Friends of Cats celebrate first annual Catoberfest

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Around San Diego’s East County, every season is kitten season, according to experts with the cat-care organization Friends of Cats. Its slogan is “You can’t buy love…but you can adopt it!” And it’s staging of the first annual Catoberfest on Sept.27, centered on both raising money to support the group’s efforts and pairing humans with cats for adoption. 

Around San Diego’s East County, every season is kitten season, according to experts with the cat-care organization Friends of Cats. Its slogan is “You can’t buy love…but you can adopt it!” And it’s staging of the first annual Catoberfest on Sept.27, centered on both raising money to support the group’s efforts and pairing humans with cats for adoption. 

Friends of Cats is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the care and well being of homeless felines. The El Cajon complex is currently housing about 270 cats and kittens in a central treatment building and four adjacent cottages, with 24-hours-a-day on-premises staff monitors. The group receives no government funding and, besides the income from fundraising events like Catoberfest, is reliant on donations and membership and adoption fees to maintain the shelter. A springtime fundraiser earlier this year was dubbed Cinco de Meow.

Coe Lewis of KGB-FM emceed the festivities. She joked that she and her husband “keep it an even number” with their ten cats, although the event tempted her to adopt another two for an even dozen.

The food for festivalgoers at the three-hour Catoberfest was traditional fare, including bratwurst, sauerkraut, pretzels and rich pastries for dessert. Although no cats wore lederhosen and none performed the chicken dance, the Octoberfest traditions of harvest goods and competitive contests were honored with feline-themed sale items at the cat boutique, raffles, and auctions of special items.

The highlights of the day, though, were the kitten races, with betting at $1 apiece. A next-to-impossible task is often described as being “like herding cats.” So how hard is kitten racing? As easy as keeping four kittens penned in an open-air cat run, without being distracted by the crowd, by each other, or by that climbable screen fence, and moving down the race course chasing feather tease-toys. Winner of the first kitten race was Seth, a fluffy and frisky-fast white puffball. But the bigger winner may have been attendee young Ethan, whose family soon after adopted Seth and took their son’s new friend home.

The other big-draw activity invited attendees on guided tours of the shelter. Janet Bianchini has been shelter manager at the facility for about 3 1/2 years. She grew up in New York and cannot remember a time when she and her family members were not rescuing animals.

“The best thing about working here,” she said, “is being able to help cats, give them a voice and make sure they will be safe.”

She and staff veterinary technician Robin Johnson described the on-site feeding needs as 400 pounds of dry food and 50 cases of wet food weekly. They get kitty litter by the ton. A trucking company delivers low-cost industrial clay litter, commonly used to clean up road spills, every seven to eight months—22 pallets of it weighing in at 2,000 pounds per pallet.

Festival goers could stay and play in the Cozy Cottage, which houses about 45 cats for long-term and lifetime care, when their humans have passed away or can no longer take care of them at home. These cats range from eight weeks to 19 years of age. Residents of the Shy Cottage (for “fraidy” cats needing more socialization to human contact) and the Lodge (for aggressive cats) could be viewed from outside.

The group traces its origins to the 1927 formation of the Animal Rescue League, several San Diegans who bought animals in danger of being put down at the local pound, in order to shelter them until they could be placed as pets in good homes. The associated cat shelter was initially located in Pacific Beach, reorganized as the Maude Erwin Foundation for Cats (named for the cat-fancier founder) and moved to Chula Vista for a decade at mid-century. The shelter was relocated to its current site in eastern El Cajon in 1966, and then in 1968 was renamed as Friends of Cats, Inc.

It continues as a true “no-kill” facility, with cats euthanized only for compassion to prevent suffering if they are fatally ill. At intake, cats accepted into the care facility are quarantined until their health status is determined. One cottage on the grounds, called the Annex, is reserved for cats diagnosed with transmissible, potentially fatal diseases, such as feline leukemia and feline AIDS. Friends of Cats is seeking families willing to provide loving foster homes for these ailing, special-needs cats.

Adoption fees range from $100 for kittens, $75 for adult cats a year and older, and $35 for senior cats over 10 years old. All cats for adoption have been spayed or neutered and micro chipped for identification. And adopters must agree to keep the new feline family member living indoors and never declawed.

Also on hand at Catoberfest to honor the volunteers was Richele Helms, representing Sen. Joel Anderson and announcing awards of the Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Community Service 2014—In special recognition of your participation in the 1st Annual Catober Festival and the countless hours you’ve dedicated to providing a happy and healthy environment for shelter cats through Friends of Cats.” On tap for these awards were: Lydia D’moch, Chris Degurse, Roy Degurse, Jean Foster, Karen Hansen, Christine Hogan, Terry Hogan, Gayle Kane, Ed Kane, Gina Stevens and Julie Tirpak.

Bianchini said the shelter always needs volunteers, although the greatest needs are for people willing to help with socializing the cats through play and interaction, to wash cat laundry and to assist with landscaping the grounds. In-kind donations of food and bedding are welcome. And the group has a wish list posted on the Amazon website.

Friends of Cats is located at 15587 Olde Highway 80 in El Cajon, (619) 561-0361. The facility is open for public Tuesdays through Sundays, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., except on major holidays. More information is also available at www.friendsofcats.org.

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