Lesbian pair tries to raise $40K by December to save Siamese sanctuary in Corinth they took over last year after its owner died, leaving behind 179 cats
CORINTH, Denton County — A year ago, the Texas Siamese Rescue faced possible closure after its founder died. And the 179 cats still awaiting adoption faced animal control’s arrival — and euthanasia.
But Tami Manning, who’d volunteered at the rescue for about six years, and her partner, Alisa Lee, stepped in and organized the few volunteers to help care for the cats.
Animal lovers, the two moved into the house to oversee the rescue — and the now 70 cats on site — full time. Lee now serves as the organization’s director, while Manning handles kennel manager duties, with the couple living and working on the ranch.
“We love this place to work, but it wasn’t our ideal of a home,” Lee said, adding that she and Manning occasionally have a night of peace away from the ranch to regroup.
But the passion they had for the cats has only grown during the challenging year of balancing the bills between their income and the rescue’s finances.
The rescue began in 1998, and its volunteers have helped rescue and find homes for nearly 20,000 cats. But the founder and director became ill in December 2010 and passed away months later, leaving behind a massive debt on the property and 179 cats.
Lee said she and Manning went through all the rescue’s finances, discovering that $244,000 was due on the 3,500-square-foot house on a ranch in Corinth and that taxes hadn’t been filed since 2000. Luckily, she said, the rescue somehow maintained its 501(c)(3) status.
The owner of the property lives in New York and has agreed to forgive a large portion of the debt, giving the rescue a year to raise $40,000. Lee and Manning have implemented dozens of changes to help meet the deadline, but they said they’re still in need of donations.
The two have overseen the re-branding of the rescue, revamping the logo, reaching out through social media to gain volunteers and adoption interest, and cutting the cost of operations by two-thirds by reducing energy use, switching power companies and using coupons. They even have a volunteer photographer to take professional pictures of the cats, making them look their best for potential adopters.
But perhaps the biggest change they made was an open space for the cats to live and socialize. Instead of cages lining the walls, the rescue has a large room filled with climbing fixtures and cushions so the cats can play and nap peacefully. A smaller, quieter room off to the side offers a calmer environment for cats with social or medical issues, a few of which are caged while others purr and play with less vigor than in the room next door.
Lee and Manning met 15 years ago at work. The two hit it off and became close friends. They remained best friends until three years ago when Lee said they “finally crossed that line” and went from friends to partners.
“We have always been best friends,” she said. “So I got the best of both worlds.”
The couple’s strong foundation in their relationship has helped them overcome the stress of saving the rescue and helps them push through their efforts to keep a roof over the cats’ and their heads.
“This place hasn’t broken us or changed us; it’s just separated us for a while,” Lee said. “I don’t think you could pay me to not take this over again.”
But while the cats seem to keep coming in and the money running out, Lee said she doesn’t want just anyone to adopt. She handles the adoption applications, which consist of an online application, background check, reference checks and vet records for other pets owned by potential adopters before a scheduled visit to see the cats.
Home visits would be ideal, but Lee said the rescue doesn’t have the manpower to go to the many homes of interested adopters.
After the application is processed, Lee said she explains to adopters that cats will often choose the people they like, whereas many people want to adopt the first cat they think is pretty.
Manning said in reality people return and often volunteer a few times to get a good feel for the right cat, especially since they are free-roaming in a more natural environment versus being caged.
“People come in here several times and spend hours here before they choose,” she said.
While only about 20 of the 70 cats at the ranch are Siamese because other cats were accepted by the previous director, Lee said she wants to shift the attention back to rescuing Siamese cats exclusively. She also would like to keep the number of cats on site down to 50.
“It doesn’t matter how many I have in-house, it matters how many I’m adopting. If I’m not adopting, I’m not doing my job,” Lee said. “I’m not going to push adoption either because anybody who comes through that door I’d rather tell them not to adopt. I’d rather them spend time here, get to know my animals, find out what it is they really want. Don’t be a five-second buyer.”
Ruth Clevenger started volunteering at the ranch last year after a co-worker adopted a Siamese from the rescue. She said the cat was so “I’ve never seen a Siamese that loveable,” she said. “I always thought Siamese were kind of stuck up, but they’re not.”
Clevenger said the cats’ environment of a playroom and ability to be free unless caged for health reasons allows them to socialize and grow into their personality. The time and care put into the cats by Lee and Manning is what makes them great pets later, she said.
“They’re not caged and they can roam free and it really makes a difference on how they react socially,” Clevenger said. “That’s what I fell in love with, is how they treat the animals.”
Joy Kunkle has also volunteered at the rescue for the past year. She first discovered the rescue when she was looking for a Siamese after hers died two years ago. After some time passed and she was ready to adopt, she said she told Lee what she wanted and what her home was like with two dogs and another cat, and Lee picked out Sunny for her.
Sunny was abandoned and had been at the rescue a year. While many people often want kittens, she said 3-year-old Sunny was social and fit in flawlessly with her family.
“He turned out to be absolutely perfect,” she said.
Kunkle said she was looking for a place to volunteer and now helps out at the rescue once a week. She said she appreciates the time Lee and Manning put into training every cat to be adoptable.
“Each cat is so different. They’re like people,” she said. “I think they see that there, and they work really hard to find even older cats homes.”
Adoption fees range from $75-200, depending on age. Lee has also developed a sponsorship program, starting at $25, for people who want to help with the cost of caring for a cat but can’t take on any more pets at home. The option is popular among children who see the rescue’s cats at adoption fairs and can later go online and see their sponsored cat.
“And they never have to take them home, and we do all the work,” Lee said.
But once a cat is adopted, Lee and Manning’s work doesn’t end. They offer support, training and tips on how to help a new cat adapt — and they’ll take any cat back for any reason.
“We support them all the way through to death,” Lee said. “If it’s something I started, I will finish.”
Giving the ranch a hand
For more on the Texas Siamese Rescue — or to donate, to volunteer or to adopt a cat — visit Tx.SiameseRescue.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 22, 2012.