Each year, hundreds of cats and kittens are abandoned in Chilliwack alone. But thanks to Ena Vermerris and the Chilliwack Animal Safe Haven Society, many of those furry little creatures have a second chance.
“I’ve always loved animals,” says Ena, who is the President and a cat-care provider of Safe Haven. Rather than sit around after retiring from nursing eight years ago, Ena decided to establish an alternative to the SPCA. “We formed a society, bought a property and started Chilliwack Animal Safe Haven in 2003,” she says.
Some cats are abandoned at Safe Haven’s front door or parking lot, some need new homes because their elderly owners have gone into care facilities or passed away; others are rescued from the community.
A strictly no-kill shelter, Safe Haven initially housed about 20 cats; it is currently at capacity—120 cats—90 of which are available for adoption. Part of Safe Haven’s policy includes strict adoption criteria, which requires prospective owners to complete a pre-adoption form.
When it first opened, Safe Haven’s facilities consisted of a donated trailer, converted and fenced so the cats could run around and play. Now, three buildings house about 100 cats, and the converted farmhouse accommodates the Society’s office space, laundry facilities—and the other 20 cats. “Now we really do have a cat-house,” Ena laughs.
In addition to providing care for abandoned cats, Safe Haven offers a spay or neuter package as a public service for just $52. Over the last eight years, 2,476 cats have been spayed or neutered through Safe Haven. It’s a commitment that keeps Ena very busy—every Tuesday she takes 10 or so cats into an Abbotsford veterinary clinic for the procedures.
So, how can the local community help? “Donations are welcome, and if people can’t donate money, they can donate basics like bleach, paper towels, dishwasher and laundry soap,” Ena says. Other ways include Safe Haven memberships—which are available for $10 per year, and include newsletters and a vote at the annual meeting—or cat sponsorship, which is $10 per month.
“And we always need volunteers,” says Ena. The volunteer program is coordinated by the Society’s sole employee, Gayle Brunt. “We learned the hard way that you can’t run an organization strictly on volunteers. Gayle does an amazing job, overseeing our volunteers and so much more.”
If for any reason an adoptive family can no longer care for their Safe Haven cat, the Society will accept that pet back. “Safe Haven cats always have a home here,” Ena says. “Our philosophy is not the money, it’s the happiness of the cat.”
Chilliwack Animal Safe Haven Society
49843 Chilliwack Central Road, Chilliwack