We’ve all had that feeling — you’re sitting in an animal shelter, visiting kittens for the day, when you start to convince yourself the chance encounter is really fate.
You tell yourself you can handle a pet, but eventually, reality kicks in. Unable to adopt, you leave empty handed, wondering if the cats ever found a home.
But what if you didn’t have to leave the animals behind?
Beginning Nov. 29, local animal shelter ASAP will start its Homes & Heroes campaign, where people are invited to visit the facility and choose a cat to sponsor. These “heroes” will be asked to help their cat find a home, whether that’s through telling their friends and family or spreading the word on social media.
Every year, ASAP holds an adoption campaign around the holidays. This time, organizers wanted to do something different — something that allowed the whole community to participate.
“It’s all about engagement,” said Angela Walter Yates, ASAP executive director. “We recognize not everyone can adopt. The hero program is for those people, so they can still do something that has a tremendous impact.”
To Ms. Yates, finding a home is easy. More than 100 cats and kittens are available at the ASAP shelter, just in time for the holiday season. People take time off work and school, so they’re around to take care of a new animal.
What’s hard is creating awareness for the shelter system as a whole.
“Homeless animals won’t be saved by coming into adopt alone,” said Ms. Yates. “We need to take responsibility for the shelters. This event allows people to help, but not in the obvious way of taking one home.”
Rather than adoption, other organizations around town are focusing on short-term fostering. While fostering provides another alternative, these programs are often difficult for cats.
“Some campaigns advertise taking animals home for just the holiday season, but they’re mostly focused on dogs,” said Ms. Yates. “Cats don’t transition from one space to another easily. Instead, our event provides something similar.”
As heroes, people can have a relationship with their cat without taking it away from the shelter. Participants are encouraged to bring their cat gifts and make it a part of their family. This way, no animal is forgotten during the holidays.
“We hope heroes develop a personal connection with individual animals,” said Ms. Yates. “How amazing would it be if every cat and kitten had a hero or home, so at least one person is thinking of them.”
Someone that needs a hero is Moonbeam, who came to the shelter completely blind. While recovering from eye surgery, he still loves attention. Just pull up a stool and start talking – he’ll pop his head right out of the cage.
Another option is Juniper, ASAP’s lobby cat. One family fell in love with Juniper but couldn’t keep her for behavioral reasons. Now, since coming to the shelter, Juniper is a whole new cat. She loves sitting on laps, showing off her tricks, and munching on salmon-flavored treats.
“Each cat is an individual, with unique personalities and physical bodies, just like people,” said Ms. Yates. “They aren’t cherry-picked. We’re representative of all cats in the community.”
As the only open admission shelter in Santa Barbara County, ASAP welcomes every cat that comes through the door, regardless of age, health condition, or behavior. With more than 250 active volunteers, ASAP provides visitors with nuanced and specific knowledge about each cat, making the hero process that much more personal.
Forming those connections might also be a different kind of gift these holidays.
“There are members of the community that get fatigued by the commercialization of the season,” said Ms. Yates. “Being a hero can be a present to family or children, teaching them about philanthropy, rather than giving them something material.”
Sponsoring or adopting a cat is the gift that keeps on giving. For those who work at ASAP, they see that impact everyday and want to share it with everyone in Santa Barbara.
“The staff and volunteers all have our cats that we feel like are our champions,” said Becky Morrill, ASAP Shelter Operations Supervisor. “Hopefully this invites the community to feel the same way.”
Ms. Morrill, who has already named three champions, watches visitors come in and out of the shelter every week. While grateful for the attention, she wants something more for the cats.
“Sometimes the cats are just like eye candy,” said Ms. Morill. “But (Homes & Heroes) gives the people who just come into to look a purpose. It’s purposeful looking! And I think that’s a pretty great idea.”
Homes & Heroes will continue through Dec. 31.