As Annette Proffitt cleans out litter boxes, one after another, I try to focus on our conversation, but I’m having trouble. Perched on a platform next to my ear, a furry new acquaintance named Peanut places a tawny paw on my right shoulder in a successful bid for my attention. As I turn toward him, he puts a second paw on the opposite shoulder, leaving me no choice but to take him in my arms.
The 1-year-old black-and-toffee tabby cuddles under my chin for a few minutes before deciding that it’s time to jump down to chase Sweet Pea, his sister.
Karina, a young calico, skitters along a nearby cat causeway — a shelf high along the wall — and down one of the climbing towers to peek out from a mini-cave at floor level. Meanwhile, a tuxedo cat and a pair of tabbies, one gray and one orange, engage in a little rumpus at my feet as they check out my purse and notebook, which I’d abandoned in favor of my visit with Peanut.
Welcome to the Kitten Room at Classy Cats in north Keller, the temporary home to about a dozen kitties aged 1-year-old and younger.
My visit to this oasis of cat activity is inspired by the knowledge that June is National Adopt-a-Cat Month. Proffitt, on the other hand, as co-founder of the operation, toils here day in and day out, tending to homeless cats and working to find families for them.
A Labor of Love
During our visit, Proffitt pauses in her work to stroke Tipper, an affectionate gray-striped juvenile who doesn’t let a missing leg slow him down much. As she works her way around the room, giving attention to the felines who seek it, she does so without losing sight of her ultimate task, cleaning the boxes and refilling food and water bowls.
Clearly, these chores are a labor of love for Proffitt, who, along with Michelle Daniel of Irving, founded the feline-focused nonprofit in 2005. Not surprisingly, she explains that she’s been a caretaker of cats for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Nebraska farm country, she failed to heed the advice of her grandmother, who tried to warn her away from the feral cats taking shelter in the barn.
“I loved to go out in the barn and find kittens; I couldn’t stay away from them,” she says. “I’ve just been doing it all my life. I don’t know why. I was just born that way.”
After Proffitt and husband Perry moved to Keller 28 years ago, she got used to finding cats dumped in the vicinity of the couple’s semi-rural property. She developed a habit of taking them in and getting them veterinary care, then began working with local rescue groups in order to help find the cats homes.
Eventually, she and Daniel met while volunteering with another cat charity. They shared a common dream to “do cat rescue the right way,” Proffitt says.
Today, at Classy Cats, they stress spaying and neutering to cut down on the number of unwanted animals, making great cat-family matches — emphasizing a lifetime return policy in order to ensure happy endings — and steering owners away from the once common and increasingly unpopular practice of declawing.
Where It All Happens
Just a few hundred feet from Proffitt’s home, Classy Cats operates out of a building that also houses the office for the family’s sand and gravel hauling business. In between her list of cat duties, Proffitt wrangles calls on her Bluetooth headset and works on the computer.
Next to the Kitten Room is the Cat Room, a space built in honor of Daniel’s late husband, Alan.
After a long day at work, Daniel says Alan always enjoyed bottle-feeding motherless kittens. When he died in 2009, Daniel asked for donations to Classy Cats instead of flowers, and those funds helped build the spacious light-filled room.
A dozen or so cats cavort around cat towers and trees, birdwatching on the window sill or resting in their individual “apartments” — a large cage outfitted with food, water and a cat hammock.
Daniel began rescuing cats in her Irving neighborhood and around the UPS shipping facility where she worked driving a semi-truck on cross-country hauls for 37 years.
“I was doing it on my own for a while, but I had to have a venue because I couldn’t do it all myself,” Daniel explains.
In addition to Classy Cats’ main rooms, there are several extra spaces for cats needing privacy or a little extra TLC. Next to Proffitt’s business office, a mama cat cares for four 3-week-old kittens in an extra-large crate, and by the charity’s photography room, a second mama has settled in with her month-old Siamese mix kittens. A small climate-controlled greenhouse located north of the main building — Classy Cat’s original shelter — still operates as a temperate sanctuary for two or three new strays while they’re being treated for parasites or respiratory illnesses before being allowed into the interior rooms.
