Cat Tales is an organization based in central CT that cares for stray and feral cats. This group's dedication is truly impressive: dozens of volunteers care for hundreds of cats each year and organize major fundraising events, all without any full-time employees or a brick-and-mortar office. The organization's founder and president, Debi Bagley, spoke with me earlier this month about the group's past, present, and future.
WGN: How did Cat Tales get started?
Debi: We started in 1999 after I found a group of six kittens on Main St. in Middletown, by the old Armory. It's a hotel now, but it was abandoned at the time. The cats were very, very sick. I brought them to the vet, and they said they'd look at them as soon as they could, but two of them were so ill that they passed away before anyone got to look at them. It caused me to want to do more. I started rescuing right away, using my cellar as our shelter, and we grew from there. A few years later, a couple more people got involved and we formed a nonprofit, so we're a 501(c)(3) now.
WGN: How large is the organization now?
Debi: We have over 40 volunteers and eight or nine full- or part-time foster homes. My house is the biggest foster home; we've created four separate rooms on the bottom floor, each with its own outdoor enclosure so that the cats can go outside safely. We work closely with Middletown and Cromwell's animal control because those towns don't have their own municipal pounds. When animals need help in those towns, they go to the vet, then we take in cats, while Portland and Berlin take in dogs, which costs taxpayers. Also, we don't accept owner surrenders into our foster program, only strays.
WGN: How many cats are available for adoption? What do you require from potential adopters?
Debi: I can't give an exact number because it's always changing. The best way to see what cats are available is through our website; it's always up to date. In the spring, summer, and fall, we usually have kittens. Many cats are sponsorship: they’re not really suitable for adoption, either because of long-term health or behavioral issues. The application for adoption is on the website. Both the application and the adoption coordinator will ask a lot of questions to help us match you with the right cat for your home. We do require a veterinarian reference, and we ask for a donation to help us care for the next cats that come in.
WGN: What is TNR?
Debi: TNR stands for trap, neuter, return. We provide this service in Middletown and Cromwell. Basically, we go in and humanely trap colonies of feral cats, spay or neuter them, vaccinate them, and provide insulated shelters for them. We sometimes help with food for the feral colonies, but we generally depend on whoever called to continue feeding them.
WGN: What should people do if there's a stray or feral cat in their neighborhood?
Debi: If people in our communities notice a stray cat in their yard, they should always call animal control first. Usually, they'll only come if it's visibly sick or injured; if it looks healthy, it usually belongs to someone. If there's a group of cats that's making babies or causing issues, TNR is the way to go.
WGN: What are your goals for the future?
Debi: We're pretty happy with where we are now. We have a Board of Directors, and a good, stable group of volunteers. Our long-term goal is to maintain a presence in our community and keep helping as many cats as possible. We don't want to grow anymore. Our short-term yearly goal is to help 100 cats each year, and we always exceed this. Also, we'd like to continue educating the public, to help keep all cats healthy. We're 100% volunteer based, with no brick-and-mortar building, and we all work; I provide hospice care at a local hospital for my day job. I think it's remarkable what we've been able to do, and my goal for the future is that we can maintain a strong enough organization that we can keep providing these services even long after I'm gone.
WGN: Do you have any upcoming fundraisers or public events?
Debi: We have a gala coming up at the Aqua Turf, called Cats in the Castle, on April 29th. That's our signature, big event that we do every year. Then, in June, we're hosting an event at Middlesex Community College; it's like a dog walk, for cats. And in the fall, we're doing a car show at Middletown High School, called the Fast and the Furriest. The website has a calendar page with all the dates and information, as well as a report detailing all of our annual expenses.
WGN: Are you seeking volunteers?
Debi: We're always seeking volunteers! We could really use help with fundraising. We do big fundraising events all the way down to five-cent recycling drives. Our biggest expenses are veterinary care, litter, care products, and food. Some volunteers come to the foster homes to help directly care for the cats, and others feed the feral colonies and even shovel them out in the winter.
WGN: Do you have a favorite memory from your years with Cat Tales?
Debi: I don't think I have a favorite memory, just an overwhelming sense of awe about how passionate people are about helping. It just amazes me, keeps me humble, and gets me going when things are tough.
WGN: Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Debi: Animal people, in general, are the most kindhearted people, and in the world we're living in today, the more of that we can connect to, the better the world will be.
For more information on how to adopt, volunteer, or donate, you can check out their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Cat-Tales-Inc-122719749558/, call them at 860-344-9043, or visit cattalesct.org.