Kitty and Ed Zimmer’s love of cats goes back a long way. Ed’s first encounter was with the barn cats on the small New Hampshire farm he grew up on. There was always a colony there with a female cat at the helm — she would be the one to hunt and bring back food for the others. When one passed on — often from being hit by a car — another female cat would emerge to take her place. Since none of the barn cats were fixed — there were always more than enough cats to keep the barn free from rodents, with natural attrition (and car accidents) limiting the size of the colony. This was in the late 1930’s — about twenty years before cats transitioned from outdoor wildlife to pet cats — which coincided with the invention of cat litter in the 1950’s — and necessitated the sterilizing of cats to make them better indoor companions – no longer kittening, yowling or spraying.
Kitty’s first encounter was in the 1970’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she moved after graduating from college. She wanted a companion cat and couldn’t afford to adopt one from a shelter, so she answered a “free cat ad” and adopted a gray and white tiger cat named Amino from a University of Michigan student whose pet cat had just had kittens. Before she knew it Amino had matured and presented her with a litter of unexpected kittens. These were given to coworkers and relatives and — as soon as her financial situation improved — Amino was spayed and became Kitty’s lifelong soul mate, living to the ripe old age of twenty.
Then, after Kitty and Ed were married, a friend gave them a big gray tiger cat (Sasquatch). He had simply shown up at her home and taken up residence — and although she looked for his original guardian, she never located him. Sasquatch turned out to be a great cat — the only thing “wrong” with him was being intact — and that’s probably why he lost his first home.— living with an un‐neutered male cat long‐term can be challenging. In his new home he was promptly neutered and well taken care of for the next 19 years.
A year or so after Sasquatch joined Amino, Kitty was sitting outside with them (on leashes) and suddenly a little girl appeared out of nowhere and dropped a sweet little black kitten (Iso) beside them. And — just as quickly — the little girl vanished and never came back to claim her cat. Realizing he was abandoned, the Zimmers took him in, had him fixed — and his forever home lasted a good 18 years.
Today we associate cat adoptions with shelters and rescues — yet their placements account for only about 20% of the new pet cats adopted annually. The other 80% are like Amino, Sasquatch and Iso — adopted from free cat ads, transferred from one person to another or abandoned outdoors and rescued by their permanent caregiver. As many people tell us when they fill out our free spay/neuter application — "we didn’t adopt the cat, she adopted us".
It should come as no surprise that the demographic least likely to adopt from a shelter are from low-income households who want a cat but simply can’t afford the adoption fee (even though that fee is often only the cost of sterilization). So when they adopt off the grid, they may intend to get the cat fixed, but just as they feel they couldn’t afford the adoption fee, they feel they can’t afford the spay/neuter cost — so they delay. The longer they delay, the more likely they are to have more cats, as kittens can reproduce as young as four months. So where they rescue a cat to save its life, they often inadvertently create more cats at risk — of being abandoned outdoors to join feral cat colonies — or relinquished to shelters that may euthanize them for lack of immediate homes. And the cat they originally rescued remains at risk too — when the intact behaviors of kittening, yowling and spraying become too much to handle as an indoor pet, they too are all too likely to be relinquished.
In 2000, the Zimmers had the luxury of being able to devote their efforts full time — and the resources of their private foundation — to the love of cats. Their emotions swayed them first to establishing a cage-free sanctuary for orphaned teenage cats, as they were almost certainly euthanized if given to local traditional shelters. In parallel they began a TNR program to assist in‐place caregivers better manage their cats by providing them with free spay/neuter assistance.
Yet as these programs evolved, it became clear that no matter how many cats they sheltered, there would always be more they could not — and no matter how many feral cats they fixed — there would always be more unsterilized pet cat abandonments to increase the overall free-roaming cat population — so why not address the problem at its root — by giving free spay/neuter assistance to low‐income family pet cats to prevent their relinquishment in the first place.
By 2010, when the Foundation moved to New Mexico, the transition from sheltering and feral cat TNR to free and local low-income pet cat sterilization was complete. It now works in 11 New Mexico counties providing vouchers for pet cats in low‐income households for free spay/neuter assistance — and in the event of a fixable medical emergency — for acute veterinary care.
In 2015, it added still another dimension — Community Cat Outreach spay/neuter — enabling it to partner with other New Mexico nonprofits to ensure that the cats not covered by its basic voucher program are sterilized too. Through these partnerships, the spay/neuter unbrella is broadened to include feral and loosely-owned pet cats living outdoors.
What better way to show a love of cats than providing them with the one obvious service (spay/neuter) that optimizes their chances of keeping their forever home forever?And for the Legal: