Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Gift they Never Forget

by Christine Michaels

We live in downtown Miami, a vibrant city brimming with jobs, culture, restaurants, and activity. Many residents enjoy the convenience to walk to/from work, the grocery store and boutique stores, the myriad restaurants, the buzzing Sunday open market, and to concerts and sports events.

One evening I went for a jog on the path less traveled, the side of town you're told not to go after dark--one street over from our new condo. As I slow to a walk,  I take the time to look around.  Do I notice the homeless men and women, sitting, laying, sprawled on the sidewalks? Do I look the other way? Do I notice the homeless men feeding the homeless cats? Yes, take a walk around our condo after sundown, and you will see both the homeless men and homeless cats come out of hiding, one feeding the other. The homeless feeding the voiceless, the helpless. I look up and I see our new, shiny, glistening building contrasting the dark streets. Observing this contrast sends waves of emotions coursing through my body. What is wrong with this picture?

It hits me. My work has only begun. Feeding the Riverfront cats is not enough. My calling is to get to the root of the problem and educate the masses to reverse the trend of homeless animals and the suffering and cruelty.  Stray cats are often misjudged, misperceived, prejudice surrounds them and those of us who feed them. I am proudly a Cat Lady!

This Christmas as you feast at holiday parties and spend on gifts that will be returned or forgotten next year,  will you remember those around you, within feet of your home ? Won't you consider offering a little time or token item (food or cash donation) to a homeless pet that IS eternally grateful and never forgets?  Here are EIGHT simple or low cost ways you can help.

Note: (A number of organizations feed the homeless people daily in downtown). There are no organizations feeding homeless pets, only individual volunteers.

1.) Spay or neuter your own pets. Estimates are that 100,000 dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters in the tri-county area annually, at significant cost to taxpayers. You can do your part to end pet overpopulation with a routine surgery for your dog or cat.  Non-profit, low cost spay and neuter clinics like the ones run by The Cat Network or Planned Pethood actually make fixing your pet more affordable than caring for a litter of puppies or kittens.

2.) Donate needed pet items. Beds, cages, collars, leashes, cat litter, dog and cat toys, treats, food, blankets, sheets and towels all make life easier and nicer for shelter pets especially at the Miami Dade County Shelter. They are overrun this year with homeless pets and are grateful for your donations. Here at Riverfront cats, we need someone to build small cat houses with ceiling, floor and four columns. No side walls as these will be placed in bushes where cats need visibility and various escape routes from predators.

3.) Donate money or gift certificates. Donations of any amount help greatly. Even giving up those large caramel mocha lattes for a week and donating the cash will help to save lives --not to mention calories!. Here at Riverfront cats we gladly accept financial donations (you can use your credit card or PayPal) or gift cards from Publix and PayPal! (The condo association offers no assistance.  All food for cats is provided solely by two volunteers).

4.) Start a "Friends Of" club for downtown Miami homeless pets or any rescue of your choice. There's power in numbers. Your office, church or hobby group can have a yard sale or gather donations of money or needed items to help homeless animals this holiday season.

5.) Don't buy while shelter pets die. Opt to adopt instead of purchasing a pet when you decide to add a four-legged family member to your household. Shelter pets have been pre-checked by a veterinarian, received vaccinations and if they are old enough are spayed/neutered before you bring them home, saving you money and time. Have an affinity for a certain breed? Twenty-five percent of all pets in shelters are purebred dogs or cats!!!  Can't or don't want to adopt but still love pets? Sponsor a dog or cat at your local shelter. At Riverfront cats we have 21 cats--choose one you would like to sponsor.  We promise to send you monthly updates. Romeo actually sits and walks on command. Is Gabriel angelic like his name or mischevious? The vivacious, flirtatious Tabitha is too much woman for the male cats...

6.) Use your online presence to help animals in need. All that time spent on social media can do more than keep you in touch with old and new pals, it can make you a better friend to animals in need. Re-post notices about sweet, friendly indoor cats tragically dumped in the streets awaiting adoption. Or news about cat that was injured from hit and run speed demon driver and needs medical care. It happens in our backyard. Add a banner to your webpage to help publicize your neighborhood cause. Use Twitter to tweet about adoptable the adoptable cats.

7.) Take a walk and be a hero. Volunteer cat feeders help to keep our cats from roaming and searching for food while minimizing their chances of being hit by cars. It also helps to socialize the cats, even the feral ones. Some are converts. Where they once stayed a distance and hissed, now they do a happy dance and rub against you wanting affection.

8.) Volunteer your talent. Everyone, from graphic artists to journalists to stay-at-home moms to carpenters or college students has a talent that can be utilized by Riverfront Cats to help these outdoor animals. If you don't know what you can do, contact us and we let you know! For example, we could certainly use a very simple open-air cat house with roof and floor to hide in the bushes where the cats reside and to protect them from heavy rains. They have to remain hidden from predators (have you seen those giant rats across the street? They're larger than some cats!) and new stray cats that come along. Nothing fancy but if you're good with hammer and nails and some wood--you're a hero!

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