Rental squeeze putting pressure on animal rescue

Are you a cat person? The Chilliwack Animal Safe Haven could use your help to care for the 150 cats that are waiting for a forever home.

Leah Uittenhoeut says the rental situation is just one of many circumstances that bring cats to the Chilliwack Animal Safe Haven. They are currently caring for 150 adoptable cats who are waiting for their forever home.

Leah Uittenhoeut says the rental situation is just one of many circumstances that bring cats to the Chilliwack Animal Safe Haven. They are currently caring for 150 adoptable cats who are waiting for their forever home.

Furry felines curl up in open cupboards, watch birds through breezy windows, chase each other through the halls, and snuggle up for a snooze on the linen shelves.

Chilliwack Animal Safe Haven is not only a haven for cats and kittens, but for the volunteers as well.

Office Manager Leah Uittenhoeut started volunteering with the organization 11 years ago after utilizing their low cost spay/neuter program. As her involvement with and passion for the organization grew, she – like many she works with – says it changed her life completely.

Carrying on the legacy that Ena Vermerris started back in 2003, dedicated volunteers have since adopted out nearly 1,200 cats who otherwise would have been homeless.

There’s a lot of work to be done to care for the 150 cats currently living there. Relying solely on community generosity, the financial and volunteer resources are stretched very thin.

Leah tells the story of each kitty she passes as she leads a tour through the repurposed farm house and the roomy shelters that have been built in the yard.

Cheeky, a talkative five-year old jumps down from a table. Bert, a robust 26-pound fellow lounges on the floor. And Oreo wraps himself around you like a baby when you pick him up.

Across the room is Shadow, a 14-year-old long-hair whose previous owner was distraught to give up.

“A very desperate owner threw him at me,” Leah said. “You hear about the housing crisis? Absolutely.”

Leah explained to the owner that they were already full, but he was facing eviction. He loved Shadow since he was a kitten, and he was heartbroken to have to leave him.

“People are desperate. People are living in tents,” Leah said. “They don’t know what to do because they can’t find housing for themselves, nevermind one that’s pet-friendly.”

The housing situation is merely one of many extenuating circumstances that bring cats to the Haven’s doorstep. Once in the no-kill shelter, volunteers do what they can to ensure that cats are cared for, happy and loved until they find their forever home.

Vet bills through Cheam View Veterinary Hospital vary monthly as Haven cats receive spaying/neutering, medication, dental work and other care to keep them healthy and ready to be adopted.

Visitors’ expectations are often changed and exceeded when they visit the Haven. “Sometimes people say they want a short-hair, female Tabby cat – and then they walk out with the opposite,” Leah laughed.

And as visitors explore the rooms and take a seat on a couch or a step, it’s the cat that often finds the perfect owner, rather than the other way around.

The most important requirement of the adoption process is an understanding that owning a cat is a commitment. No matter their age, a cat provides great company and has a lot of love to give, but they require responsible and devoted ownership.

Those unable to adopt a cat can still help out in many ways.

The Haven hosts barnyard sales each month (next up to shop at or donate to is July 30), collects bottles and cans to recycle, and hosts bake sales and other fundraisers year-round.

Animal lovers can sponsor a favourite cat for $10 per month, become a member, or donate much-needed supplies like paper towels, plastic bags, clumping litter or dish soap.

Time is perhaps the greatest gift.

Volunteering is huge, even if it’s just once a week or once every two weeks. Without the volunteers we couldn’t keep going,” Leah said.

In addition to their year-round volunteers, they have students come in for work experience, individuals from the Chilliwack Society for Community Living helping out, as well as seniors and children stepping up.

Many of the cats have been at the Haven for years, some will be there for their whole life. While it’s not ideal, it’s okay – because they’re loved.

It’s not a home, Leah pointed out, but it’s the next best thing.

Learn more about volunteering or view cat adoptee profiles at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Future Finlandia Lion Ian Heagy with his biggest fan, mom Jen Heagy. (submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey player Ian Heagy defies the odds to land at Finlandia

Having never played a minute of rep, Heagy is making the jump from house to NCAA Div 2 hockey

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

Brian Combes after getting keys to his new house on April 9, 2021. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Homeless no more on Skwah First Nation after 20 years

Brian Combes gets the keys to his newly built home near Chilliwack

In 2012, police in Abbotsford placed surveillance cameras near the Dhaliwal home in the 2500 block of Bradner Road after there were two drive-by shootings in the area. Harb Dhaliwal, 31, has now been identified as the victim of a fatal shooting April 17 in Vancouver. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Abbotsford man named as victim of fatal weekend shooting in Vancouver

Harpreet Dhaliwal, 31, killed outside of Cardero’s restaurant in Coal Harbour

Joudelie King wants to get out and live life to the fullest, but there are places she can’t go because they don’t meet her accessibility needs. (submitted photo)
New online tool provides accessibility map for people with disabilities

The myCommunity BC map provides accessibility info for nearly 1,000 locations in the province

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

A total of 13 neighbourhoods and communities will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine

Most Read