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Spirit and passion to help cats in need.

For the Love of Cats

President Jan Rich embodies the passion and focus of the organization she co-founded with her husband Jim. Since 2002, this nonprofit has been dedicated to saving the lives of cats and kittens in need in Marco Island, Florida, and the surrounding communities. Winn-Dixie has supported For the Love of Cats through its Community Bag Program.

Tell us about For the Love of Cats.

Our mission is basically to address cruelty to cats, and we do that through a number of programs that primarily include TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) for feral and free-roaming community cats. But we also have other programs. We help people with veterinary care, primarily the low income and communities in need, the underserved communities and the unemployed that, of course, today includes a much broader range of people who are financially struggling.

My husband Jim and I are the founders and we started in 2002. We sold our business and came down here to retire. But interestingly enough, years and years ago when Jim and I were just dating, one of the conversations that we had was that if we were ever lucky enough to have the opportunity to give back to the animal community, we would do it. So, when we got down here to Marco Island, I can tell you that the cat problem here was horrible.

Cats and kittens were being run over in the street. They were starving. There were thousands; it was a terrible problem. And at the time, I’m going back 20 years ago, there really was almost no support available. The county animal control services were euthanizing hundreds of cats and kittens throughout the county. Most of them were little, tiny kittens and mama cats. There wasn’t a place that you could bring them for adoption because they would be killed. There really weren’t any other independent rescues.

We looked at the landscape, looked at the problem, not knowing anything about how to trap a cat, but obviously having the business background to start a new organization, and we just jumped in with both feet. We’ve been working 24/7 ever since.  About eight years ago, we fixed the last truly feral female cat on Marco Island, so we have not had any wild born in this surrounding community in quite some time. That is not to say that we don’t have things to rescue because we’re an island and there’s a bridge and people drive across it with their problems. They abandon them behind the restaurants or the hotels or on the beach.

It becomes our problem, but thank goodness, after 20 years, we have so many friends and boots on the ground, we know about anything new almost immediately.

People run into a situation where the pet needs care and then either the cat ends up languishing and suffering because the people can’t afford to bring it or the cat dies.

What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?

What’s unique about our organization is that we are the only rescue organization in this part of Collier County, the whole southeastern end of the county. That’s pretty much our territory, so to speak, and our responsibility. What’s also unique about us is we’re able to offer the low-income community a lot of support. We’re the only group in all of Collier County that offers an emergency veterinary care program. For example, if somebody has a cat that suddenly gets ill, they take it to the vet and they find out that they need a $5,000 surgery. At the same time, they can barely make their rent, much less pay anything like that. We have a program and funds available that addresses that situation.

We’re also able to help elderly people who have an old cat. Maybe the cat just needs a wellness check because it’s starting to lose some weight. Maybe it’s starting to get kidney failure, or it’s got hyperthyroid, and they can’t afford the exam because just to bring your pet in to have a blood exam is at least $350.

Veterinary costs of course have gone up with everything else, but there are no insurance programs really for pets. And the ones that are available really are expensive. So, people run into a situation where the pet needs care and then either the cat ends up languishing and suffering because the people can’t afford to bring it or the cat dies.

Another program we have that’s totally unique is what we call our Seniors for Seniors program, and we offer it to every animal welfare group in the county. If a senior citizen adopts a senior cat, we not only pay the adoption fee, but we also provide a $100 PetSmart gift card so the senior citizen can go out and buy whatever supplies they need for their cat. In fact, I had a great text from a senior cat last week who was wondering where their gift certificate was because they need more toys! It was so cute. Every once in a while, I get a text from a cat.  Unfortunately, her senior mom didn’t realize that the email that we sent contained the electronic gift certificate, but we straightened it out.

The other thing that we do, that’s unique to the county, is that we started a Community Pet Food Pantry at the beginning of Covid. Jim and I were talking about this pandemic and, at the time they were saying is this going to go on for months or six months on the outside? Who knew how long it was going to last? And we were looking at it in terms of, if this is like an extended hurricane, people are going to be out of work. They’re going to not have any income coming in and they’re going to start running out of money while the first problem is that they abandon their pets. When I started making phone calls, it was a rude awakening that there was no pet food available through any kind of public resource. It is something that no one else was thinking about. So we just started the program.

