She receives a call from someone who asks if they’ll take newborn kittens found underneath a porch. Sometimes it’s kittens discovered under car hoods or utility buildings. This is a typical start to the day for Donna Johnson and Liz Thompson, Save Our Strays, Inc. (SOS) board members and volunteers.
Going into its 23rd year, SOS is a non-profit humane organization dedicated to sheltering and finding homes for abandoned or homeless cats and kittens in Pinellas County. SOS cares for approximately 500 felines annually and adopted out 389 cats last year.
What sets SOS apart from other organizations is that it is one of the only all-volunteer organization that, as part of its mission, accepts every stray cat or kitten that needs help—provided there is space in a foster home—regardless of age, appearance or health. The cat has to be located in Pinellas County, as the organization cannot provide care for cats from other parts of the state.
The kittens and cats of SOS are kept in foster homes throughout the county, as well as in SOS’ Cat Haven facility in Pinellas Park. The Cat Haven opened up almost four years ago because cats were sometimes returned after they had been adopted, and SOS needed a place to keep these cats, rather than boarding them at various veterinary clinics.
Of course, a forever home through adoption is the goal, and finding the right match for both the cat and adopter is a thorough process, which SOS takes pride in.
“When people call, they have specific needs,” Donna said. “We try to match up the adopters’ wishes to the personalities of the cats.”
The adoption process begins with an interview process in which prospective adopters are asked a series of questions.
SOS then takes their time in evaluating the prospective parties, as well as pairing up the right cat with the right home.
“We try to be protective of our animals,” explains Donna.
After the initial interview, approved adopters have the option to visit specific cats or kittens at their foster homes or to come out to one of three different pet stores throughout the county where SOS regularly sets up adoption tables on the weekends: two different PetSmart locations – the Countryside Mall area in Clearwater and at the Gateway Mall in St. Pete, plus Pet Supermarket in South Pasadena. The potential adopter and cat or kitten are given the opportunity to get a feel for each other, and if they hit it off, adopters sign a contract and take home the newest addition to their family.
“A lot of these people are alone and that cat is their main companion, and that pleases us when we make people happy like that,” Donna said.
There are about 50 volunteers right now, and they always welcome any additional cat lovers who wish to get involved. “We have a very dedicated group of people who work with us,” Donna said. She credits the organization’s longevity to the dedication of its volunteers, and hopes to see SOS continue to grow.
From fostering cats full-time in your home to volunteering at the Cat Haven to helping out here and there with various events, volunteers can choose how much or little time they would like to donate. SOS takes part in many events around town, such as the Shopapalooza Festival in downtown St. Pete, Bark In The Park, Gulfport’s Get Rescued and The International Cat Association Show (TCIA) shows quarterly.
A cat mother herself to eight, Donna has been involved with SOS for more than ten years. Having been in animal rescue work since the 1970s, Donna had hoped to find a group compatible with her own views when she learned about SOS. She has been with them ever since, now serving as a board member.
If you’d like more information on volunteering with Save Our Strays, or to adopt a cat or kitten of your own, please visit saveourstraysinc.com or call 727-545-1116. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/saveourstraysinc/.