If you’ve ever visited the cat room at the , you’ve probably met Pat Hopper. If you haven’t, you’re missing out on a real treat. I first met her about a month ago. She came into the shelter one day while I was taking pictures of cats for Patch’s “Adoptable Pets of the Day” feature, and immediately, she knew who I was. She greeted me with a warm, friendly smile and pointed out which cats would be good to feature for the next week.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that “Miss Pat,” as much of the shelter staff refers to her, is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and for many of the cats who pass through the shelter, the only loving hand they’ll ever know. I had the opportunity to interview Hopper recently, and as she put it, “The cats are more than animals to me; they are my extended family.”
Hopper got started four years ago as a pet transporter. For those who don’t know, there are volunteers all over the country who will transport pets in danger of being euthanized to homes, rescue groups, medical facilities and other no-kill shelters where they will receive a second chance. For example, the group Hopper first became involved with just happened to be in New York, but it was helping pets in Douglas and Spalding Counties. Since then, she’s traveled all over the Southeast, going as far as West Virginia to save the life of a furry friend.
She says there was much to learn about rescue at first, but she quickly learned why people were getting involved. “Immediate reward began with the people in the rescue community sharing their wealth of knowledge and information. Cat rescue is stepping into an unknown world of needs to help them find rescues or be adopted. The cats are the most important part of rescue and they deserve every effort made for them to live and be saved. Many come in hurt, depressed and all that can be provided is to hold them in reassurance," she said.
Since beginning as a transporter, Hopper has become a champion for Douglas County’s homeless cats and kittens. She says she visits the shelter almost every day, and she gets to know each of her “special feline friends,” but her work doesn’t end there. She also takes pictures and creates very detailed cross-postings for rescue groups and potential adopters, seeks medical care for sick and injured animals and helps potential adoptees find the right cat for their families.
Just a few days ago, Hopper pointed out to me a sick cat who had tested positivie for an unfortunate disease and is currently awaiting more test results. Upon the diagnosis, the veterinarian asked her if she'd like for the cat to be "put down." She immediately said "no" and vowed to find someone who would help him get better.
As most people know, our local shelter is not a no-kill shelter. Many dogs and cats do not get adopted. I know I struggle with this, and I only visit once or twice a week, so, of course, I had to ask Hopper how she handles knowing not all of the cats will be adopted. “Our Shelter has limited space to provide for the increasing pet numbers due to population and spay/neutering being ignored. I know all will not be adopted or rescued, but while they are with us they deserve to know love and comfort as they become angels.”
But Hopper does whatever she can to make the cats more adoptable, namely, getting them medical care, including having them spayed or neutered. “Help is sought from local humane rescues in sponsoring spay/neuters for our special babies. A few volunteers on limited incomes will pay for these procedures. Our cats become more adoptable when spayed/neutered,” she said, adding that “many rescues are more responsive to a donation accompanying a cat and we have cat lovers donate to help our special ones get a home.”
The economy has certainly affected the number of dogs and cats being being brought to the shelter. I asked Hopper what message she would give to people who are having financial trouble and considering giving up their pets. “Many resources are available to anyone wanting to keep their pets. We have some rescue-friendly veterinarians willing to work in helping keep pets in a home. The Douglas County Humane Society has a food pantry if residents need food for their pets. There are low cost spay/neuter clinics available. The shelter has a list of all resources for the public. Come by the shelter and pick one up and keep your lifelong friend. If it is impossible for the pet to remain in the home and [it] must be surrendered to the shelter, bring any medical records, registrations and information about your pet to aid in searching for a rescue/home.”
She added, “Please remember these pets are like children and removal from a home to a cage - they...do not understand where or why they are sleeping in an unknown place. They can become depressed and stop eating... Our hearts go out to the owners but more to the cat who has done nothing to deserve abandonment.”
But it's not all tears and sadness. The world of cat rescue has many happy moments, too. Hopper said, “One of the most rewarding feelings is to walk into the cat room, calling their names, and they began talking, sticking paws out cage doors, and some are so comical rolling over in their cages.”
She also recalled a few recent happy endings for some of the shelter cats, “Recently, Micah, a Seal Point Siamese, was adopted within two hours of arriving at a rescue in Atlanta. We had an ill, nursing mother requiring surgery, leaving kittens less than a week old. A rescue had a Chihuahua mother with a hysterical pregnancy who took the kittens, immediately grooming and nursing them. She has been the most protective mother and the kittens are thriving under her care.”
Hopper encourages anyone who is looking for a “forever buddy” to come visit the Douglas County Animal Shelter. She noted that there are all types of pets to choose from, including cats in all shapes, sizes and colors, ranging from purebred to unique blends. She also wanted to encourage people to volunteer. “If you would like to volunteer at our shelter, be prepared to fall in love with a four-legged companion returning affection and trust. The shelter staff always welcomes help and will be happy to spend time with you.”
She added, “It is very rewarding to witness one of our cats being adopted in the shelter, knowing the love and care given kept them happy so they would be chosen.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Hopper is truly the miracle many of the cats who enter our animal shelter need. It’s amazing to see one person give so much time, money and love to make a difference in the lives of homeless and abused animals. If one person can do just this much, it makes me think about what the rest of us are capable of – and not just at the animal shelter but in any type of volunteer situation.
If you ever see Pat Hopper around the shelter, say “hello." You won’t regret the meeting, especially if you’re a cat or animal lover.
Thank you to Pat Hopper for allowing me to interview her. And if you’re interested in adopting one of the cats that are currently living at the shelter, check out the picture gallery to see just a small sample of who is awaiting a new home. To see more cats available from the shelter and learn more about adoption, visit the Douglas County Animal Shelter's adoptable pet list.