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By Mary Haskett

In December 2006, Jeannie Sisco found a stray cat. Her concern for the little creature led her to take it home. Two years later, after adverts and enquiries, the cat became reconnected with its owner. The grateful owner gave Jeannie a $500.00 reward, which she promptly donated to 'Pets/Friends for Life', a shelter for homeless and unwanted cats and kittens in St Thomas.

By 2009, Jeannie was president of this remarkable facility, every endeavour and work done by her, and a number of others, is voluntary. She reports there are seven serving on the board and one advisor. People who serve in the shelter include, students doing their community service, co-op students and people from Ontario Works, as well as folks who complete their court hours through the Salvation Army.

Work of the Volunteers
Each day at 9:00am volunteers wash and disinfect the floors. They put stainless steel bowls filled with fresh water, and others filled with dry food throughout the sprawling 5,280 square foot building. They clean out the kitty boxes and replace with fresh litter; they gather soiled blankets from the cat baskets, which are everywhere, on tables, the floors, and hooked to the walls. In the laundry room, washing machines chug consistently, 10 to 12 times a day, churning out a fresh supply of blankets.

For a nominal cost, the dry food comes from Hill's Pet Nutrition Canada Incorporated, and the kitty litter, from Gallagher Automotive Supplies, for approximately $400 a month.

The Facility: 14 St Catharine's Street, St Thomas
The facility provides a sick bay for ailing cats, as well as a quarantine room, an adoption room and lounge area. Every cat, once admitted, receives a name and Cuddles, Violet, Blackie, Santa, Coco, and Mayday, along with their feline companions exude contentment. Cats of varying sizes and colours have free run of the open area. They stalk as only cats can, choosing whether or not they will entwine themselves around someone's leg or pass by with their noses in the air. Some curl up in baskets purring with eyes closed, and may deem to respond or not to respond to those who lovingly care for them. A few sit on the desk watching Karen Peters, the secretary as she works on the computer. One or two may choose to settle down in her lap.

Strays and Unwanted.
People drop cats off at the centre for a variety of reasons. Just before Christmas eight tiny unwanted kittens arrived on the doorstep. Currently 150 cats are in residence.

Adoption
The whole focus is to get the cats adopted. In 2012, Jeannie reported 130 cats left the centre to go into loving "forever" homes, never-the-less it is an ongoing challenge to meet the needs of the residents of Pets/Friends for Life Centre.

Health Care
Staff is so in tune with the animals in their care, they can detect a sick cat immediately and will place it in the sick bay. They then contact Doctor Rajiv Bhatia of the Beavercreek Animal Hospital who is the primary caregiver for the centre. He will then determine whether the cat should be admitted to the hospital or not. Doctor Bhatia performs surgeries, neutering and spading new admissions on a regular basis. The night before surgery, Karen Peters, who lives nearby, goes into the centre at midnight. She removes food and water from the cats slated for surgery. On the morning of surgeries, Patricia Martell, a retired nurse, transports the animals to Doctor Bhatia's hospital. Corine Bacon, a board member who plays many roles as do her peers, picks up the surgically treated cats from the animal hospital and returns them to the centre at the end of the day.

Doctor Yelen of Pine Valley Animal Hospital visits the clinic every Sunday morning. Patricia assists him in giving annual vaccinations. He will also advise if he thinks it necessary for a cat to go to the hospital.

Funding
When Jeannie stepped into the role of the president, the centre owed $30,000. Their financial position has now improved. The board has set themselves a limit of $5000 a month for veterinary services. There are some regular donators to this work, and occasionally someone will drop off a cheque. The centre welcomes the contribution of pop cans, which Jeannie, takes to the John Zubick Recycling Company on Clarke Road, where she receives so much a pound for these items.

Dick Westerterp administers accounting services compiling a monthly report; Bill Fehr reviews all transactions and does the final filing for the end of year government reports.

Fund Raiser Dinner.
Tom Cat Howl is a, once a year, Pets/Friend for Life fundraiser dinner. 2013 hails the fifth year this event has taken place. A star attraction is Roy LeBlanc, who is the best Elvis Presley impersonator of all time. A silent auction will also be held during the evening.

The dinner is April 19th at the Senior Centre, 225 Chestnut Street, in St Thomas. Tickets are $25.00 per person and to buy call Karen Peters at 519-631-5757.

The work and dedication to this facility and the number of volunteers are admirable. Jeannie Sisco reflecting on the work quoted Dr. A Frischett (deceased) who said, "You never have lived until you have done something for a creature of God who can never repay you."

To learn more about the Pets/Friend for Life, visit them at www.petsfriends4life.org.