NAPLES — Mardi Fowler was strolling through the park near her home in the Gateway community of Fort Myers this summer. She was just walking her dog as she does every day. A kitten approached her crying and just wouldn’t leave her alone.
Mardi Fowler is “not a cat person,” she says. But one of the season’s early tropical storms was brewing and she couldn’t just leave the little thing. Just as she was carrying the fur ball, figuring she’d find its home or a new one, out came nine more young cats. Most people would be off running at this point. Anything in large numbers can be scary-even cats.
Mardi Fowler didn’t run. Her husband, Scott Fowler, went home with their dog, Mollie, as Mardi rounded up the cats. “We are not cat people, nor did we ever feel a need to rescue wayward animals,” said Mardi. Nonetheless, she soon had 10 cats in her garage and sought an organization that could help her and the felines. That organization ended up being Haven on Earth Animal League, HEAL, based in Fort Myers. The small nonprofit manages to place hundreds of animals each year despite being run by just a few volunteers who lack a permanent location.
Marcy Fernandez founded Haven on Earth Animal League about nine years ago with the help of two other women, who have since departed the organization. HEAL became a 501 c-3 about four years ago. The organization’s greatest need is more foster homes for pets as “forever” homes are sought, said Fernandez. It’s rewarding, but it’s risky. People often fall in love with the pets and certainly, they can’t keep them all. Also, the more loveable, the more easily they could be placed in another person’s home.
“It can be heartbreaking. I used to cry all the time. Sometimes I still do,” said Fernandez, who now has 11 cats, six litter boxes and often fosters more cats. HEAL places cats and dogs, but cats have the greatest need, said Fernandez. Fernandez works full time and spends 90 percent of her free time on HEAL-related volunteering. She admits the time investment can be a strain on her marriage and is grateful for volunteers like Diane Filipkowski, who comes from Connecticut every winter giving of her time.
Despite the commitment it requires, Fernandez wouldn’t devote her life to any other cause. “I always dream of winning the lotto and quitting my job to do this full time,” Fernandez said. A major component is catching feral cats, often too wild to be adopted, and spaying or neutering them and then releasing them, she said. That’s what she would devote her time and money to if she had more of each.
It took the Fowlers some digging to get in touch with HEAL. Haven on Earth Animal League places pets in homes through online adoption listings and the help of Petco in Gulf Coast Town Center mall, which keeps a kitty condo available to as many as 10 cats in their store at any given time.
“Unfortunately, the need is so high that everyone I contacted either did not respond or they were unable to take any more animals,” Mardi said of her search prior to finding Haven on Earth. HEAL was the only organization in Lee County to even return her calls, she said.
However, there weren’t enough foster homes for 10 cats and Petco didn’t have the space either.
So, the Fowlers agreed to foster the cats as HEAL placed their photos and descriptions on their website, http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/FL813. html, and took as many of the kittens as possible to Petco adoption events each Saturday in hopes of finding homes for them.
As it turned out, three of the cats were actually the mothers of the other seven, said Fowler. The mothers were only around nine months old. “One by one, the babies found forever homes. Often, we would be there to pick up the ones that did not get adopted, and see new owners, carefully screened, with one of our babies,” Fowler said.
“It was so rewarding to see these people who had really bonded with a new pet, and likewise the love and affection that our kitty was giving their new owner.” All seven of the kittens were adopted. Even though the mother cats were really just kittens themselves, they weren’t as adoptable as younger kittens.
“As it turned out, we have kept all 3 and they have become a part of our family. Cora, Mahmi, and Candy Pants are our girls,” Fowler said. TJ
If you’re looking for a pet to adopt, are able to foster or would like to contact Haven on Earth Animal League, call (239) 410-9983, email firstname.lastname@example.org, P.O. Box 61088 or visit them at the Petco in Gulfcoast Town Center in Fort Myers, located in the plaza with Bass Pro Shops.
Visit www.petfinder.com/shelters/FL813.html for more information about Haven on Earth Animal League.