The Kingdom Animal Shelter is committed to facilitating “the placement of stray and unwanted animals and pets in desirable homes; to establish and maintain an animal shelter and associated procedures which promote the health, care and handling, and prevent over population and the prevention of cruelty to animals.”
That commitment is taken right from the mission statement of the Kingdom Animal Shelter, and if you’ve ever visited this North Country shelter, you’re guaranteed to see how the volunteers here LIVE this mission. Tucked away on Memorial Drive Rt 5 in St. Johnsbury, the Kingdom Animal Shelter is a safe haven for homeless cats in the North Country.
North Country Local sat down with Helen Morrison, president of the Board of Directors of the Kingdom Animal Shelter, to learn more about this facility and how it helps the North Country’s homeless cats. The history of the Kingdom Animal Shelter certainly paints a picture of how determined and hopeful people in the North Country can come together to serve a higher purpose than themselves.
Started in 2003, the shelter really wasn’t in a particular location, and the animals were kept in different places in town, like in the basement of the Caledonian Record. The Kingdom Animal Shelter is now a proud member of the Vermont Humane Federation, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Humane Association. All cats see a veterinarian shortly after arrival and are examined, along with being vaccinated and spayed/neutered before going to their new homes.
It wasn’t long before they decided they needed their own spot, because it was too difficult to get people to go to the basement of the Caledonian Record, or wherever. In 2009, they found their current spot and that’s when they became “Kingdom Animal Shelter, Inc.” They rent it from Ernie Thurston, who’s been “very good” to them.
Having rented their spot since 2009, one of their goals in a few years is to own a shelter of their own. Right now, they’re cats only, but have been tossing around the idea of incorporating dogs into their rescue operations. While there are a lot of people out there who love helping out their cats, Helen knows there are plenty of people out there who would be ready and willing to help them with dogs. “They’re a lot more work,” Helen says, “in terms of testing them, seeing how their behavior is, because you have to be really careful with that.” While researching the possible addition of dogs to their rescue services, Helen did some research with other area shelters. She’s found that the amount of strays and surrendered dogs has seemed to dwindle over the past few years, which she sees as a great sign. An animal shelter she spoke with in mid-Vermont says they get 75% of their animals from out of state.
The Kingdom Animal Shelter doesn’t have any paid staff, being run entirely by volunteers. They receive no state or federal funding and operate solely by donations. One of Helen’s passions is working with their group of volunteers. Helen’s responsibilities include touching base with volunteers, coordinating schedules, and she’s pleased that they have a great group of about 30-35 full-time volunteers, with a total of about 50 to 60 she could call on at any time for help. Helen’s grateful they also have a fantastic bank of foster homes that will take in cats when needed.
“A lot of parents come in with their kids on the weekend, to help clean up and help with morning duty,” Helen says. “We have one young lady in particular, about 8 or 9 now, and she comes in and reads to the animals, and the soothing, calming voice of people really relaxes them.”
While they don’t ever have a “typical” type of adopter, Helen does see some patterns repeat themselves. “Elderly people who may have lost a cat, young families who are interested in taking in an animal in need are what we often see,” says Helen, “but we’re not a place where you can walk in and walk out with a cat. We take a few days with calling references and making sure they have a good home to go to. We do need to know people can take care of the pets they adopt, with regular vet visits.”
Along with her love of working with volunteers, Helen loves going in for “Morning Duty.” Morning Duty at the Kingdom Animal Shelter takes about 3 to 4 hours, where Helen will come in, check out all the cats, give them their food and meds. “You have to really pay attention to them, how they’re looking day to day, and you really have to pay attention to their urine and feces. You get to spend time with them, you get to pet them...we disinfect every cat condo every day, we give them a new disinfected litter box every day. We disinfect the walls, the floors, and every surface, and when you’re done with it, you know they’re in really good shape for the day.”
You can tell Helen, who was a science teacher in Cabot for many years, absolutely loves what she does.
Since going on Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet online, the Kingdom Animal Shelter been able to adopt cats out to several people from out of the area, like Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. When Helen first started working at the shelter, she was surprised at how much luck adult and older cats had being adopted out, compared to kittens. “The kittens are not the ones that everyone wants, though they’re very popular. We’ve had a lot of luck with adult cats, especially with older cats. Right now we have a 15 year old cat, named Sheba, who came to us from an older man whose wife had just passed away. Sheba was his wife’s cat, and I’m sure it was tough in more ways than one to take care of that pet.” Helen adds, “It’s particularly heartbreaking when an older person has to go into a nursing home and give up their pets.”
But it’s not all heartbreak, certainly: “Interesting story: about two months ago, two women were walking behind the library of the St. Jay Academy, when they heard a meow in the heating vents. They found a young black male cat, about 10 months old, who had his front leg stuck up in a flea collar, and the flea collar was caught on something. This is just one of the reasons why people shouldn’t put flea collars on strays. We brought him to the Littleton Area Emergency Vet Services in Littleton, and they got him on antibiotics, tested him for FIV, and got him sewed up. Rambunctious little fellow ripped it all apart again, and they kept him for 10 days, which is not typical for them as a facility. WIth the help of some other facilities, he was allowed to heal on his own and is doing fine today. One of the women who found him in the heating vents decided to foster him after his care, and eventually adopted him...and this little fellow never made it here.”
“It’s great to see how forgiving these animals are, especially after being stuck in such awful situations.”
When asked if Helen wanted the North Country to know anything specific, she shares this with us:
“Please get your cat spayed or neutered. There are lots of programs, low cost programs to help, like V-Snip. Shelters usually have spay/neuter clinics that are really affordable.
The second thing is PLEASE don’t ever leave an animal behind in a house or an apartment. Even though it’s embarrassing, call a shelter and get your pet some help. We had a cat that came from an abandoned apartment where he was trapped for two weeks, and the only reason it survived was from trash left behind and the toilet seat was up to give him access to water.
Third, VOLUNTEER...somewhere, doing anything. Volunteering here is very flexible. We have some people who come in 3 times a week, once a week, once every two weeks. They choose how much time they spend here. There’s fundraising and adoption counselors. Even if it isn’t at a shelter, volunteer...make a difference!”
One of the areas Helen is passionate about (“a passion within a passion”) is the care of FIV cats. FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and affects 2.5 to 4.4% of cats worldwide. “We’ve probably run into 15-20 in these 4 years that I’ve been here of FIV cats. The attitude towards FIV cats has been to put them down...even cats that are healthy, friendly, and in good shape. The attitude is changing, not so much up here, but it’s coming. Cats that have FIV can live long, good lives, and you have to be careful to not let these cats out. You don’t want them to pass it along, and you don’t want to expose them to things that could compromise their immune system. They can be in a home with other cats, they certainly can be there with other animals. It’s kind of like HIV, in that it’s hard to get...cats have to get into a really bloody, deep canine fight to pass it along.”
There are quite a few facilities that the Kingdom Animal Shelter works with, Helen says, that helps in the care of these animals. “There are various shelters, like this place in Massachusetts that we know of, that takes these FIV cats in and places them in homes. We do our best to get these cats into a home. People are getting better educated...and we had a woman take a cat and had him 17 years! Feline leukemia is trickier, as it’s more contagious...but we have a place in Massachusetts that takes these cats.” Fospice (just like hospice) is a great program for cats that are dying, and people who give them a great home during that transition.
And it’s people like Helen that makes the North Country such an amazing place to call home; she’s so obviously dedicated, like all of the volunteers at the Kingdom Animal Shelter, to a purpose larger than herself.
“It’s intense, it’s heartbreaking, it’s really tiring, and time consuming...but I love it.”