The Ten Lives Club has found homes for more than 2,000 cats over the past four years. Now, with the help of a $24,000 anonymous donation, the group is ready to find a home of its own.
The club plans to use the donation to jump-start a campaign to raise $250,000 to build an animal shelter in the Southtowns. It has been using a feline foster-care network and a small temporary shelter.
Marie Edwards, the group's founder, said she was stunned when one of her volunteers asked to meet with her about making a donation.
"A few weeks ago she said she wanted to talk to me about a substantial donation, and I thought it was about a thousand dollars," said Edwards.
"I met with her for an hour and told her what our plans are and what we'd love to see . . . I almost fell over when she wrote the check."
Edwards said the ideal location for its shelter would be in the area of the Erie County Fairgrounds and that the group wants to build in the Southtowns, with a target date of 2006 for securing a building.
Since its founding in January 2001, the club has placed more than 2,000 cats in adoptions. It has a no-kill policy and has been active in placing older cats and in neutering feral cats that are living in the wild.
It's a message that has struck home with many people. The group's mailing list is up to 1,800 people, and Edwards says she can't believe the donations that pour in daily by mail.
Still, the organization isn't awash in cash.
Edwards said the group has wanted to build a shelter almost since its start, and the anonymous donation is earmarked toward that goal.
Meanwhile, the group has $10,000 in veterinary bills, she said, to the nine area vets who take care of its neutering and cat health care.
Edwards said what sets her group apart from others is its customer service: Phone calls are always returned.
"We really, really get back to every single call that comes our way," she said. "I can't say that we've said no to any call. . . .
"It may not be the answer they'd like -- as in, 'we'll drop everything and come out and get your cat right now' -- but we've given them some type of referral, advice, suggestion, where they'll tell we're the only group that called them back, the only group that listened to them and helped them."
The club has also displayed a flair for creative fund raising along the way, sponsoring events such as the "save a cat, eat a dog" promotion at local hot dog stands and a "mama cat and kitten shower" at a local feed store for expectant mother cats that have come to the group.
In setting out to build a shelter, the group will compete for charitable donations at a time when many charities are struggling to survive.
Gina Browning, a spokeswoman for the Erie County SPCA, the area's biggest animal welfare group, said a shelter would be welcome.
"There's just such a cat overpopulation problem in Erie County," Browning said. "We could have 30 of these. You look at an organization that's helping felines; there's no way that could be a bad thing."
"We have different policies, different methods, different beliefs on things, but what they do is admirable."
While the Ten Lives Club plans remain centered on cats, they also intend to expand into helping dogs.