When Terri Duncan and her daughter wandered into a pet store 12 years ago, she had no idea how her life would change.
“We struck up a conversation with a foster mom for a rescue group. My daughter and I were both charmed with the idea of fostering ‘bottle babies,'” said Duncan. “We left the pet store with a couple of tiny kittens, the basic supplies, and absolutely no idea whatsoever what we were getting ourselves into! It was something really special and meaningful that she and I did together.”
Since that day, Duncan has been involved in fostering and rescuing cats with local organizations. Most recently, she led the foster-based cat program at Maddie’s Fund® until its conclusion in early 2016. Fast forward to present day, Duncan is officially starting her own bona-fide 501(c)3 rescue organization with the help of a $62,000 grant from Maddie’s Fund. The organization is named Allie’s Pals, after the first cat she rescued while living in California.
“Allie’s Pals Cat Rescue is extremely proud and grateful to be the recipient of a formation grant from Maddie’s Fund,” she said. “They made me feel like ‘part of the family’ during the two years I led their cat program, and it was with their encouragement and support that I made the decision to start Allie’s Pals.
“Allie’s Pals shares the high standards that Maddie’s Fund upholds, believing that every animal deserves respect, consideration, and top notch care; additionally, we will continue Maddie’s Fund’s tradition of going the extra mile for those cats and kittens in need of additional care and treatment for minor, or in some cases, major, conditions.”
In fact, the group’s primary goal is to focus their efforts on those cats and kittens who need a little bit of extra support in order to overcome a challenge, some physical and some emotional, in order to be successful in a new home. “We’re not focusing on how many we save or how long it takes us to find any particular cat or kitten a permanent home, but rather on each individual situation as we become aware of it.”
This is a lesson learned over time as Duncan has come to appreciate the uniqueness of each cat. “So many people find it easy to recognize that all people are different, but they expect every cat to be exactly like every other cat. The truth is that each cat has distinct personality traits, just like each person does. That acknowledgement has enabled me, over the years, to become pretty good at matching people with the right cat soul mate.”
Her favorite part about rescuing cats? Seeing the personalities of the cats themselves start to shine as they become healthy, confident and happy.
Along with matchmaking, Duncan is interested in collaboration with other groups, encouraging everyone to work together. “Often we can help one another, but we don’t often reach out to one another.”
So for those thinking about starting their own 501(c)3 rescue, Duncan gladly shares her experience, as many did with her:
“I had heard all of the horror stories of how difficult the process was, but I was fortunate to be surrounded with people who had gone through the process themselves, and everyone was so supportive and willing to share encouragement and tips. It does take time, and you have to be patient; one of the most useful things I was encouraged to do was establish a timeline. That really helped me to stay focused and on task.”
In addition to a timeline, she advises the very first thing you must do is set your goals. “Decide what you want to focus on. It’s a common mistake to try and do too many things all at once; better to do just one or two things really well than to over-commit yourself, become overwhelmed and become discouraged.”
She also suggests surrounding yourself with people who are just as passionate as you are, people you know you can trust, and people who bring different talents to the table. “Reach out to others who have gone through the start-up process and get their pointers and advice.”
Not looking to start a 501(c)3, but still want to help? Duncan reminds us that rescues always need fosters! “Fostering is incredibly rewarding, and is a great family activity. We’re always looking for folks to join our ranks! You can choose cats or kittens, males or females, one or multiple, long or short-term; we’ll help you be successful and you’ll be saving lives!”