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Orphaned cats and kittens find refuge on Pine Island

December 21, 2010

Currently housing 100 felines, since June, the Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary has become a critical lifeline for many area strays. The sanctuary grew out of a growing concern for cat owners who, due to current economic situations, find themselves forced to surrender their pets. Taking on the challenge of housing and, eventually, placing the pets was recently undertaken by Marnie Miszewski, who decided it was time to pursue one of her lifelong passions.

“Ever since I was a small child, I have always dreamed of opening my own animal sanctuary. Earlier this year, I lost my job and decided I was tired of waiting to hit the lottery, so I invested everything I had to open Helping Paws,” Miszewski said. “I felt as though Pine Island was the perfect location for several reasons. First of all, I had learned about the growing population of strays on the island, larger areas like Fort Myers have a number of agencies who take in unwanted pets but often are not convenient for islanders to travel too and most important, I am aware of the generosity of the people here and could count on them to help me with the sanctuary.”

Miszewski currently has 15 part-time volunteers ranging from children to seniors who visit the sanctuary to aid in cleaning chores, as well as spending one-on-one time with the cats housed at the facility.

Living in a home-like setting with not a cage in sight, the cats are quickly acclimated to family life.

“My goal was to make sure that when the cats are placed in a home, the situation becomes permanent. By socializing them with other cats, as well as humans, and providing a home-like atmosphere, so far we have been very successful,” Miszewski said. “When we get a new volunteer, we try to schedule them to the same room each time they visit. By doing this, the volunteers become well acquainted with each individual cat, which makes placement in a new home much easier to determine according to the needs of both the prospective pet owner and the cats.”

According to Miszewski, the success rate to date of placing cats in new homes has been approximately 90 percent, however, the need for new homes increases every day.

“On the average, we get five calls per day from people needing to find new homes for their pets. In addition, we have also been called upon for assistance from other areas of Lee County as well,” Miszewski said. “Most recently we got a call to house five cats from those who were rescued from a property in Lehigh Acres and are now at our capacity. While our space is limited at this time, it is my hope that one day we will have a larger facility on the island and can expand the sanctuary in order to house other pets, such as dogs, while they await a permanent home.”

Helping Paws has been inspected and approved by Lee County Animal Control and all of the animals are health certified and have received all of the necessary vaccinations.

A non-profit organization, Helping Paws relies solely on donations to operate.

“So far, the Pine Island community has been very generous with helping us with food and cleaning supplies, but the need is always there for not only more supplies but volunteers as well,” Miszewski said. “We are very grateful to all of the individuals who drop by to visit or bring supplies, as well as for the help we have received from Pine Island Feed and Garden and several organizations of the island.”

In addition to seeking those who would like to adopt a cat, foster homes are needed.

“It is my hope that now that the snowbirds are returning for the winter months that some of them may consider fostering a cat until we can place them,” Miszewski said. “This helps not only to free up space at the sanctuary, but also helps to further socialize the cats.”

Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary is located at 10060 Mallory E Parkway, Unit D, in the Pine Island Industrial Park. The hours of operation are Monday, Friday and Saturday from 3-8 p.m. However, cats can be visited by appointment during other times. For more information about fostering or volunteering, to sponsor a pet or to make a donation, call 283-9100 or visit:


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