Animal rescue can be hard work.
Just ask Karen Jewell, president of the Winter Garden-based 7whskrs Cat Rescue. As she’ll tell you, though, the cats and kittens they care for are worth it.
“It doesn’t matter — the animals still need our help,” Jewell said.
CATS IN KNEAD
7whskrs Cat Rescue kicked off this year with seven women behind it — five of whom live in Winter Garden and Windermere. The acronym stands for “7 Women Helping Save Kitties Rescue Society.”
Their goal is to help as many abandoned, stray and injured cats as possible in the Winter Garden area through in-home fostering and community support.
Jewell’s love for cats goes back to her childhood. She was 5 years old when she rescued her first kitten. From then on, she always tried to help any cat or kitten she found. But it wasn’t until about 15 years ago that she got serious about rescue work.
“I was just doing it on my own, and luckily, I was able to pay for getting them fixed and finding them homes,” she said. “Back then, I was just doing it through the newspaper — we didn’t have social media and other ways to do it.”
Jewell began volunteering for a local cat rescue and did so for 12 years, befriending other volunteers along the way.
She and her group of friends had their own idea of how they wanted to operate a rescue organization, though, and 7whskrs Cat Rescue was born.
“There are seven women out here who are dedicated to doing whatever we can do to help these babies get forever homes,” Jewell said. “It’s me and a friend of mine, Tanya Hanson, who also was with the other rescue and decided at the same time we would go on our own; another lady and her daughter, Elaine and Vicki Wilson; Sandra Rice; Susan Lare; and Terri Evans.”
Most of the cats and kittens in their care right now have either come from people they know, or through word of mouth. Some are stray or feral mother cats who were about to give birth outside. Currently, there are about 40 cats under the rescue’s care.
“I don’t know how many litters we’ve gotten over the last 10 months or so … but there are five of us and between the five of us, we have our own connections and friends,” Jewell said.
SLOW AND STEADY
The rescue recently officially received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation — a hurdle Jewell and the team have been in the process of clearing all year, partly because of COVID-19.
Opening a rescue in the middle of a pandemic also has been a challenge, particularly in the area of adoptions. Although the county shelter has reported record adoption numbers, it’s been tougher for the 7whskrs team.
“We’ve heard that Orange County (Animal Services) has done well with adoptions — because of the pandemic, people are staying home, and they want animals and they’ve been adopting,” Jewell said. “For us, it’s been hard, but we’ve also had some wonderful, wonderful stories. … I guess the hardest part we’ve had to deal with in this pandemic is just finding the people who want to adopt these babies. ... We have all these wonderful, sweet, sweet kitties that need wonderful homes.”
There also are the challenges many other rescues face year-round, such as a need for more foster parents, financial contributions, and food and supply donations. For 7whskrs, Jewell said, the need for committed fosters currently is the greatest. That frees up space to help more cats and kittens.
Aside from the challenges, there also have been many bright spots this year for 7whskrs Cat Rescue. Happy endings and successful adoption stories aren’t lacking, and the rescue’s reach is growing.
“I’ve made some really good friends through the years — people that I’ve had kittens I’ve adopted to — and I’ve stayed in contact with almost everybody I’ve adopted to,” Jewell said. “We’ve got a lot of people that we’ve made friends with that are helping us out with the rescue in any way, shape or form.”
Eventually, Jewell and her team would love to open an adoption center in the area. For now, it’s all about helping as many cats and kittens as possible find safe, loving homes.
“We just do everything we can do financially and physically,” she said. “We have to be diligent making sure the homes they go to are the best homes they could go to. … When I get a litter of kittens that are frightened, afraid and sickly and then get them healthy — and they can look at you with such love on their faces and they’re purring — it brings me joy to give them that type of life. And they’re just so stinking cute.
“Between helping them as much as I can, seeing how they thrive after they get the proper care, their sweet little faces and them just being so cute, I guess that’s what keeps me going,” she said.