Tucked away in a second-story space in the 200 block of King Street, in the heart of Old Town, is a room full of cats. Most of them were abandoned. Some of them were rescued. Others were neglected or abused.
A team of volunteers looks after the cats, feeding them, giving them medicine and gossiping about them with each other. The volunteers talk about the cats as if they were old friends, bemoaning the one with an attitude problem and worrying about the deteriorating health of another.
Founded in 2003, King Street Cats is a nonprofit organization that operates an adoption center for rescued cats. Because of the work done by volunteers, more than 85 percent of contributions to the nonprofit organization go directly to the care, feeding and sheltering of homeless cats. But the shelter is always in need of operating funds.
Next week, the organization will be holding a fund-raising event at the Little Theater of Alexandria. It will begin at 7 p.m. with a silent auction and a wind-and-cheese reception. At 8 p.m., theatergoers will enjoy a performance of "Broadway Bound," Neil Simon's play about life in the Bronx during the 1950s. Prominent local cat lovers Vola Lawson and state Sen. Patsy Ticer will be the honored guests at the event.
FROM THE LATE 1980s until 2003, the organization was known as the Albert Foundation. At that time, it operated out of people's homes, fostering cats until they could be adopted. When the operation moved to King Street, the organization took on a new name. Located above the Unique Store, the space was donated by the owner of the building. The room is temporary home for the cats, who stay there until a good home is found.
"We are a no-kill facility," said Mary Beth Corrigan, president of the board of directors for King Street Cats. "Our mission is to take these cats and make sure that they are adopted into good homes."
Corrigan says that the cats can sometimes wait for more than a year to be adopted, while others are adopted right away.
"Usually, it's just a couple of months," she said. "They are sort of like small people. Some of them get along with other cats. Some of them hate other cats. Some of them get along with children. Some of them hate children."
Corrigan says that most of the cats at King Street Cats were left behind when their owners moved away. Many of these are cats have already been neutered or spayed. They are usually friendly but frightened by their newfound situation.
"A lot of people adopt cats not realizing that it's a lifelong commitment," Corrigan said. "We spend a lot of time talking to people to get a good sense of what kind of home they live in."
Until they are adopted, the cats live on King Street. The windows of the room where the cats stay overlook historic Carlyle Alley, the cobblestone street where William Ramsay's warehouse still stands. But the cats aren't impressed with the local history. Instead, they prefer the steady stream of birds and insects that fly through the air near the windows, craning their necks to get a better view as the world passes by.
THE TEMPORARY HOME for abandoned cats on King Street can be a raucous place, with unruly cats making noise and creating havoc. Volunteer Vivian Bacon sees the cat room as a place where the cats can play, even if confined.
"The cats like to party," Bacon said. "They chase each other. They knock things over. They like to have fun, and they don't sit down or go to sleep when we leave for the night."
Bacon comes to King Street Cats every day. In the mornings, she cleans the room and empties the litter boxes. At home, she fosters cats who are too traumatized or too sick to be in a room full of other cats. Bacon is one of about 50 volunteers who operate the shelter, providing all the services that are necessary to care for up to 20 cats.
"I set up the room after the cats have been partying all night," she said, adding saying goodbye to a foster cat can be difficult. "It's sort of heartbreaking, but it's also very rewarding."
In 2004, the organization adopted 194 cats. So far this year, it has adopted 112.