The History of Katie’s Place
It was November 2000 when a half dozen animal lovers met at a barn to set up a room for some homeless cats. They had fostered them at home but it was hard on families to share their home with a stream of homeless cats. Space was offered when the barn’s owner learned of their dilemma. A dozen cats could live there until homes could be found.
The volunteers stapled chicken wire and laid linoleum under the disapproving gaze of the barn’s resident cat, Katie. She lived in the barn rather than in the owner’s house since she preferred a solitary life. One volunteer said, “We should call this place ‘Katie’s Place’.” The comment was soon forgotten. A name was unnecessary. It’s not like they were building a shelter!
In January 2001, the first cats moved in and the volunteers took turns going to clean and feed. There was a cold water pump outside the back door for hosing out litter pans. Dishes were washed in a bucket on the floor.
People who rescue animals seem to attract animals. When you love animals enough to help them, animals appear in the arms of concerned finders. So more cats arrived until a cat arrived who tested positive for Feline Leukemia (FeLV). The volunteers learned that this was contagious to other cats, so Solo had to live in a cage until they figured out what to do with him. While they were figuring that out, big fluffy Dexter arrived testing positive for FIV, which the volunteers learned was also contagious to other cats.
The volunteers would not euthanize any animal still healthy enough to enjoy life. The virus compromised cats’ immune systems but caused no symptoms. A new pen was needed. Space was sectioned off across from the main pen. That room was known as the Boys’ Pen even after females joined them. The Boys’ Pen was soon expanded with an enclosed porch that the cats accessed through a window.
We enclosed an area in front of the barn as a porch and added cat doors to give the cats free access to it from the Main Pen.
Meanwhile, the volunteers were approached by someone with three cats that needed to be boarded while their family was out of the country. The cats could stay upstairs if the people would help build an enclosure for them. A family member named Karen came daily to care for the cats. Before long, Karen was asked if the boarders would share their space with a couple more cats. That pen was called Karen’s Pen even after the boarders went home.
The Maple Ridge Times offered to advertise Katie’s Place pets monthly. The volunteers listed their animals on Petfinder and they put out their own newsletter. They had 28 cats and they hoped to find adopters, volunteers and donors. But mostly, they found more cats. The volunteers had refused to describe Katie’s Place as a shelter; they were “just looking after a few cats.” But there was no denying it now.
By July, weekend open hours allowed the public to drop in. By October, another communal room (the Penthouse) and four smaller enclosures (condos) had been built upstairs, using the last of the space in the barn. The shelter listed 57 animals on Petfinder. Some of those were fostered in volunteers’ homes again.
Other refinements were made to the barn as time passed. The bucket on the floor for washing dishes was replaced with a sink beside the pump outside. A grant from the local Legion allowed the entrance area to be renovated into an office with space to serve food and store medical supplies and linens too.
Different kinds of animals came to Katie’s Place — Hamilton, a chicken saved from being used as bait to train a dog, Ewenice, a sheep fished out of the Fraser River with two years’ growth of wool, and several rabbits. A small rabbit habitat was constructed behind the shelter, followed later by a large rabbit habitat in the side yard. Later, another sheep we called Baarbaraa lived in our office until she found a home.
By September 2003 the shelter housed 69 cats and nine rabbits. Several of the feral cats and rabbits at the shelter were transferred to a new feral colony where they could live more natural lives. A porch was built onto Karen’s Pen in July 2004, and in August 2005 a porch was added to the Penthouse.
Procedures developed with experience, and diligent vet care was always a high priority. The shelter had begun declining animals; there were far more than they could accept. If an animal had any hope without Katie’s Place, the callers were advised of their options. Last-hope cases became the shelter’s focus and these cats often required extra veterinary care. Vet bills increased from $13,757 in 2001 to $42,143 by the end of 2004. Donations and fund raisers paid the bills in full.
By July 2005, the Main Pen housed about 25 cats.
The number of volunteers grew. Some were dedicated to fund-raising while others came to clean, feed, medicate, take laundry to wash… they gave according to their skills and schedule. The first volunteer arrived at 3am. The last one came at 11pm.
Even without a paid work force or guaranteed source of revenue, the shelter thrived. In November 2004 Katie’s Place incorporated. In April 2005 it gained registered charitable status.
By the end of 2005, the shelter housed 119 cats. The barn’s owners had been patient and generous as this shelter mushroomed on their doorstep. Now it was time to move. In November 2005 the volunteers began their quest for a new location.
The District of Maple Ridge provided a site behind the SPCA shelter for a nominal lease in February 2006. That February, the volunteers also completed their 1,000th adoption. In June 2006 they found an office portable that could be towed to the site and renovated.
If the volunteers thought they’d faced challenges before, building a new shelter dwarfed all other challenges. Zoning, permits, hiring of contractors… all had to be addressed and it was slow going. Finally in July 2007 the portables arrived and the renovating began while 126 animals lived at the barn and waited each day for their volunteers to come.
By the end of 2007, Katie’s Place had rescued nearly 2,000 animals and found homes for 1,334 of them. The rest lived at the barn, in foster homes, or in feral colonies. The volunteers totaled 83 now.
On November 11, 2008, the animals moved into their new shelter. They handled the move well, as if they had known this moment would be coming and it was all for them.
The shelter is still entirely volunteer run. Vet bills totaled $345,367 by the end of that year, paid in full through donations and some grants. The volunteers never dreamed that Katie’s Place would become such an enterprise. One of the few shelters in BC to provide for cats with Feline Leukemia and FIV, Katie’s Place has come to be known as a well-run shelter with heart. Katie herself crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 2006, still grumbling about the intruders in her barn. The shelter that bears her name is a source of tremendous pride to the people who work there purely for the love of animals. That love is what makes Katie’s Place thrive.
By the end of moving day in November 2008, each cat had found a new nest and staked a claim. Taz, on the bottom shelf, was one of the first Katie’s Place cats and the only cat who will call the shelter home for life by choice. She’s happy there and doesn’t like meeting adopters. She is the lone cat on the porch pictured above when it was built. In the second photo, from 2005, she is the middle cat on the porch shelf at left.