Cat club starting from scratch

Founder's aim will be rescuing the animals, educating the owners

June 23, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Columbia resident Missy Zane loves cats, lives with eight of them, and makes her living pet-sitting for them. She owns dozens of cat toys, wears cat T-shirts and sleeps with a cat in her arms every night.

Now she's upping the ante: she's forming a Howard County cat club because she feels cats here need an "advocate." Starting next week, the club will meet the last Monday of every month.

"We'll tell cat stories and we'll bring cat pictures and gossip about our cats, because cat people love to do that," she said. "But really the idea is to save cats."

Zane hopes the club one day will serve as a rescue service for Howard County cats abandoned by their owners. She would like to start a network of foster homes where cats can stay until permanent homes are found -- saving them from possible euthanasia by the Animal Control Division.

"I don't think killing an animal is ever humane," she said.

Last year, Howard County Animal Control took in 1,719 cats, according to Howard police spokesman Sgt. Morris Carroll. Of those, he said, 914 cats were "surrendered" by their owners. More cats were euthanized (816) than adopted (737).

Zane said the most common reasons people give for giving up cats are moving and allergies.

"People don't usually say, `The cat is peeing all over my rug and I don't want it anymore,' " she said. "Although you assume that's a big part of the problem."

Zane wants to model her club after the large and successful Wisconsin Cat Club, which has a cat rescue service, maintains a Web site and a hot line that offers free advice about feline behavior.

Zane hopes the new club will also have a behavior hot line that people can call when they need advice. If it's successful, she said, it should prevent pet owners from getting fed up and taking their cats to Animal Control.

Like many cat lovers, Zane believes that when cats cause problems, it's often because people just don't understand the way their minds work. A cat that scratches the new plush couch might be bored, she said, while a cat that urinates on the rug might have a urinary tract infection or feel its territory is being threatened.

"People have to sort of think like cats," she said.

Zane also wants to start a club newsletter to educate owners about cats' needs. In her rounds as a pet-sitter -- her company is called "Pampered Pets" -- she said she encounters a lot of ignorance about cats.

For example, she said, there are people who don't change their cat's water every day. And those who never wash their pet's bowls. And those who don't leave enough toys lying around for their indoor cats, therefore paving the way for boredom and depression.

And then there are the owners who don't change cat food daily, even though it gets stale. And those who buy scratching posts that are too small and topple over when the animals try to use them. And those who shut the blinds on their indoor cats so they can't watch birds or lie in the sun.

The list goes on.

"People think they are low or no-maintenance pets, and that's not true," Zane said. "They deserve and need attention just like everyone else."

Martha Gagnon, founder and president of Animal Advocates of Howard County, based in Ellicott City, said she sees a need for the information and service that Zane hopes to provide.

"The cat situation is literally out of control," Gagnon said, noting that millions of healthy cats in this country are euthanized every year. "There are just literally thousands upon thousands of homeless cats in this county."

Zane, 56, has been a cat lover ever since she can remember. When she was a child growing up in Allentown, Pa., she said, her family owned cats and dogs and she naturally preferred the felines to the canines.

"By the time I was old enough to know the dogs, they were elderly and I just thought they were icky," she said. "You know, they were smelly and slobby and I just really wasn't wild about them.

"But I adored my cat. I thought she was beautiful and fun and really graceful. She was snuggly and she slept with me at night."

As an adult, Zane said, she has always shared her home with multiple cats. She is, in fact, a bit of a cat magnet, the sort of person who finds them on her doorstep, in the parking lot, on the curb. That's how she found seven of her eight cats -- Van Gogh, Climber, Daisy, Ted, Tabby, Toby, and Little Gray. The eighth, G.G., she sought out at a shelter.

Zane gets angry when people ask her if she has names for all her cats. She asks them, "Do you have names for your children?"

She thinks it's rude when people ask whether her apartment smells. It doesn't.

Not like cats, anyway.

"It smells like cigarette smoke," she said.

"I guess what we'd like to do is teach people that pets are not disposable," she said. "They have feelings and they have emotions and they form attachments and you can't just throw them away."

Information about the cat club: 410-730-3679.

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