Happy Cats Haven strives to find felines forever homes

By Anthony Welch

Sara Ferguson grew up on a ranch as a youth, surrounded by a ton of barn cats. Unfortunately, Ferguson’s mother was allergic to cats, so Sara had to enjoy her feline friends outside.

“I grew up speaking cat, because I was around barn cats all the time,” she said. “I grew up observing their behavior.”

Ferguson was quick to go and adopt a cat when she moved out of the house at age 17. She’s always had cats be a part of her life since then. In 2007, she decided to get more active with her passion for cats and started fostering them. There was much more to come.

Ferguson and a few cat fanatics, who had worked together at another animal rescue, decided they wanted to focus on just cats. In 2011, Happy Cats Haven was born – a nonprofit rescue and adoption center for homeless cats and kittens.

“We had a donation of $15,000, and that’s what’s got us started,” Ferguson, the executive director, said. “We built from scratch. Our original goal was to adopt out a cat a day. We surpassed that within three or four years.”

Last year, Happy Cats found homes for 661 cats and rescued a total of 735. More importantly, according to Ferguson, 453 of those were spayed or neutered.

Outgrowing its former location on 21st street, Happy Cats started construction on a brand new facility in Manitou Springs in 2017. Community support and donations, along with a handful of grants, paved the way for a bigger and better facility.

The organization was able to move into the new digs at 327 Manitou Ave. a year ago in May. The newly-renovated facility accommodates 70 to 80 cats and kittens, offers larger storage space and expanded medical facilities and retail support. It’s not quite finished, but 25 cats are currently calling it home. More than 100 other cats the organization has rescued are being fostered.

“We’re here because of our Happy Cats family. They have totally supported us,” Ferguson said. “It’s almost all individual donations.”

Prior working with cats full-time, Ferguson worked in a different field.

“I’m a recovering librarian,” she said. “I was a librarian at PPCC for about a decade. Then I got into the resale business and sold vintage clothes online. I still do from time to time.”

Then Ferguson took time out to help her husband build their straw bale house from scratch.

“That was a lot of sweat equity … a lot of sweat equity. That’s a lot of freedom there. When you own your home outright, you have the ability to pursue your passions,” she said. “Without Ray none of this would have happened. He’s our rock, our hero and our number one cat dude.”

Of course, Ferguson three cats (the max allowed by laws) of her own at home — Moxie, Thor and Josie.

“We see situations all the time where people have more cats than they can care for,” she said. “That’s probably the reason why a lot of us are involved so we don’t become hoarders, we can enjoy our cat therapy anytime we want.”

COVID-19 has impacted a lot of things for Happy Cats Haven. Currently, adoptions are by appointment only. Thankfully, the bigger building allows for safe, socially-distant adoptions, according to Ferguson. There were also plans to have a small lounge area, where people could grab a cup of coffee. That’s on hold for now.

The biggest impact, however, was the loss of volunteers for two months.

“That was really hard. We appreciated them before, and we really appreciate them now,” Ferguson said. “It’s hard to run a nonprofit this size with just our staff. Everybody really pitched in and supported one another. We’re all cross-trained, so everybody can do all sorts of different jobs.”

Happy Cats Haven staffs nine employees. Usually, there are 30 or 40 volunteers, according to Ferguson. A few are starting to come back and help, but the organization could always use more volunteers, she added.

Event planning also has taken a toll.

“Like every nonprofit, we’ve had to get creative and think about how we could do everything virtually,” Happy Cats Board President Laura Ettinger said. “We’re looking at doing events online. We have a great event team and they’re having a lot of fun with that. By September, we’ll be kicking off virtual events. We’re just trying to be innovative and creative about it and still get our donors engaged.”

A few of the big fundraisers for the organization are the IndyGive campaign, which happens in September, and the Black Cat Ball, which is usually in October. Plans for the latter are still to be determined.

Happy Cats will host a National Pet Memorial Day service on Sept. 13.

“People can come and celebrate the lives of the cats they lost this past year,” Ferguson said. “They can bring plants for the Happy Cats garden.”

Around 20 to 30 percent of cats adopted are by seniors, according to Ferguson.

“People who are older have an appreciation for what these cats have been through,” she said. “Anytime a cat gets surrendered, it’s traumatic. Even for the most outgoing, friendly cat when you take away their environment and they have to start over, it’s devastating.”

The organization continues to provide its Ask Ms. Kitty helpline, where experienced cat behaviorists answer questions and offer advice (see page 35).

Happy Cats Haven is in need of a few key volunteers. A few are needed to help clean the facility for a few hours. The organization also needs adoption counselors to come in, get to know the kitties and match them up with families. If interested in lending a hand, call 719-362-4600.

“Our illness stays down because we’re so committed to cleaning. It doesn’t smell like cats,” Ferguson said. “(The cats) don’t like (the cat smell), we don’t like that and our visitors don’t like that.”

Ferguson’s love for felines is obvious and contagious, as she always has phone in hand to capture pictures and videos of her furry friends in the facility.

“Something about their energy and their grace and their wisdom sort of speaks to me. They’re constantly teaching all us what we need to do to take better care of them,” she said. “They’re interesting little creatures. They aren’t as hard-wired to please us as dogs are. One of the examples is, take a collar and leash and put it on both, cats would just go crazy. Cats are very tranquil.”

For more on Happy Cats Haven, find them on Facebook or visit www.happycatshaven.org.

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