Ferndale Cat Shelter connects felines with people going through difficulties

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published February 24, 2016

 A Ferndale Cat Shelter cat that is up for adoption sits on a ledge.

A Ferndale Cat Shelter cat that is up for adoption sits on a ledge.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

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FERNDALE — When the Ferndale Cat Shelter’s Catfé Lounge opened up in November, the purpose was to help cats who needed homes.

A new event, which organizers hope to make a monthly occurrence, is showing the cats can help people in return.

The Catfé Lounge held the first free cat therapy session Feb. 17 with members of Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit, a support group for cancer patients and their loved ones. Ferndale Cat Shelter Executive Director Deanne Iovan said the hope was for the cats to help bring some joy to the members, and maybe the members would provide a permanent home.

“Another way to overcome difficulties is caring for someone or something else,” Iovan said. “It helps people put their troubles in perspective as well, and I think cats are a companion that will just sit with you, and you can pet and relax with the cat.”

Troy resident Marion Hailey brought the idea to Iovan and the rest of the staff as part of the team management and leadership program with Landmark Worldwide, an organization focused on personal development and team building.

Hailey said part of the program is to take on a challenge she finds inspiring, and she felt that connecting people going through difficult life challenges with animals would be a great project. With Hailey and Iovan having a mutual friend, the two were able to connect and develop the program.

“I am going through my own life-changing challenges with my husband moving out, and I used to have a cat, and I know how nourishing it is to be with animals,” Hailey said. “I felt that if I had a cat in my life, it would make a difference, and if I felt that way, I am sure other people feel that way. An animal can support the human and the human can take care of the animal, so it is a win-win situation.”

The first event worked with Gilda’s Club, but Hailey said they are hoping the event can happen on a regular basis and help as many people with as many life challenges as possible.

Involving animals instead of a normal support group was key, she said, as animals have a distinct loving nature about them.

“Dogs and cats, they just love you for whoever you are,” Hailey said. “It doesn’t matter how you look; they just love you for who you are. And I found that my cat taught me a lot about life, about unconditional love and being unstoppable, because if a cat wants something, they are not affected by a no.”

The event was inspiring enough that Iovan said she was able to get local sponsors, such as Garden Fresh Gourmet and Western Market, to donate drinks and food for the event. The shelter currently has about 10 cats, she said.

The Ferndale Cat Shelter was created in 2014 by a group of Ferndale residents who saw a need for a cat shelter after a local animal shelter closed. The shelter received its 501(c)(3) classification in early 2015 to operate as a nonprofit organization.

The Catfé Lounge, 821 Livernois Ave., was opened with the idea of providing a space for patrons to meet cats who are looking to be adopted, as well as enjoy an array of drinks and snacks. The goal going forward is to expand the footprint to have a fully operating café next door to the Catfé Lounge.

Looking to help people who may just need an emotional boost is great, Iovan said, but the event, and those who are coming, also bring awareness to the homeless cats and the power they can have on a life.

“They are quiet companions and don’t expect anything of you and allow you to be yourself, whether that is your best or worst self,” she said. “They sense when you aren’t feeling well and offer themselves to you. They have a sensitivity to things that maybe people don’t notice, and it can be very relaxing for people to just sit and be with a cat.”

For more information on the Ferndale Cat Shelter and upcoming events, visit www.ferndalecatshelter.org.

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