The Wise County-based volunteer cat rescue group has been saving cats of all colors since 2015, but AFF President Donald Leech and Vice President Marla Weitzman found themselves doing the normal socialization of the herd of cats usually found at the group’s rescue home.
The black cats — Jack, Onix, Lacy and Ellie — roamed the house during daily free time with calico Mollie; black-and-white Buddy; and orange-and-white, tiger-striped Storm. Leech and Weitzman sorted through the normal jostling for attention, with Buddy being the most talkative of the group.
“I guess we’re the only cat-only rescue shelter in the county,” Weitzman said as Jack settled in her arms for a rub between his ears. “We work with other rescue groups, and that helps each group.”
AFF got its start when Wendy Welch and husband Jack Beck organized volunteers to help deal with stray and unwanted cats and litters of kittens that friends and acquaintances were trying to help on their own.
From a group of volunteers centered at the couple’s bookstore in Big Stone Gap, AFF developed into a nonprofit group which was able in 2016 to buy and renovate an old house into Hazel House, named after one of the group’s earliest rescue cats.
Volunteers on a daily basis do what cat owners do, but on a larger scale. Cubicles are cleaned, litter boxes scooped and refilled, floors swept and mopped, food and water bowls cleaned and filled, bedding changed and washed and the cats given lots of attention.
While it may take only an hour to do the normal cleaning and feeding, volunteers often spend an extra hour or two just playing with or cuddling Hazel House’s guests.
Leech said that AFF’s mission focuses on pulling cats and kittens that are reasonably healthy and socialized from Wise County’s animal shelter. Those cats get full medical vetting, vaccinations and, if mature enough, spaying or neutering.
While AFF also takes cats found in other bad situations, Leech said the partnership with the shelter has cut back euthanization rates there.
“We have a very good relationship with the county shelter,” Leech added.
“We’ve had a number of litters found alongside roads,” Weitzman said. “There was another time when someone found four kittens on the railroad tracks near Gate City.”
AFF has worked with 4Paws Animal Hospital in Duffield and Lincoln Memorial University’s veterinary school clinic in Lee County for medical care for rescued cats. Other volunteers care for foster kittens needing bottle feeding and for cats recovering from surgeries as well.
Once each cat is deemed healthy and determined socialized for living in a new home, AFF works locally and with other approved rescue and foster groups in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland to find them a new home.
“We really need more people to help take care of our fosters,” Weitzman said.
AFF does various fundraisers online and at different events in Wise County and Norton throughout the year, Weitzman said. Those fundraisers help pay water and electric bills for Hazel House, buy regular and special needs food for cats, some medical supplies, cat litter, cleaning supplies and trash bags.
While supplies and litter donations are always welcome, Leech said cash donations work best instead of food so AFF can ensure consistent quality and types of food for younger, older and sick or recovering cats.
While Wise County has been supplying grant funds for animal rescue groups, Weitzman said AFF has been doing much of its work on “half a shoestring.” County funds are being redirected for a spay-neuter van to address a major animal control issue in the county, Leech said.
“With their transition, AFF needs to make its own transition,” said Leech.
Anyone wanting to volunteer with or make donations to AFF can contact the group through its webpage, www.appalachianfelinefriends.wordpress.com, the Appalachian Feline Friends Facebook page or email [email protected]