12 July 12 Field Haven

Sometimes when you find something new, it feels as if you have rediscovered yourself. I had that experience yesterday. Field Haven rescue is a wonderful and unconventional shelter for cats here north of me by about half an hour. The drive out to the shelter is scenic, with rolling hills and oak trees overhanging the road like giant hands reaching out to catch you speeding down the curvy two-lane road. You pass beautiful picturesque ranches with three rail white fences that are five feet high for horses. Many of the homes have weeping willow trees crying into small ponds beside them. They are so beautiful, I wonder if any of them were used in movie sets.

I arrive outside an electric metal gate that allows me access. It opens to horse corrals, the smell of hay, dust, and peace. Park where you want. The choice spots are under the big oak in the middle of the drive, or at least under its shade. You proceed to the building that looks half home, half barn. You see enclosed patios on the side of the building, and hear a chorus of welcoming mews from the first cage. They are happy you are here. You walk into the front door, and you have the office to your right, and cages with glass to you on your left.

“Welcome!” They greet you. I had been up there a few times, but I cannot get over how much I love how they have designed the facility. Instead of the typical metal cages of three feet by three feet with bars in the front, they have something totally different. Now, in the front room, the “Adoption room”, the one with the glass sides that face the entry, has cages similar, although not metal. There are two cats housed in there to give them special highlight for adoption to the prospective adopters.

Walking down the hall, it feels almost more like a hotel than a shelter. There is a row of doors down the hall with glass on the top. Upon peering in, there is often a happy cat greeting you, and asking for pats. What you are looking into is an actual room, one similar to the size of a generous broom closet. There are food dishes, liter pans, toys, beds, shelves for climbing, scratching posts, murals on the walls reminiscent of a child’s bedroom rather than a room for a cat and a door on the opposite side of the room with a kitty door in the bottom.

If you go through that second door, you have entered the outdoor enclosures, adorned with similar cat approves items. You see them stretched out worshipping the sun, warming themselves on the cement floor of the enclosure, or merely curled up in a kitty bed. There are one to two cats to a room depending on the room. The only thing missing for them is a person to love them.

The cats are so different than the cats you see other shelters. There are no desperate cries of fear coming from anywhere. The cats are relaxed, calm, and relatively at ease. Some cats are more timid than others, but that is why one of the jobs available to volunteers at the shelter is to be a “cat socializer”. Yes, that is what you think: pet the cats. Some are cuddlier than others, but that is typical cat fashion, not a sign of severe stress that so often is seen at other shelters.

There is an adjacent barn where feral and semi-feral cats are housed. The outdoor enclosure is bigger for the feral cat’s desire for outdoor accommodations. Cat socializers go out there as well. The point here is that these cats would make good barn cats. Some are tolerant of human presence, others hide.

The other big difference I see in this shelter as opposed to so many others is that they are not sick. I have been to shelters where every cat is ill. When adopted, they become ill almost immediately upon coming home. Here, they are happy, healthy, and ready to start their new lives.

The shelter has a set up that opposite the cat rooms is an area worthy of a veterinarian’s office, complete with isolation room, exam room, and a place to clean the bowls, beds, towels, and to generally care for the cats. Something that deserves mentioning about the state of health of the cats is this: Cats can get sick on stress alone. They have various auto immune illnesses that stay latent until put in situations of severe stress. This is another accolade for the shelter’s low stress environment. If the shelter wasn’t so low stress for the cats, there would be little way to keep them healthy. The design was courtesy of the University of California at Davis Shelter Management program. I would say they are on to something.

As I cuddle with my own cats at home, I think about the cats at the shelter. My heart does not break for the condition they are in as it does at other shelters. Here, I can see they are not only well cared for, but happier than any other shelter I have ever been to. I cannot wait to go back.

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