VIA CATTY SHACK
Tim, who helps run the cat rescue, Catty Shack, with his family, plays with some kittens.
Six months ago, Sarah started making homemade t-shirts and sweatshirts.
She had never made custom shirts before. But she taught herself. She stayed up til midnight, watching YouTube videos and learning how to print designs and heat-press them onto clothes.
Sarah didn't make the merch for fun. She had to make it. Her cat rescue, Catty Shack, was running out of money. The family-run Metro East organization had been inundated with felines needing rescue.
Six months later, Sarah is back to making merch and selling it on their website
. Her cat rescue is again running out of money, Sarah posted on Facebook this past week.
But the rescue is not going out of business, she confirmed to the RFT
. In some ways, this desperation is normal. The family-owned rescue typically experiences financial stress during kitten seasons –- the spring and summer months when droves of kittens are born.
“It's just madness,” Sarah says of kitten season. “There are kittens being born all the time, so this is not abnormal. We’re running out of money all of the time. So this isn't a special thing. Nothing caught on fire or anything -– nothing like that. It's just expensive with vet bills and food and all that good stuff.”
Sarah asked that RFT use only her first name, saying an abusive cat owner is trying to track her down.
She operates the Catty Shack with her parents out of their garage in Hamel, Illinois, a village of 900 people just northeast of Edwardsville. They save homeless, abused and abandoned cats, and help these cats find new owners. On a regular basis, Sarah has handfuls of kittens and cats running around the garage.
“I just love doing it,” Sarah says, as one of her current kittens, Fuzzy Bridges, climbs on her shoulders. “I love seeing the look on people's faces when they get their cats. I love the updates people send us. I love helping the cats. I love animals."
The Catty Shack is entirely run by volunteers. Sarah says any money they receive comes from donations.
But as donations have slowed, the Catty Shack has struggled to cover the cats' expenses. When they run out, Sarah has needed to dip into her personal funds. That’s why Sarah has turned into an amateur designer, trying to raise money for the Catty Shack.
This go-around, she’s making new memorabilia, too, such as color-changing glasses, coasters and pins.
The organization owes its life to a feral colony that moved into Sarah's parents' backyard in 2018. The cats roamed the property and played in outdoor cat houses.
Then the cats suddenly died — victims of an apparent poisoning.
The moment motivated Sarah to do more. Along with her parents, she decided to start the cat rescue. And almost instantly, Sarah began getting calls from people about their cats.
“We thought it was just going to be a small, ‘Oh, we’ll have a couple of cats here and there, whatever, whatever,'” Sarah says. “And then it just kind of spiraled.”
Five years later, Sarah still keeps track of every single cat that comes through their house. At one point, they’ve had as many as 17 cats in their garage, which is equipped with an incubator, quarantine kennel, cat tree and a shelf for the cats to look out a window.
Caring for the cats requires almost constant attention. Sarah and her parents play with the cats, help socialize them and take them to the veterinarian. Kittens need to be fed every two hours, and Sarah will wake up in the middle of the night to help them.
These days, the Catty Shack has three cats in its garage –- Fuzzy Bridge, Sweets McGhee and Bubba.
Once they get rid of these most recent cats, though, they’re going to take a little break, Sarah says, until they find financial footing.
“We’re hopefully going to build up our bank account so we're not like, ‘Oh, God, are we gonna be able to pay this month's vet bill?’” Sarah says.
Despite the scare, Sarah says not to worry. The Catty Shack isn’t going anywhere.
“There's nothing better than coming out [to the garage] and the cats rush to you and you saw them as tiny little things that barely made it,” she says. “They're healthy and they're happy and it's very fulfilling. As stressful, as horrible as it can be sometimes, it's the most fulfilling thing I've ever done.”