Now we’re partnered with a food pantry on Marco Island that’s called Our Daily Bread and they have a mobile unit, so we provide all the food for the mobile units. They physically go out to all of the low-income communities and distribute the food. And I really expected things to start dropping off when the pandemic started to ease a little bit, but of course now we’ve had this inflation.

One of the first people that came to us was a woman living in the park where we were doing our food distribution. She’s a homeless woman with a dog and she lives in the park. I gave her as much food as we could. You don’t realize how much people suffer. For so many people, the difference between them getting through the pandemic or not, or having a nervous breakdown, came down to them still being able to hold onto their pet because their dog or cat kept them literally from going crazy over the whole thing.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work you are doing.

There’s a woman that we have helped for two years now. She works at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, so she makes just an hourly wage. She can’t afford a car,  walks across the street to work, and lives in a very overpriced apartment. And she has two cats, brother and sister. Two years ago, the brother had terribly infected teeth. Just as some people have good teeth and some people have terrible teeth, it’s the same with cats and dogs. This cat unfortunately had horrible teeth and he ended up having to have a lot of extractions. And obviously on her salary and her lifestyle, she couldn’t possibly afford it. We picked up the bill and the cat went to the vet four times for four different surgeries and follow-ups.

And so, we got a call from her two weeks ago. The sister cat stopped eating and hadn’t eaten in five days. And wouldn’t eat and was throwing up, which is something that is typically a crisis. It’s just like a child. If a child doesn’t eat, they get dehydrated very quickly. And then they go from being sick to being critical. The same thing happens with dogs and cats. We rushed her to emergency and as it turns out she had eaten some of her mom’s hair ties she had found on the floor. So this little cat ended up having to have some emergency surgery.

And the owner was so grateful.  These two cats are her life, they’re her children. And I think probably the core of all of the work that we do revolves really around the name of the organization. We exist for the love of cats. Our programs have evolved over time based on what the community needs are. And as things have grown in the low-income and the underserved community, we have done our best to reach out and address those needs.

Our programs have evolved over time based on what the community needs are.

What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?

I have to say that getting the population under control on Marco Island and the surrounding communities is really important. I don’t want to ever see that problem come back. For The Love of Cats is working on a sustainability plan to be there in perpetuity. A lot of small nonprofits that are founded by individual people tend to live and die with the founders. We don’t want that for ours.

Our board of directors is building that sustainability. I don’t ever want to see this area of the county go back to the horrible abusive animal situation that they were in when we started this 20 years. We are very passionate and very focused.

What do you want people to know about For the Love of Cats?

I think the most important thing I’d like them to know is that our organization is always here to help. Sometimes people will reach out for help to an organization, and they never get a call back. They don’t get a text, they don’t get an email, they don’t get anything. It’s just nothing; it’s silence.

But we answer every call. We run to every fire. We will keep calling until we get ahold of that person. If they have reached out and they’ve got a problem, somewhere we have a resource, or sometimes they just need someone to talk because they don’t understand their cat’s behavior. We make sure that we help everybody who reaches out to us.

How will you use the funds raised from these programs?

As unrestricted funds, they would be dispersed based on whatever phone call, text or email comes in next. It’s very helpful and we just have so much fun at Winn-Dixie. We do a table event in the store at least once during the month when we’ve been selected. Steve, the store manager, is just the nicest. He has a dog and he’s a real animal lover. He says, “Jan, so long as you bring me kittens, come any time.” We always round up a few. It’s a fun day; we meet a lot of new people to talk to, and the employees really enjoy it.

From coffee to cats! Animal lovers Jan Rich and her husband Jim founded Coffee Masters, Inc. in 1985. After selling the company and retiring to Marco Island, they saw the plight of abandoned cats there and founded For the Love of Cats in 2002.