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By Chris Frost
Ventura-- Thille Park was the place to be, Sept. 12, if you love cats as Cassie's Cats, a 501c3 organization, came out to the park for a fun meet and greet event.
Group President Jennifer Thompson, along with her volunteers, answered questions, talked about the organization, and enjoyed a little mask friendly Covid-19 fun.
Cassie's Cats networks adopt cats and kittens in Ventura County and offers foster services that give felines a home from local shelters and rescue groups.
The group also brought its gift shop along, so people could stock up on cat merchandise and support the organization's ongoing effort in the county to operate a location.
Cassie's Cats have been busy in 2020, and they've taken in 11 cats from Santa Paula Animal Rescue and four from Greyfoot Cat Rescue.
Thompson said the group got its name from her first cat, named Cassie.
"I got her when I was 10 years old," Thompson said. "I've loved cats my whole life, and I knew when I wanted to start an organization of some sort, I wanted Cassie to be represented, somehow."
She plans to open a lounge and adoption center for cats in Ventura.
"We will have cats who are adoptable straight from the lounge in Ventura," she said. "This will be a public space where people can visit the cats."
While she's had cats during her entire life, in 2006, a friend of her husband found a litter of newborn kittens with no mother in sight.
"She called me and knew that I would love to take these kitties in," Thompson said. "I said, okay."
From there, she started doing a lot of research on reputable websites on how to take care of orphaned kitties, like bottle feeding them, helping them go to the bathroom, and keeping them warm.
"That was my first foray into fostering, and since then, I have volunteered for different places, and I've had over 50 cats and kittens come into foster with me," she said. "That includes four cats at my house right now."
Jennifer knows a cat being adopted is going to a good home, but that doesn't mean watching the furry friend leave isn't tough.
"It's always bittersweet, and I usually cry," she said. "I heard Hannah Shaw speak once, she's known as the kitten lady, and her description of it is like you're a crossing guard, and you're taking them from one side of the street to the other, and they can't cross safely without your help. You're getting them to a place where they can go on and live a nice long life in safety and with love. That's important and meaningful work to me."
When someone approaches her about adopting a cat, she talks about her foster cats.
"If you have any questions about adoption, I will direct them back to the organization I am fostering with," she said. "When I'm able to open my lounge and adoption center, everything will go through Cassie's Cats. There'll be an application process, and we'll have a conversation to make sure it feels like a good fit for the pet and family."
It's hard to do many face-to-face meet-and-greets during the pandemic, but there are many behind the scenes conversations.
"I have Facebook and Instagram, so when people are interested in the kitties I am fostering, we can talk back-and-forth a little bit," Jennifer said. "Then I can turn around and work with the shelter or rescue group and say I've had a great conversation with these people, and it seems like a good fit. If they turn in an application, I would consider them."
Jennifer brought a lot of cat merchandise for sale, and during the pandemic, she's been sowing a lot.
"My mother, who lives about four hours away, she's also been sowing masks and donating them," she said. "Cassie's Cat's will get 100 percent of the proceeds. We're trying to build up our reserves, so we have the money to open up, pay rent, utilities and support the cats. I cover the cost of the materials."
She has dogs, but Jennifer said cats fit her.
"I am an introvert; I need a little space, and I don't need to be constantly on top of someone and someone constantly on top of me," she said. "Cats fit my personality."
Tammie Bucholz supports Jennifer and is excited to have a lounge for adoptable cats in Ventura.
"They only have them in other areas, and we need one in Ventura for the cats here," she said. "It's such an awesome establishment. We need it."
Tammie started as a dog person until she met her friend, Barbara Hinton, who introduced her to cats.
"Barbara and I went to school together, and she was in charge of the kitten program at SPARC (Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center), and they put out on Facebook they need volunteers," she said. "I got swindled into it. If you told me five years ago that I would have three cats, I would have said you are crazy. Now I have three cats and two dogs."
She calls the experience awesome.
"It's fun and rewarding," she said. "To get all the cats off the streets and get them spayed and neutered and taken care of and not living in the streets is rewarding."
Hinton loves paying attention to and nurturing the cats, so they are adoptable.
Teri Hylton led the way with seven cats who all came at different stages in their life.
"My youngest is four years old, and my oldest is 18 years old," Hylton said. "I've had them all since they were babies."
Keeping the peace, she said, is no problem with some exceptions.
"I've got a couple who push each other's buttons," she said. "They usually calm themselves down after a while, or somebody else will jump in the middle and calm them down. They take care of themselves."
She got her start at SPARC and took in a pregnant cat.
"I didn't know anything about the place, and they made me feel bad because here I am taking this pregnant cat that's going to have kittens," she said. "They were loaded with cats, and they asked me if I wanted to volunteer. The next thing I know, I'm doing the volunteer program and helping out with all the cats and doing the foster kitten volunteer program. It was great, and that's how I ended up with more cats."
She jokingly said to keep things off the shelf when you adopt a cat.
"Cats, for me, are soothing, calming, and great companions," she said. "They will sit there and are low maintenance. You don't need to take them out to go potty like you do dogs."
Amanda Valencia met Jennifer when they were foster moms for SPARC and had kittens at the same time. Hers got adopted, and she can't foster cats anymore.
"I admire Jennifer so much," Valencia said. "It's hard on the heart, and I look up to people who can take in litter after litter and foster them. It needs to be done, but it is hard on my heart."
Her boyfriend is allergic to cats, so she can't have any cat foster fails.
"When it came time to find homes for them, I was crying every day," Valencia said. "Luckily, they all went to good homes."
When she started fostering, she didn't ask her boyfriend.
"I just brought them home," she said. "I went into SPARC to volunteer, and I hadn't been there in years. I decided to start volunteering again, saw a litter of kittens, and asked if you needed any foster parents."
They sent her home with blankets, a cat house, food, and three feral kittens.
"I went home and said we have kittens," she said. "His eyes puffed up for like three or four months."
For more information, visit cassiescatsandkittens.org.