If cats could design their own shelter, I imagine it would be just like Mid Hudson Animal Aid, a non-profit no-kill sanctuary in Beacon, New York. Here cats are free to roam the house, filled with toys and climbing ramps, and can wander onto the porch to enjoy the fresh air. And if cats could choose a volunteer to care for them, it would be someone like Antinya Monroe, a gentle and soft-spoken 17-year-old, who has dedicated her time to the facility for the past 10 months.“I wish shelters like this existed in every city,” she said, sitting in a large and sunny room, surrounded by some of the 160 cats currently awaiting adoption. As she spoke about her work at the sanctuary, some of the cats came up to her for snuggles while others played with each other or lounged on pillows.Antinya started volunteering at Mid Hudson Animal Aid when one of her high school classes required that students complete 10 hours of community service. Long after the semester ended, she still spends Saturdays at the shelter, cleaning litter boxes, mopping floors, washing laundry and playing with the cats during her breaks.In addition to her cleaning duties, Antinya participates in the Feral Friends Program, which pairs volunteers with outdoor cats used to fending for themselves and unaccustomed to human contact. Volunteers socialize the cats by visiting them regularly and by giving them treats and lots of affection.Mid Hudson Animal Aid takes in cats with disabilities and chronic health problems routinely put down at other shelters. Antiya pointed out Ducky, a black cat born with a deformity that prevents him from being able to stand on his front legs. It doesn’t stop him from getting around or from playing with the other cats.Sarah is a beautiful tabby who was brought into the shelter after someone abused and blinded her. Despite her past, she loves people and can most often be found hanging out with the staff in the office.
The shelter has separate rooms for cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virusand Feline Leukemia Virus. Both populations can live along time without complications and the virus is not transmitted to humans. The cats were all lively and friendly, with no apparent symptoms. Antinya said their condition does not affect them as much as people think and that they would make great pets.
While the cats at free-range shelters don’t suffer the stress and depression common to cats in cages, Antinya said nothing beats “their having a home to call their own.” While she sometimes becomes attached to the cats, she is happy for them when they are adopted.
In fact, Antinya recently adopted a cat herself. Her feral friend is a tiny kittennamed Beoncé, thought to be about six weeks old. When Antinya brought her home for a visit and her family saw how well she got along with their dog and five other cats they decided to keep her.
Antinya plans to continue to volunteer at Mid Hudson Animal Aid until she goes away to college this fall and will return when she comes home for vacations. She said she never considers it a sacrifice to give up her Saturdays. She feels like she is gaining a sense of responsibility and is glad to contribute.
“The cats need so much,” she said. “I feel like I’m giving a little and a lot at the same time.”
Petside.com is donating $500 to Mid Hudson Animal Aid as a big “Thanks!” to Antinya Monroe!