Marie Edwards, founder and president of Ten Lives Club, has a vision.
The vision is that a 2003 Winnebago Brave RV that the group bought in the spring will be turned into a mobile adoption unit to bring kittens, cats and small dogs, as well as pet supplies, to festivals, concerts, parking lots and apartment complexes all over Western New York. People will flock to the RV, she hopes, to stock up on cat or dog food or kitty litter, buy a cold drink, drop a few bucks into a collection can, learn about responsible pet ownership or even adopt a pet.
"This is the wave of the future, and such a creative idea, to bring the animals to them," says Edwards, who founded Ten Lives Club more than 11 years ago. "We do plan to get a good 50 percent extra adoptions because of it, plus make money to pay for gas, insurance and the two staff people - a driver and an adoptions coordinator. We see this as a win-win."
Getting to that point has been more of an uphill climb than Edwards expected. She was counting on winning a grant from a large pet supply company when the group bought the RV in May for $49,000. The grant did not come through. She is going ahead with her plans, having the unit modified for $3,000 to hold 13 cages for cats and a few small kennels for dogs, which would be loaned from other rescue groups and shelters. The stainless steel kennels and cages cost $12,000.
Edwards sent out letters to local and national businesses, thinking that many organizations and companies would want to see their names on the adoption center. Only one business, First Niagara Bank, replied, asking Edwards to fill out a formal request. Others said no, but most just ignored her plea.
"It was a little disappointing, because I thought people would be breaking down the doors to be sponsors," she says, given that she plans to prominently feature the names of donors on the vehicle.
But Edwards remains optimistic that the unit will not only draw sponsors, but will be a huge boost to her organization, which last week had 496 cats in its care. The cats are housed at the Ten Lives Hamburg shelter, at Tabby Town adoption center in McKinley Mall, at various stores, in foster homes, or in the group's infirmary, which includes special facilities for cats with ringworm or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.
The Whisker Wag'n, a mobile adoption unit that has been operated by the SPCA Serving Erie County for about a decade, has been "hugely successful," says SPCA spokeswoman Gina Browning, who was pleased to hear about the Ten Lives Club's plans.
"We not only have a lot of visitors and a lot of adoptions, but people who don't adopt that day find out about the kind of animals we have at the SPCA and see that the SPCA is a bright, happy place," says Browning. "So there's a public relations boost when people visit the Whisker Wag'n, even if they don't adopt that day."
Browning says that research has shown that people adopt dogs and cats differently. Before adopting a dog, people think over the idea and decide to do it, then visit a shelter. But many cats are adopted on the spur of the moment when the person meets the cat. The agency's executive director, Barbara Carr, opposed such impulse adoptions until she saw a study that showed that 67 percent of cat owners had impulsively adopted a cat, such as a stray that showed up at their door, but were committed to that cat.
"These cats were less likely to be relinquished to animal shelters than cats brought into the home after a whole lot of thought," Carr said in a statement.
The City of Buffalo Animal Shelter uses a large PAWS van, which is not open to visitors, to take animals to festivals and other events where they are displayed under a temporary shelter by volunteers. "The PAWS truck is an excellent visual and a safe way to transport animals to the many community events that we do through the year in Western New York," says senior volunteer Susan Herzog.
Ten Lives Club has nine paid staffers and more than 150 volunteers, and is able to accept cats from both the SPCA and the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter, Edwards says. "In July we took 75 cats from the city shelter and a few dozen from the SPCA and transferred them to our program. We had 143 adoptions in the month of July, that's how outstanding we do. We do a heck of a lot with the people we have."
When the mobile unit is finished being retrofitted at Camping World in Hamburg, Edwards will hire two staffers. For the driver, she says, "We hope to hire a retired bus driver or truck driver who can commit to what we need."
She hopes the unit will draw enough donors and sponsors to hit the road as soon as mid-October, attractively decorated with donor names. "It's going to be like a rolling billboard, so if somebody has a product they want to push, we'll put it on our unit and everybody will be sitting there on the 90, saying, 'Hey, look at that!' "
Sponsor levels range from "top cat" for $10,000 down to tabby cat at $2,500. But Edwards is open to any level of sponsorship. She also hopes to convince a local or national beverage company to stock the unit's refrigerator in return for publicity. "We'll tell people, 'You may not want to adopt a cat, but if you buy a bottle of pop for $2, that helps the cats, too.'?"
"There have to be some sources out there that can be tapped," says longtime Ten Lives volunteer Mary Willer.
In the meantime, Edwards is looking for places all over Western New York where the adoption unit could stop regularly. "We're going to be able to go to the middle city, Springville, places where people are not able to go to pet stores or to places where they can adopt animals. We're going to bring the animals to them. Every month we're going to have a complete list in advance on our website. In the inner city, there are not a lot of places they can go to buy pet products. Arcade has nothing major down there, but they like animals, too."
On the mobile unit, the former bedroom will be set up as a store, where kitty litter, food for birds, dogs and cats, carriers, toys, collars and leashes can be sold. "When you walk into it, a sign will be posted that says we may charge a little more, but please know that every purchase here is helping the cats and the dogs," says Edwards. "We may charge 50 cents more for a bag of litter, but we're also pulling up to your doorstep at the apartment complex so you can just walk out, buy your litter and go back to your home."
"It is air-conditioned and heated, so we could keep it going year-round if we wanted," says Edwards.
In addition to supporters whose names will be listed on the outside, Edwards is hoping to find sponsors for each cage, which cost more than $400 each. "On this unit, people are going to see your name 100, 200, 300 times a week," she says. "It could be in memory of a person, or a beloved pet."
The group is also running a contest to name the adoption unit. To submit a name, send it to email@example.com. The winner will receive a gift certificate to the shop at Tabby Town, or, if they qualify, to be applied to a cat's adoption fee.