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.

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

Sprinkler system extinguishes fire in industrial building in Chilliwack

Progress Way building had only minor fire, smoke and water damage thanks to sprinkler system

UPDATE: Suspect who once killed a man in jail was arrested in Chilliwack after truck fire

Jordan Cole Burt was taken into RCMP custody while wanted on an outstanding warrant

Two Abbotsford elementary schools record COVID-19 exposures, according to Fraser Health

‘Exposures’ defined as 1 positive case at school, ‘clusters’ as 2 or more, ‘outbreaks’ as widespread

UPDATE: Fatal collision Sunday leaves Chilliwack father and five children with minor injuries

Driver who T-boned family after running stop sign on McGuire Road died at the scene

Irish folk supergroup Kíla set to perform on Saturday

Online concert will be available through Harrison Festival Society

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

Earthquake off coast of Washington recorded at 4.1 magnitude

The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometres

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

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

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Dozens of Canadian venues to light up red in support of entertainment workers

Local facilities among dozens across Canada to participate in Light Up Live

Most Read