering at the Kiski Valley Cat and Kitten Rescue, call the Gazarik family at 724-727-7032.

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