Cary couple turns love for cats into family business

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Mike and Kay Smith
Jennifer Baldwin
When Mike Smith began feeding stray cats near his office six years ago, he had no idea it would lead to running a full-fledged cat rescue. And in the nearly four months since the Harvey-Smith Rescue Group has been in operation the Smith's have placed 36 cats in loving homes.

“It started with feeding a stray dog, and then a few cats showed up,” said Mike. “Then those cats had litters all at the same time.” The Smith's found a home for the stray dog, then spent several years trying to manage the rapidly growing feral cat colony.

“At first we tried to catch the adults, spay and neuter them, and put them back out there,” said Kay, who enlisted the help of Snap-NC, a non-profit organization that provides low-cost spay and neutering along with other veterinary services. “But we couldn’t have 60 cats and give them everything they needed.” So the Smith's decided to go the next step. They converted an unused bedroom into a cat sanctuary complete with cat toys, cat beds, and a litter box. They took their first two kittens named Sam and Earl to a veterinarian, placed an ad on Craigslist and the responses came rolling in.

“I put up the ad initially asking for a $50 adoption fee to offset the costs” said Kay who had also read  that asking for a fee would weed out irresponsible pet owners . But after meeting the first family, which had been screened through numerous e-mails they couldn’t take the money and insisted that the adoptive family spend it on the cat, instead.

After eliminating the adoption fee, careful screening became an integral part of the adoption process, and still is. “All of our adopters have become friends,” said Kay. “We get constant updates and pictures.”

To keep control of costs, the Smith's advertise on Craigslist and through their website. They get a discounted rate at the PetSmart in Garner, and they accept donations of cat food and carriers. “We’ve had a lot of people who’ve donated cat carriers,” said Mike. “And kids from the neighborhood come over to play with the kittens to help socialize them.”

Mike admits that the hardest part of running the rescue is letting go. “It was kind of tough. I was worried that someone wouldn’t take as good care of them as we were taking, that I was sending them to their doom!”  But Kay says the best part is the joy the animals bring to their new families. “The first time handing them over felt really good; we made that family so happy.”

But the Smith's give each new family a little more than a new friend for life.  “We have a gift bag we give to the adopters that has a cat picture frame, the cat’s favorite toy, some new toys, and a voucher for Banfield Veterinary Services for a complimentary physical exam,” said Kay. “We also include copies of their vet record.”

The Smiths continue to manage the cat colony near Mike’s job and realize that they are only one rescue group helping cats. “We’re starting to get more cats coming in,” said Mike. “We don’t want to take the place of other rescues, but we want to be another option.”

As for expanding the rescue, Mike and Kay are building an addition to their house. “We want a bigger cat room, and hopefully to adopt children some day. “We both were adopted and would like to adopt as well.”


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