The Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter & Sanctuary, located in Tucson, Arizona, has been answering the call to help neglected animals since 1965. Its founder, Sister Theresa Seraphim, a Russian Orthodox nun, ran the shelter out of her own home, taking in cats, chickens, peacocks, and more.
A few things have changed in the last 55 years, though. The first is that while the shelter still happily accepts and distributes all kinds of pet supply donations, its occupants are entirely feline.
Another is that the shelter is no longer run out of a house, although many cats are still fostered in people’s homes. Instead, the Hermitage is a state-of-the-art facility with its own veterinary suite, room for 239 cats, and a large network of volunteers. There are also currently 14 employees on staff.
Amber Nix, the shelter’s operations supervisor, is one such employee. Amber began working with the Hermitage three years ago and has since been witness to much of the shelter’s growth.
“In 2015, the board of directors began raising money to fund a rebuild,” she says. “And since we moved back in two years ago, we’ve noticed a ton of expansion. We’ve done a lot to get our name in the news and media. So really, within the last five years, I would say that the Hermitage has become more of a household name.”
But while the shelter’s facilities and residents have evolved over the years, one truth remains consistent: The Hermitage is a no-kill shelter.
From shelter to sanctuary: The Hermitage cares for all
“We’ve always been a no-kill shelter. It was Sister Seraphim’s belief that there was no reason to euthanize, especially for space. We are 100% no-kill,” says Amber.
The Hermitage is an accredited sanctuary through the American Sanctuary Association and has been for over five years now. “We’re one of only 26 accredited sanctuaries in the nation and the only one in Arizona,” says Amber.
Taking their designation seriously, the Hermitage accepts all cats, including those other shelters might turn away for being “unadoptable.” These include sick or elderly cats, both of which have space to roam freely at the Hermitage.
“The way the shelter works is we have different wards or different rooms because we are cage-free. We have a general population room, which is for our healthy, adult cats—one year to about nine years old. We then have two specialized rooms for FeLV kitties and another room for diabetic kitties or special-diet kitties. Lastly, we have another room for our senior cats.”
For those who don’t know, FeLV stands for Feline Leukemia Virus. Unlike leukemia in humans, FeLV is a contagious, viral disease among cats. It can predispose cats to certain cancers and anemia. Fortunately, while a cat might test positive during kittenhood, the virus progresses slowly, so many such cats go on to live long, full lives. Some may even recover fully.
“We call our FeLV, special diet, and senior kitties ‘sanctuary cats’,” says Amber. “That means they most likely won’t be adopted within the first year that they’re with us. They’re going to take a little more work to find the right forever home for them.” Amber says that happens with cats that are more expensive to adopt, either because they need special food or require additional medical care.
Another component that makes the Hermitage a sanctuary, as opposed to your average shelter, is their philosophy around lifelong care.
Amber says, “We have this saying: ‘Once a Hermitage kitty, always a Hermitage kitty.’ So if anything were to happen to an owner, or if an adopted kitty got lost, all of our cats are microchipped. When a vet or local shelter runs the chip, they can see that it’s our kitty. They would call us, and we would be able to get the kitty back in our care. There’s no reason for that kitty to ever end up in a shelter where he might be euthanized because he’s not adoptable.”
The Hermitage finds purrr-fect homes, even during COVID-19
Of course, the hope for all Hermitage cats is that they are, someday, adopted into loving, fur-ever homes. And if there’s been one bright spot in COVID-19, it’s that more people are bringing home furry companions to join the family.
“During the summertime, we noticed our adult pet adoptions really went up, and it was actually hard for us to keep up, as far as intakes went,” says Amber. “We started pulling cats from other shelters, including ones in New Mexico and Puerto Rico, to save as many kitties as we could.”
To keep employees, volunteers, and visitors safe, the Hermitage had to make some adjustments to their adoption strategy.
“Before COVID-19, our typical day would start around 7 AM,” Amber says. “Medical staff would come in and start feeding and medicating, getting the cats food and water, making sure they all have everything. Then at 10 AM, Tuesday through Saturday, we would open up to the general public, and people would come in to meet the cats. We had programs going on, where we had school-aged children coming in to read to the cats. And we had other school programs with developmentally impaired students who would come in and help with different chores. We had a lot of traffic. I would say in a typical week, we would have over a hundred visitors easily.”
Now, things look a little different. “Everything is done by appointment only,” says Amber. “Nobody comes into the shelter unless they’re staff or a scheduled volunteer, without first having an appointment to surrender or to adopt.”
Fortunately, those added precautions haven’t negatively impacted adoptions. In fact, Amber says that for some people, it’s made the process better. “It’s more like a boutique experience now,” she says. “We’re able to really give the adopters time to meet the kitties and make that long-term decision of which kitty will fit their family the best.”
And the proof is in the metrics: “We’re still in line with the adoption numbers we had last year,” Amber says.
That’s good because this year’s warm temperatures have had another impact on the Hermitage’s numbers. “Because we’ve had such a warm summer and it’s continued to stay warm, we’ve had a second round of kitten season,” Amber says. “Generally, around this time, we start to see a slow-down of the amounts of kittens that are born. But this year, it’s been astronomical.”
Currently, the Hermitage is nearly at capacity with 226 cats. And while they do have strategies in place for making room and accepting more than 239 feline occupants, there’s another better solution: “Adopt, don’t shop,” says Amber. “And most importantly, please get your cats spayed and neutered.”
Get involved: How you can help The Hermitage
Adoption and sterilization are two of the ways anyone can help reduce the number of neglected and unwanted cats in the world today. But interested parties can make a difference in other ways too, both in Tucson and beyond.
“The best way to help is through donations via our website, HermitageCatShelter.org,” says Amber. “If you’d like something a little more sustainable, we have memorial bricks for sale. These, we can put into our memorial garden, and they will be here for generations to come. People will be able to read your brick and know that you gave to the Hermitage. We also have different programs that you could donate to. Our children’s programs could use some help, and food for people’s pets.”
Finally, the Hermitage participates in Giving Tuesday, this year on December 1. Amber would love for anyone to consider the sanctuary when donating.
“The Hermitage has been around since 1965,” she says. “We’ve rescued thousands of animals, and we’d really like to continue to rescue thousands more. We’re proud of what we do and of the staff and volunteers who are part of this mission.”
With the help of a dedicated staff, hundreds of volunteers, and kind donors from around the country, they will be.
The Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter & Sanctuary is a QuickBooks customer, using QuickBooks Premier Nonprofit Edition, 2017.
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