I’d like to set aside the fancy cat beds for a minute and share with you some information about a very special cat rescue project. This is a heartbreaking story, but one with a happy ending due to an unbelievable rescue effort. It’s difficult to hear about what went on here, but it is a story that needs to be told in order to prevent similar situations.
We spent the last three days in Pahrump, Nevada volunteering with this project. There are several different versions of what happened according to various organizations and individuals involved, but the basic facts of the case are as follows; a Las Vegas-based cat rescue organization called FLOCK (For the Love of Cats and Kittens) was running a cat sanctuary in Pahrump, NV, where they were keeping hundreds of cats in deplorable conditions. The situation was reported to the Nye County Animal Control department, which then visited the site for an assessment. Due to the number of cats and the condition of the animals, the situation was beyond what animal control could handle so they called on the Best Friends Animal Society for assistance. A team of staff and volunteers from Best Friends immediately took over the sanctuary and started feeding and caring for the cats, evaluating them medically, and preparing the cats for adoption. This was in mid-July of 2007.
Reports on the number of cats vary, ranging from 400 to as many as 800 cats. When they arrived in July, the Best Friends staff and volunteers worked in the blazing desert heat to separate the cats into manageable groups, clean the existing facilities, build new fences and other infrastructure, and give the cats the medical attention and nutrition that they so desperately needed.
While we were there this week, we spoke with Sherry Woodard, an animal behavior specialist at Best Friends. Sherry has been at the Pahrump facility since July. We were told she has only left the grounds twice since July, and then only to go into town for dinner. Sherry was also an integral part of the Best Friends animal rescue after Hurricane Katrina. We met several of the other amazing people working with Sherry to rehabilitate and socialize the cats. This is a team of people who are completely dedicated to the welfare of these cats and who will do whatever it takes to make these animals healthy again and keep them feeling safe and loved.
At this point, there are 218 cats remaining at the Pahrump facility. The other 200+ cats have been either adopted to loving homes or–in the cases of those cats who needed special medical care–moved to the Best Friends main facility in Kanab, Utah. Unfortunately, some of the cats originally found at the facility did not make it. One volunteer donated a lion statue that sits in the center of a beautiful memorial on the site, commemorating the lives that were lost. The remaining 218 cats are all being cared for in the small houses pictured above. Some of the cats have been diagnosed with FIV and/or Feline Leukemia. These cats have been separated into their own houses and are getting the special attention that they need. Each house is carefully maintained by expert caregivers who look after the cats.
Our volunteer duties consisted mainly of helping to socialize this group of remaining cats. These are the cats that were the most frightened and who need more time to trust humans again. According to the reports we heard from the Best Friends staff, when the facility was handed over to Best Friends, the cat population was extremely malnourished, to the point of starvation, and completely dehydrated. Many cats had infections and other diseases and they were all living together in one large open area with little protection from the hot desert sun. There are even reports of human violence toward the cats.
How did this happen?
This is actually a case of what is called institutional hoarding. In this case, one individual from the FLOCK organization, Sheri Allen, was in charge of this facility and it seems that she and the people she had working for her were perpetuating this horror for some unknown reason. At first this sounds like a sad story about a group of stray and feral cats, but it gets worse. After Best Friends took over, it became clear that FLOCK was trapping cats in Las Vegas including not just ferals and strays, but also some pets, and taking them to the Pahrump facility. Some of these cats were microchipped and/or wearing tags with contact info, but no attempt was made to contact their owners.
The Best Friends website has an entire section dedicated to the Nye County cat rescue where you can read the news stories from the beginning of the rescue to today. This site also includes a number of heartwarming stories of people who were eventually reunited with their pets after finding out about what had happened.
I also want you to be aware of two other websites that tell a different version of the story. First, there is Sheri Allen’s website where she tries to paint a picture showing that everything was just fine at the sanctuary while she was in charge. Then there is the official FLOCK website which tells their side of the story. There may be others out there that tell yet another version. After having been there and having talked to some of the people involved, it seems that FLOCK has some serious internal problems and something needs to be done to insure that this does not happen again.
The next step
In a few weeks, a truck will leave the Pahrump facility with about 100 of the remaining cats and travel across the U.S. on a very special adoption tour. These cats, who have been lovingly nursed back to health, will be available for adoption to special homes. It will be very important that the adopting homes understand what these cats have been through, but also what wonderful cats they are. They may take a little extra time to adjust to a new home, but they will be amazing companions.
And I have to say they are incredibly beautiful! I have four cats at home who are fed only natural food and distilled water and they are very spoiled. Well, my guys look like a bunch of ragamuffins compared to the Pahrump cats! The Best Friends staff and volunteers have given these cats outstanding nutrition and care. Every cat that I touched has the most beautiful coat I’ve ever seen or felt. It is absolutely impossible to believe that they were starving and neglected less than six months ago.
I plan to post updates on the adoption tour. If the truck comes to a city near you, you’ll definitely want to stop by to see these beauties. There are also other ways you can help out by volunteering or donating to the cause. Details are on the Best Friends site.
. . .
Read the follow-up to this story here.