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 www.thesafehaven.ca.