Friends of Cats’ Cinco de Meow on behalf of furry feline companions

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¿Sombreros, serapes, fiesta … y los gatos? ¡Si, si, si!

While the party may have looked like a typical Cinco de Mayo event commemorating the Mexican Army’s surprising victory over French troops at the 1862 Battle of Puebla, instead the Cinco de Meow celebration at Friends of Cats was about gaining victories to help diminish homelessness among feline companion animals.

¿Sombreros, serapes, fiesta … y los gatos? ¡Si, si, si!

While the party may have looked like a typical Cinco de Mayo event commemorating the Mexican Army’s surprising victory over French troops at the 1862 Battle of Puebla, instead the Cinco de Meow celebration at Friends of Cats was about gaining victories to help diminish homelessness among feline companion animals.

The four-hour festivities were staged on the Friends of Cats shelter grounds in El Cajon on May 7, where a multigenerational gathering of partygoers came together for celebrating all things cat-related, and especially for raising money to support the group’s efforts and pairing humans with cats for adoption. Attendees could spend the pleasant afternoon sampling fiesta fare of rolled tacos, enchiladas, rice, beans, guacamole, salsas and margarita-flavored cupcakes. They could also browse feline-themed sale items at the cat boutique, or compete to win door prizes, raffle prizes or bids on auctions of special items.

Coe Lewis of KGB-FM emceed the program of events during the festivities. Activities for children of all ages included Mexican hat dancing, bursting a candy-filled piñata, and face-painting with cat makeup. Guided tours of the shelter’s visitor-friendly areas were another highlight activity of the day. 

Janet Bianchini has been the Friends of Cats shelter manager for five years, where she has a staff of 12 full- and part-time employees. A core group of 40 volunteers also help out at the complex grounds.

One board member from Lakeside, Chris Degurse, described her volunteer work as her three-year-old grandson, Ryan, was getting blue cat whiskers painted on his cheeks. “We are a very grassroots organization,” Degurse said.

There was bad news and good news that day. Cinco de Meow usually features kitten races, but there were none. Bad news for the partiers. That feat of kitten-wranglers urging young felines toward the finish line with feathery wiggle tease-toys is harder than “herding cats”; moreover, a racecourse of kittens is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. 

But the same news was good too, as Bianchini explained, “Kitten season has been delayed this year.” Bianchini continued, describing how the stormy winter weather may have discouraged “kittening” in feral cat colonies. The hope among local cat fanciers, though, is that neuter and spay programs are working to decrease the numbers of homeless young felines born into the wild. Time will tell. “Kittens have been trickling in,” Bianchini said, “but right now the seven-week-old kittens we have are too young to race and won’t be old enough to be adopted until next month.” 

As a private, nonprofit organization, Friends of Cats is dedicated to the care and well-being of homeless felines. Their slogan is “You can’t buy love…but you can adopt it!” The El Cajon facility currently houses about 260 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 Cinco de Meow, is reliant on donations and membership and adoption fees to maintain the shelter. An annual companion fundraiser during the fall is dubbed “Catoberfest.”

The on-site feeding needs at the Friends of Cats shelter are 400 pounds of dry food and 50 cases of wet food weekly. More financial donations are welcome. In-kind donations of food and blankets are greatly appreciated, especially donated kitten food during springtime.  

Bianchini says that the shelter always needs volunteers, with the greatest needs for people willing to help with socializing the cats through play and interaction, to wash cat laundry and to assist with landscaping the grounds. One wished-for agenda item is assistance in helping relocate the facility’s laundry dryers away from the adoption center and to an area behind the cottages.

“We would just like people to know that we’re here,” Bianchini concluded. “And we want people to know they are welcome to stop in.”

Fiesta-goers could stay and play in the Cozy Cottage, which is currently housing about 50 cats for long-term and lifetime care, as their humans have passed away or can no longer take care of them at home. 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.

Jessica Schwendinger, a student from River Valley Charter School, took advantage of the Cozy Cottage’s benches for scratching two friendly felines at once. Schwendinger said that she plans to begin volunteering at the facility two or three times each week. “I am impressed with how people here really care about the happiness and well-being of the cats here,” she went on. Schwendinger envisions pursuing a college degree in zoology and spoke with conviction, “Some shelters care most about keeping animals adoptable. The people here seem to really care about the cats themselves.”

The Annex houses cats diagnosed with transmissible, potentially fatal diseases, such as feline leukemia and feline “AIDS.” The organization has an ongoing need for families willing to provide loving foster homes for these ailing, special-needs cats. Theirs is 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. 

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 microchipped for identification. Adopters must agree to keep the new feline family member living indoors and never declawed.

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

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