Nestled amid 16 acres in North Carolina, Goathouse Refuge is an idyllic sanctuary for cats in dire need of love and compassion.
Siglinda Scarpa has been a cat lover since her early childhood in Italy. It all started when her father brought home an abandoned kitten for her one night. Siglinda warmed the cold, wet orphan in her bed, fell in love with him, and named him Muci. Although his time on earth was short, Muci changed Siglinda’s life. “That cat started my dream of a sanctuary,” she says. “It would be another chance, a safe haven for cats.”
Years later, that dream became a reality when Siglinda, who is also a successful artist and sculptor, founded Goathouse Refuge (goathouserefuge.org), a cage-free non-profit sanctuary for cats near Pittsboro, North Carolina. It may seem an odd name for a cat sanctuary, but it was named after the old goat who came with the dilapidated plantation house and 16 acres Siglinda originally purchased for her pottery studio. Unfortunately, the house and studio burned down after she had the building renovated, but Siglinda wasn’t deterred. She started over, and this time her plans included a sanctuary for cats.
Today, more than 200 cats and kittens call Goathouse Refuge home. They have 1½ fenced-in acres to roam and play in during the day, as well as a “cat house” with lots of places to sleep, and a screened-in area for the kittens. They are all fed twice a day so Siglinda and her volunteers have the opportunity to monitor the cats’ health and social skills.
The cats at Goathouse Refuge come from a variety of situations. Some are rescued from abuse or neglect, found injured or abandoned, or come from feral colonies. Local shelters send photos of cats in need of a home, strays are brought to the refuge and people sometimes are forced to give up their cats. “For me, the worst thing is to say no,” says Siglinda. “But we can only have 250 cats, maximum.”
Arriving cats stay in an intake room for evaluation before being introduced to the others. They are nursed back to health, spayed or neutered, given lots of TLC and then placed for adoption into loving permanent homes. “There are 47 cats who are too feral to be adopted,” says Siglinda. “They are shy, like Amber who might bite or scratch if a stranger tried to pet her or pick her up. They’ll live out their lives at the sanctuary. But there are many other cats available for adoption!”
Another of the “lifers”, along with Amber, is Ranocchio (Italian for little frog). When he was about two weeks old, he was thrown from a moving car. Another driver saw it happen, stopped and rescued him before he could be hit. He had to be bottle fed and monitored because he choked when eating. Surgery followed and he now eats eight small meals a day. “He walks a little funny, like a frog,” said Siglinda. “We still have to watch him when he eats. He is a sweet boy.”
Needless to say, running a sanctuary for so many cats is very expensive. “Food and veterinary bills are the biggest costs,” Siglinda explains, citing the case of a cat named Lucky Boy. “He was found in a foreclosure home, covered in ticks and fleas, and had no hair at all. His treatment cost about $5,000.”
In order to feed and house all her feline residents, Siglinda has had to become an expert fundraiser. Events held in the gardens around the house, proceeds from Siglinda’s pottery sales, and even selling eggs from a rescued flock of chickens all benefit the cats. “If someone wants to help but can’t adopt a cat, they can become a Coffee Cat,” she adds. “For about the cost of a coffee a day, you can sponsor a cat.”
Siglinda is eager to share that she recently met a fundraising goal that allowed the sanctuary to receive a matching grant. The funds are being used to build a wheelchair accessible bathroom and ramp for visitors with physical challenges; to implement the Seniors for Seniors program that will adopt out older cats to older people; and to add educational programs for special-needs children.
Goathouse Refuge has a high adoption rate because the cats are healthy and well socialized once they’re ready for their new homes. During last November alone, for example, ten cats were adopted, making room for ten more to come to the sanctuary. “No cages mean they are used to seeing us and each other,” says Siglinda. “They get fresh air and lots of exercise. They get to do what cats should do. They meet and charm adopters and get a new home.”
Though now 70 years old, Siglinda has every intention of continuing her work as long as she’s able. Her volunteers share her passion. “A shelter should be a refuge. It should let a cat be himself, safe and secure. He should have fresh air and kindness, not be just an animal in a cage, afraid and separated from others. A shelter should be about the cats.”
Learn more about Goathouse Refuge here – www.goathouserefuge.org