The Cat Network plays a huge role in reducing cat overpopulation in South Florida, and has so far helped over 100,000 felines.
Twenty-two years ago, a group of cat lovers in Miami Beach decided to do something to help the area’s exploding population of homeless cats. They began by approaching city officials and convincing them to enact a trap, neuter and return (TNR) program. This instrumental effort marked the launch of The Cat Network, a non-profit organization based in South Florida that’s dedicated to humanely reducing cat overpopulation.
Although The Cat Network began as a TNR organization, it soon evolved into an interactive community of veterinarians, foster homes, adopters and other cat lovers. While spaying and neutering cats is still a primary part of the group’s mission, they also created an Adoption Referral Program early in their development. “We have adopted out over 13,000 cats and kittens since our inception,” says Karen Ruendquist, President and Adoption Chair. “We have also spayed and neutered almost 100,000 cats.”
As the name indicates, The Cat Network is made up of a membership-based network of volunteer individuals, including over 100 foster “parents”, most of whom also work to find and rescue cats in need. Members sign up the rescued cats for the organization’s adoption program (after they are vetted), and are given the opportunity to take the cats to various venues for weekly adoption events. “We sell spay/neuter certificates to members to get the cats fixed through one of our participating vets,” says Karen. “About 45 participating vets accept our certificates.” These certificates are also sold to the public for $30 each, but can only be used for stray or feral cats.
Alternatively, members of The Cat Network can bring unsterilized felines they’ve rescued to The Cat Network’s Miami Meow Mobile, a mobile spay/neuter program that travels around Miami-Dade County for a week every month. “South Florida is unique in that kitten season is an almost year-round event, due to the hot climate,” says Karen. “The hotter it is, the more felines breed. A cat can get pregnant at two months of age, and can have up to four litters a year.”
“South Florida is unique in that kitten season is an almost year-round event, due to the hot climate.”
On top of sterilizing, fostering and adopting out cats, The Cat Network’s mission includes education. They host regular educational programs for the public, spreading the word about the importance of sterilizing pets and strays, and advocating for non-lethal population control. Also an active presence on social media, The Cat Network’s Facebook page offers resources and information to nearly 900,000 followers.
Managing an organization of this scope is a large endeavor, and Karen says it wouldn’t be possible without volunteer help. “We are all volunteers with the exception of the vets and vet techs we hire,” she says. “We all have a passion for cat and kittens.” The volunteers – 400 in total – all help out in different ways. Some are fosters, while others operate adoption shows, participate in TNR, assist with educational programs, plan fundraising activities, write grant proposals, manage social media, and man phone lines. Typically, the organization receives over 150 phone calls daily, so this role alone requires a great deal of manpower.
Thanks to their volunteers, The Cat Network is able to devote most of their raised funds to sterilizing cats, rather than spending it on administration costs. The organization relies strictly on donations and monetary grants, and hosts regular fundraising events, including silent auctions and galas.
While The Cat Network operates primarily in South Florida, volunteers have driven cats to adopters all over the state. “We have certain criteria for those who want to adopt,” says Karen. “All applicants must fill out a questionnaire and the foster parent will contact them to discuss their application. The foster parent then makes the decision whether or not to adopt the cat out to the applicant.” The Cat Network doesn’t offer services outside the state; for now, they continue to focus on the hundreds of thousands of Florida felines that still require rescuing.
Since their inception in 1995, The Cat Network has accumulated a lot of rescue stories. A few stand out in Karen’s mind. One involves Cammy, a one-eyed tabby who was abandoned as a tiny kitten in front of a pet store, four years ago. “Cammy was fostered back to health but because she only has one eye, she startled easily when people touched her at adoption events.” But Cammy’s charming and loveable personality won the day and it wasn’t long before she was adopted into her forever home.
Through partnerships with other animal organizations including the ASPCA, Miami-Dade Animal Services, and the Humane Society of Greater Miami, The Cat Network has become an influential voice in the cat world. “The best feeling I have is when a cat or kitten I’ve rescued from the street finds a forever loving home,” says Karen. “I get a feeling of joy and happiness when I know I have saved a kitty’s life.”
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