This central New Jersey rescue cares for the neediest of cats, regardless of age, most medical issues, or temperament.
Maine Coon cat enjoying his spot at Tabby's Cat Sanctuary
Credit: Courtesy of Angela Townsend Hartley/Tabby's Place: A Cat Sanctuary

Animal rescue efforts are often told in a series of short stories. Like Rawlings, a jowly gentleman struggling with feline immunodeficiency virus who first arrived at Tabby's Place after living in a feral colony. Or Alfie, a snuggly kitten with a cleft palate who needed nebulizer treatments. Or pint-sized Houston, suffering from a neurological condition (hydrocephalus), who was rescued from a hoarding situation. None were turned away.

"Ever since our founding, Tabby's Place has been devoted to the most vulnerable cats—those who truly have nowhere else to turn. We're a haven for the least, the last, and the lost," Angela Townsend Hartley, the facility's developmental director, tells Daily Paws. "But the truth is, it's the cats who encourage, and in many ways care for, us every day!"

A cage-free rescue center in Ringoes, N.J., Tabby's Place specializes in caring for older cats and those with special needs and behavioral issues. Approximately 30–40 percent of its residents have chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and paraplegia. It averages 15 adoptions each month, and some kitties are also fortunate to go to long-term foster homes.

However, there are roughly 100 feline residents in the sanctuary at any given time, like darling Olive below. Born paraplegic, she was only a kitten when discovered in a parking lot, alone and abandoned.

Now considered the rescue center's official greeter, Olive is a "sponsorable cat"—she lives there full time, but she's supported by committed donors who virtually adopt residents, providing monthly donations throughout their lives. In return, the "owners" receive continual updates and photos. Hey, even allergic cat lovers can get in on this charitable effort! 

"As you can imagine, fundraising is quite an odyssey," Townsend Hartley says. "We're continually amazed by the selfless, generous community of love that gathers around our cats." Life-saving medical care is the rescue's greatest and most variable expense, but Tabby's Place's staff and more than 200 volunteers make sure every cat receives what they need to prosper, regardless of the cost. 

The kitties don't live in cages (except when quarantined upon arrival). Instead, they lounge in expansive catios to enjoy the great outdoors and occasionally get into the zoomy zone with a smidgen of catnip-induced fun.  

Volunteers also spearhead the outreach program Aged to Purrfection. The most sociable of Tabby's Place residents frequently visit assisted living facilities and nursing homes as therapy cats, gladly accepting oodles of chin scritches and offering comforting purrs in return.

The center will soon complete Quinn's Corner, a new wing to provide care for another special population: cats with feline leukemia (FeLV). Kitties with FeLV are frequently turned away from shelters and rescues because of this highly contagious retrovirus.

"It was inspired by an extraordinary alumna. Quinn came to us as a sickly kitten, found frozen in the snow and positive for FeLV," Townsend Hartley explains. The center created a "private suite" for Quinn, who was later adopted. This story's happy ending? Quinn is now 7 years old and thriving—and her adoptive mom gifted Tabby's Place the funds to establish the new FeLV facility.

Townsend Hartley admits that adoptive pet parents need a particular set of skills to care for a special needs cat, such as the ability to administer injections like insulin, change a paraplegic cat's diaper, or express a bladder. But what you offer from your heart means so much more. 

"I would say that the greatest quality needed is the courage to learn new skills, be willing to adapt to a little furry loved one's changing needs, and love without reservation, even in the face of an uncertain future," she says. "It takes a special strength of spirit to risk having your heart broken, but the bonds we share with our special needs sweethearts are worth the risk every time."