Daniel and about a dozen volunteers foster additional cats in their homes. Many of these are abandoned kittens or cats with special needs. And there’s the revolving door of Classy Cats’ adoption venues, with about 15 cats at any one time taking up temporary residence in cages in the adoption sections of three local pet stores — PetSmart at Alliance Town Center and in Euless, and Petco in Grapevine — in hopes of being spotted and adopted by customers passing through the pet-focused stores.
For those of you trying to keep score, that’s about 80 cats total, at any given time.
Each month, Classy Cats goes through about 800 pounds of cat litter and 200 pounds of cat food. Walmart offers a bulk discount on the litter, and the food is provided by Hill’s Pet Food’s Science Diet shelter program — with the Kansas manufacturer giving qualifying charities the food and only charging the cost of shipping.
All told, Proffitt and Daniel say around 50 people volunteer with their organization, among them, a dozen or so are diehards who put in long hours tending to the needs of forlorn felines. Sometimes Boy Scouts construct cat trees, while volunteers create T-shirts to raise funds. And local restaurants like Mooyah in Southlake occasionally donate portions of an evening’s profits to the charity.
Despite June’s status as National Adopt a Cat Month, Proffitt says adoption rates tend to plummet in early summer. Year-round, Classy Cats averages about 200 adoptions a year and, whatever the season, those interested in becoming pet parents are welcome to attend the operation’s weekly adoption events, held each weekend at one of the three partner pet stores.
At the end of April, Classy Cats had a great weekend with 10 adoptions — including three-legged Tipper. During the week, if potential adopters see a cat they like, Daniel says they can ask store employees to place a call to the group — ringing the “cat phone.”
Daniel answers inquiries most of the time and dispatches volunteers to meet the interested parties. Before a cat is placed in a new home, however, each potential adopter must fill out an application and describing the living situation (other pets, children, activity levels in the home, etc.).
Potential adopters looking for a new family member may also head out to “the ranch” and visit the dozens of adoptable pets there.
“They can come out to meet the kitties and let the kitty pick them,” Daniel says.
After the requirements of an adoption process are fulfilled — with spay/neuter issues resolved and an application process to address the commitments of pet ownership and the nonprofit’s anti-declawing policy — a final step to a successful adoption involves a weeklong cat “sleepover.” This ensures that the animal will adapt to the new home environment and that the arrangement is “a good fit” in terms of family dynamics and the personalities and behaviors of other pets in residence.
“Nine times out of 10, it will work out,” Proffitt says, “but we want them to do a test drive because cats have their own personalities.”
At the end of the week, or sometimes two, the adoption is finalized.
On my recent visit, an affectionate cat named Marmalade, who is so friendly he enjoys being carried like a baby, had been returned after a five-year adoption. The extended family had brought back two cats after their owner died of a heart attack.
When I went back several days later, Marmalade and his brother had been adopted again. The outgoing Peanut was also gone, sent to PetSmart in the hopes that he would charm his way into a new home.
Classy Cats Meet-Ups
Weekly adoption events for Classy Cats are held every Saturday in June from noon-4 p.m., as well as almost every weekend year-round, at the PetSmart at Heritage Trace/Alliance, 2901 Texas Sage Trail, Fort Worth. For more information on adopting, volunteering or donating, visit http://classycats.org or call 817-430-2755.
Like many animal advocates, Annette Proffitt and Michelle Daniel promote spaying and neutering as a sensible way to minimize homeless pet populations — and they’re particularly passionate on the subject. Over the years, having learned some hard lessons about the adoption process, they’ve developed a policy of spaying or neutering all their cats before home placements. Proffitt explains that they used to let families take weaned kittens home, but found that the owners often wouldn’t return to have their new pets fixed. Delaying adoption eligibility until after the spay/neuter procedures are performed, when kittens are 3 or 4 months old, is an easy “fix” for that problem.
Similarly, they and others (like the Humane Society) consider declawing inhumane and oppose the practice because it involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe and has permanent crippling effects. The Classy Cats founders insist that new pet parents promise not to declaw their cats.
They also expect adopters to keep a cat for its lifetime or make the commitment to return it to Classy Cats.
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