To celebrate Valentine’s Day, we’ll be taking a post a day leading up to the lovey dovey holiday to spotlight our favorite rescue organizations.
When I lived in Brooklyn I got sucked into the world of cat rescue. New York, with all its beautiful architecture, fashionable people, and delicious cuisine also has one of the most rampant stray and feral cat populations I’ve ever witnessed.
During the three plus years I was involved in trap-neuter-return, I fixed my fair share of strays who proved too friendly to be put back on the streets and instead got a second chance at a furever home. I also fixed a few kittens I thought I could re-home only to realize they were either too feral or too sick. Normally, I would have been left with yet another feral cat in the house (ahem, I’m looking at you Gizmo) and with the heart wrenching decision to euthanize leukemia+ kittens, but thanks to the folks at Love & Hope sanctuary I, along with the kits, were given a plan B.
In her previous life Virginia E. Yancey was a Justice of the New York Supreme Court. She worked within family court, helping children and parents lead better lives. “In the late 90s my husband and I started talking about what we were going to do the rest of our lives and decided that instead of waiting to be carried out of whatever jobs we held respectively we would start Love & Hope,” she tells Pawesome.
The couple took a trip to Utah to visit Best Friends Animal Society, one of the largest animal sanctuaries in the nation, and took part in their workshop on starting your own sanctuary. Back in New York, they found 37 acres in the fittingly named, Catskills Mountains, and began to modify Best Friends’ building plans for the east coast weather.
Love & Hope opened its doors in 2005 and has since become a safe haven for both feral and stray cats that find themselves ousted from their territories due to construction or unsafe conditions, or simply because they’ve become too old or sick to survive on the streets.
The sanctuary’s first building, Bip’s Place, was financed completely using the couple’s savings. Knowing that felines like to climb things, sleep up high and generally hang out on top of things, the two cat rooms within the building, one for healthy cats and the other for FIV+ kitties, were built vertically. Virginia had planks installed up near the ceiling, boxes mounted on the wall, and shelves built by the windows. The benefit of this design is that it allowed Love & Hope to house more cats within the space. Each kitty needs about 15 to 20 square feet and “if you build vertically, you can include the square footage you get from the vertical space to allow you to accommodate a lot more cats than if they all lived on the same level.”
Despite the resourceful design, other aspects of sanctuary life proved challenging. “It was a baptism of fire on some level,” Virginia recounts. “As much as I thought I knew, I knew nothing.” Her first 15 cats, rescued from a local barn, were plagued by coccidia, a nasty parasite that causes diarrhea. “I’m a city girl, I don’t know coccidia,” Virginia laughs. “It was a battle — me vs. coccidia.”
She quickly discovered that the cute pillows and straw baskets she originally bought had to go, as they harbored the parasite and were hard to disinfect. They were replaced by things that could be machine washed along with plastic baskets and containers that could be disinfected every day. “I spent hours and hours and hours finding the two best disinfectants in the universe that also had very low toxicity levels.”
Once she regained control, Virginia didn’t take a break. Instead, ”I woke up one day and decided I wanted a new building.” Soon after the doors opened at Harvey’s Place, a larger space that allowed Virginia to move the healthy and FIV+ cats into new rooms, each of which included large attached catios that allow the kitties to get some fresh air and direct sun during the warmer months. The building also allowed Virginia to create a space for leukemia+ cats. “The leukemia room has been the most rewarding and biggest heartbreak,” she says. “Being able to give these cats the best of what they can possibly have for as long as they can and see them happy and healthy, I don’t care if it’s for two years or three years, is the best. And the most painful when they die because these cats are the friendliest, nicest, and sweetest.”
Bip’s Place was converted to house a surgery room to provide medical care for the cats, but also introduce a low-cost spay/neuter clinic for the community. The clinic was opened in late 2007. “I happened to be going through a file cabinet the other day and I absolutely burst out crying… I will now,” Virginia begins to choke up. “I picked up the file of the number of cats we fixed in 2008, the first full year we did the clinic, and it made me feel that it was something that was really needed. It was so cool to think that with those cats, we played a part in decreasing the population and useless suffering.”
The sanctuary, now 9,000 square feet, houses more than 200 cats that otherwise had nowhere else to go. “There were two things in my life that I was always deeply committed to, children and animals,” Virginia says. “I spent the first part of my entire professional career with children so I thought it would be pretty cool to spend the last half of my life doing this.”
You can sponsor a cat at Love & Hope, make a donation, or check out their adoptables. Their adoptable list may seem sparse, but that’s because Virginia works with a team of rescuers in New York City to adopt out her adorable rescues. Contact the sanctuary if you’d like to know how to get in touch with rescuers currently looking for homes for Virginia’s kitties.