Woman finds purpose through no-kill cat shelter

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Anna Marie Lux
Saturday, August 3, 2013

WHITEWATER—You would never know by looking at Rocky that the healthy kitten had been stuck in a death trap.

A month ago, the orange tabby got his paw caught in a hole in a retaining wall on the Rock River in Janesville.

The cat might have died if children from the Janesville YMCA/Boys & Girls Club had not discovered him. Shatayvia and Jonathon Floyd and Dakayla and Kaniya Redd ran for help.

Tiffany Meeks of the club and an animal-smart friend used baby oil and persistence to slip free the paw of the feral kitten.

Needless to say, Rocky—named after the river—was terrified.

Tiffany wanted the animal to go where it would be healed and loved. Like so many others over the years, she delivered the kitten to a no-kill shelter for cats in Whitewater called Touched by a Paw.

Janna Burhop started the shelter of miracles more than 20 years ago. She estimates at least 2,500 cats have been saved with the help of many compassionate volunteers.

“We are giving the cats a second chance at life,” said Janna, who runs the rescue in the back of her upscale consignment shop, Reflections of the Past.

Her non-profit group does not accept surrenders. Instead, Janna counsels owners about other solutions. She reserves the limited space in her 35-cage shelter for stray, abandoned, injured, neglected and abused cats.

Janna has taken in cats without eyes and others with deformed feet. One was abandoned in the country, got hit on the road and lost an eye and a leg. One was mistakenly burned under a brush pile.

She found homes for all of them.

For cats too wounded to survive their injuries or abuse, she holds them in their last moments.

“I want them to know they were loved,” Janna said. “I don't want them to die alone.”

Some cats go to foster care until Janna can find them homes.

Early on, she instituted a no-kill policy. Cats with severe behavior problems go to live on non-working farms, where they are housed, fed and given vet care. All animals are spayed and neutered.

Janna does not get any government funding. She depends solely on donations and occasional fundraisers to keep the shelter operating and to pay vet bills.

“It's amazing that we have so many people who support us,” Janna said. “They donate what they can because they believe in what we are doing.”

On average, the shelter spends between $7,000 and $8,000 per month to care for strays.

That's why the modest but heartfelt fundraising effort by children at the boys and girls club was so important. They brought in allowance money and sold treats to raise at least $185 to help pay for Rocky's shots and other veterinary care.

On Wednesday they presented the money to Janna, who brought the cat to the club so children could see how he is thriving.

She praised the children for their compassion and told them it is important to help lost or stray animals.

“Rocky taught them that taking time to save a cat is important,” Janna said. “You never know where a cat will end up to enrich someone's life.”

She believes humans can learn so much from cats and dogs.

“God gave them to us for our spirits,” Janna said. “It is not a perfect world, and people don't love you unconditionally. But dogs and cats do. Animals heal our souls.”

Janna realized from the beginning that the shelter was not just about cats.

“Their human counterparts are just as much a part of the equation,” she said. “The lives of our volunteers have been enriched by being a part of the shelter. We have everyone helping here from youth doing community service to people with handicaps and the elderly.”

Many volunteers are college students who are away from home and missing their pets.

“The animals comfort them,” Janna said. “They sit and hold the cats and brush them. Some have gone on to become veterinarians or vet techs because of their love of animals. Volunteering is a life-changing experience.”

The shelter has up to 40 volunteers who dote over the felines. The cats snooze on hammocks and blankets next to stuffed toys in their cages. Twice a day, volunteers let them out for an hour of exercise and playing.

Heidi St. Louis of Whitewater has volunteered for more than two years.

“It gives me a great feeling knowing that I am taking care of these animals,” she said. “It is important to me that this is a no-kill shelter. I couldn't look these animals in the eyes if I knew they might not survive. Once they come here, they will never want for anything again.”

Great care is taken in pairing cats with owners.

“They took the time to match me with the right cat,” said Al Johnson of Elkhorn. “Charley (his cat) and I are big buddies now.”

Janna never takes vacations because there are always more cats and more people who need advice about cats. She believes God put her on Earth to do exactly what she is doing.

Back at the boys and girls club, Tiffany Meeks won't forget the impact Rocky has had on the children.

“I'm so very proud of our kids,” Tiffany said. “I think it taught them compassion and a sense of community. The boys and girls club changes lives. So does Touched by a Paw.

I think it is so cool that our two organizations have come together.”

Janna, who has 16 grandchildren, said she wishes she could live 100 more years.

“I am going to do this until my last breath,” she said. “My prayer is that, when I die, God will send that special person to take over the shelter.”

She paused:

“Think of all the cats who will greet me in heaven.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.




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