SAFE HAVEN

Photos by Madeline Williams

Cat lovers and animal fanatics alike rejoice as they venture into Cat’s Cradle, where cats wander freely and lounge in storefront windows.  A colorful beam spans the length of the ceiling, serving as a perch where felines can observe people entering the store. Paws pitter-patter up and down bright orange steps against the wall.

Located in downtown Harrisonburg, Cat’s Cradle isn’t just a place where cats run wild; as a no-kill adoption center, the center advocates rescue and placement of cats, rather than euthanizing the animals. Passersby see the cats in the window and often stop in to play with them. Matt Chan, adoption and volunteer coordinator, keeps the store running smoothly. “Cat’s Cradle adopts out, on average, 420 cats every year,” Chan said. “I make sure everything is clean and orderly and all the cats are well taken care of.” Chan started at Cat’s Cradle about three years ago. Along with handling the adoptions, he oversees and trains a staff of about 100 volunteers.

“Matt is like a cat,” said Heather Asca, a sophomore psychology major at James Madison University and volunteer at Cat’s Cradle. “He’s very laid back, but very particular at the same time. It’s really amazing.” Asca says Chan is professional and personable with each customer who comes into Cat’s Cradle. “He is very protective about the cats, so he really watches out for them,” she said. “He trains us to ask particular questions to identify certain individuals who might not be good for adoption.”

Asca considers herself more of a dog person, but has grown to like cats. She does data entry for the adoption center and posts pictures and information for adoptable pets online. “I’ve never really been good with cats in particular, but I’m getting better,” she said. “I think Matt realized that in me when he first saw me volunteering. I was really appreciative of that.”

Before Chan began working at Cat’s Cradle, he worked at the Augusta Regional Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Staunton.

“I love animals and I have all my life,” Chan said. A position opened up at Cat’s Cradle and Chan seized the opportunity. “I was ready to move on in my career and ready to relocate, so I came over here,” he said. Chan said Cat’s Cradle benefits the community as much as it does the cats. “We feel we can make a big difference in reducing euthanasia in our communities through our adoption program, counseling services, and spay/neuter assistance. So many people are thankful for what we do.” Cat’s Cradle helps with spay/neuter assistance and medical assistance for cats.

“We are getting a lot of grant money for medical assistance, which is a newer thing,” Chan said. The grant money is used to help people with the medical costs of owning a cat. That way people don’t have to worry about choosing between high medical costs and keeping their pet. But Chan continues to overcome challenges on the job, such as educating the community about the necessity of spaying and neutering cats.

“A lot of people don’t know what [spay and neuter] is,” Chan said, “or they don’t understand the importance of it.” Spaying and neutering helps control the population of cats by preventing over-breeding. According to the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, millions of cats and dogs are euthanized as strays. By reducing the population, fewer cats will need to be euthanized.

Cat’s Cradle has a trap-neuter-release program for wild cats who have caregivers to help prevent the cats from over-breeding. After the cats are neutered, they are returned to their caregivers. “We have a lot of expertise here so we can help solve those problems,” Chan said. In the future, he would like to see Cat’s Cradle expand to nearby locations such as Charlottesville or Staunton. He hopes Cat’s Cradle’s adoption rate will increase, which will cause the rate of euthanasias to decrease. “Seeing that rate go down is gratifying and to see this community to go no-kill one day is a big part of what we’re trying to help happen.”