On any given day, you can stroll into Tabby’s Place, a cage-free, no-kill cat sanctuary in Ringoes, and meet 100 cats that no one else wants.
The 18-year-old sanctuary is known for being a last-resort for special-needs cats that others might see as unadoptable, including those that are diabetic, paraplegic or positive for FIV, or feline immunodeficiency virus.
These cats might be elderly, have an array of medical issues or poor temperaments. They’ve come from as far away as Beirut to find new homes at Tabby’s Place.
However, there has always been one kind of cat the sanctuary could not accept: those positive for feline leukemia virus, or FeLV.
How is feline leukemia transmitted?
That’s because FeLV is a highly-transmissible disease that can easily be spread — from sharing a water bowl, grooming one another or other common interactions.
What is feline leukemia?
FeLV weakens a cat’s immune system, leaving it susceptible to other diseases. It is difficult to predict and can claim a cat’s life in months or years.
But this fall, those cats will finally have a haven, one of the first of its kind in the country. Quinn’s Corner, a new wing of the sanctuary, will nearly double the size of Tabby’s Place as it becomes the new home for up to 50 cats with FeLV.
“The cats that have had the hardest lives are now going to have the most beautiful lives,” said Angela Hartley, Tabby’s Place development director. “Their lives are going to be about much more than survival and keeping away from death. It’ll be a life of joy.”
How did the cat sanctuary get a new wing?
One anonymous donor from New Jersey gave the sanctuary $3.5 million, the biggest donation Tabby’s Place has ever received. (They have raised an additional $1.8 million for the new wing, but still need donations.)
Quinn, who was found as a kitten face-down in the snow, was brought to Tabby’s Place in 2015 to recover. The sanctuary nursed her back to health, only to find later that she tested positive for FeLV after originally testing negative. So it set up a private room for Quinn.
“We loved her with all of our might, and then, one of our longtime donors who just lost her dog came in,” said Hartley. “Her mission in her life was to care for hospice animals. Ella she was like a one-woman Tabby’s Place where she wanted to take the ones that no one else could handle.
Tabby’s Place introduced the donor to Quinn in 2015, and “they completely fell in love,” Hartley said. Today, Quinn is 7½ years old – and negative for FeLV, a fact that has confounded many New Jersey veterinarians, Hartley said.
Animal rights battle:Middlesex County will shutter Johnson Park zoo but keep some animals
“It’s part of the larger picture of why this disease is so confusing because cats can test positive, they can test negative, and test positive on one test and negative on another,” Hartley said. “There’s a belief that some could fight it off, or it may still exist in the bone marrow, so it’s really a strange thing.”
In 2018, the donor came back to the cat sanctuary and said Quinn changed her life. She wanted to help FeLV-positive cats with a donation. The pandemic delayed things a bit, but it was that moment that the foundation of Quinn’s Corner was born.
What will Tabby’s Place new wing include?
The wing will have larger suites that will house 10 to 15 cats, as well as smaller suites that will double as offices so cats will have daily companionship.
Just like the main wing of Tabby’s Place, Quinn’s Corner will include vertical space with ramps, cubbies and tubes for cats to play in, as well as an enclosed outdoor area for access to fresh air and sunshine.
The wing will also include a kitten nursery (not for FeLV-positive cats) that will include a neonatal unit for fragile newborns, as well as places for orphaned kittens, and kittens and their mothers. There will also be a “romper room” for growing kittens to play and meet potential adopters.
Storm Remnants:NJ animal shelters scrambling after Ida. Here’s how you can help
“We discovered when we designed this expansion that we had a space in the middle that was available for something else,” said Hartley. “In a conversation with the donor, we said, ‘What is the other most vulnerable group of cats?’ And that’s neonatal kittens.”
The new wing’s residents will be cared for by employees experienced in special-needs cats.
Four-legged goodwill:Tabby’s Place’s ‘Aged to Perfection’ program sparks joy with seniors
“Our feeling was always that even if these cats should live only a short amount of time, we yearn to be able to give them the love and the kind of life that every cat deserves,” Hartley said. “This is the last group of cats in the world to have anyone to love them, and we want to remedy that.”
To donate, visit qc.tabbysplace.org or mail a check to Tabby’s Place at 1100 US Highway 202; Ringoes, NJ 08551 (make the check out to “Tabby’s Place,” and write “Quinn’s Corner” in the memo). Tabby’s Place is also seeking volunteers to assist once the wing is open.
Info: 908-237-5300 or tabbysplace.org
Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member at the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, after becoming a blogger-turned-reporter following the creation of her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her stories from Ella about food, drink and fun, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Contact: JIntersimone@Gannett.com or @JIntersimone.