Story by Colleen Keefe
When the animal control facility of Graham County decided in 2015 that it could no longer take cats, Cheryl Christensen knew she had to do something. So in February of 2016, Christensen cracked into her retirement nest egg, opened her home and founded the nonprofit Desert Cat Rescue & Sanctuary of Arizona (DCRSA).
Christensen attributes limited resources and overpopulation to the area’s cat problems. She says that often, strays were dumped in the desert. “For them [animal control] not to take cats was going to create a gap – somebody needed to step up here and do something,” Christensen said. In a little over three years, Christensen has set up several successful programs within DCRSA.
Her Home Is the Sanctuary
On any given day Christensen has anywhere between 35 to 40 feline housemates. She runs the sanctuary out of her home with the help of her husband Canute. Currently, several of the resident cats are seniors, blind, or special needs.
Foster Homes are the Heart of DCRSA
Fifteen volunteer foster homes provide DCRSA the additional support needed for the kitty clients. Families in Graham and Greenlee counties, Ft. Huachuca, and Tucson help out. But the need for more homes is always there. “The more fosters we have, the more we can take in and get off the street,” Christensen said. Typically, the maximum commitment to foster a kitten is four months. Kittens are available for adoption when they reach three to four months of age. Fostering a pregnant cat requires a four to five-month commitment.
“People tell me so often these are the sweetest, nicest, most sociable kitties they’ve ever seen. I think it’s because our kitties are in foster homes, they live with us, they are our family. And because of that, they move into their new homes with the attitude that they want to be family,” Christensen said. Although DCRSA’s primary focus is cats, Christensen wants the public to know that they do take in the occasional dog. The organization presently has two canines.
How to Become a DCRSA Foster Family
“If you have a heart and want to help kitties, that’s pretty much what we’re looking for,” Christensen said. DCRSA does have a few other requirements including a home inspection or pictures. “The main thing I’m looking for is that you have a place for an animal to be comfortable for a few months until we can get it safely adopted, I’m good with that.”
Ready for Adoption
All DCRSA cats and kittens are spayed or neutered, fully vaccinated, and micro-chipped. The adoption fee for cats is $125.00, kittens for $150.00 and special pricing available for senior and special needs cats. Christensen believes that requiring an adoptive cat parent to make a financial investment helps to cement the long-term commitment between family and feline, insuring a solid, loving home.
PetSmart Adoption Center in El Con Mall
Cats and kittens from DCRSA come to the PetSmart Adoption Center in El Con Mall in hopes of finding their forever family. Christensen reports that often the cats are adopted even before she can get them settled into the display. Felines that don’t find a home within 30 days return to the sanctuary for a break. The program, which began a year ago in October, is responsible for homing more that 150 cats so far.
Happy Pets – Pet Food Program
DCRSA sends weekly supplies of pet food along with Meals on Wheels deliveries in Graham and Greenlee County. Seniors with pets may receive up to two bags of pet food per household – cat or dog – in any combination. This prevents seniors from having to share their meals with their pets.
Senior Companion Program
Senior citizens may foster a senior or special needs cat for DCRSA for as long as they would like to foster. Christensen said the nonprofit will provide the food, litter, bedding, and medical – seniors just need to provide the home and love. “It’s a win for the senior, both of them,” Christensen added.
Spay/Neuter Voucher Program
Graham County residents can receive spay/neuter vouchers through DCRSA, $20.00 for cats and $40.00 for dogs.
Lives & Literacy
Lives & Literacy is a partnership between DCRSA and the Safford City – Graham County Public Library that promotes bonding with pets through reading. Children ages 0-12 who, with a parent, adopt a pet from DCRSA receive a bookbag, pet instructions, books donated by the library and treats and toys from PetSmart. “Pets are not judgmental. They can sit and read to their pets and create that forever bond,” Christensen said.
Financing the Felines
Funding for DCRSA comes primarily from the couple’s retirement fund and would-be vacations. They spend in excess of $600 a month on food and supplies for the rescues. “We will be eating cat food when we retire – I hope it’s good on rice,” Christensen said as she laughed. The nonprofit also receives assistance from PetSmart, Desert Cross Veterinary Hospital, Cody’s Friends, and other contributors. “We try, and when we can’t try anymore, we hope that we have made a difference,” Christensen said.
You can make a difference too. To foster or adopt a cat or kitten, or to make a donation, contact DCRSA at email@example.com or call 928-965-4323. For more information, go to www.desertcatrescue.org