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A mission to save cats finds shelter

The visitor sat at the table, pen in hand. She sauntered over, jumped on his lap and rubbed her face against his hand.

The affection did not stop there. She leapt on the table, walked up his arm and found a resting place on his shoulder.

Her name is Donut. She is about three months old, bigger than a kitten but not yet a cat, black and white with a white chest. A ton of personality is stuffed into her half-pint body.

If not for Marie Edwards, Donut would be dead.

That is what this is about. Everything else is just details.

Edwards was always the one, as a kid, rescuing a stray cat from hostile dogs. Six years ago, she and her husband converted their South Buffalo garage into a cat shelter.

Word got around. The knocks on the door at midnight, the pleading eyes of folks holding another stray to be sheltered, put a strain on the working couple with a young daughter.

Edwards found a friendly landlord in South Buffalo and turned an apartment into a cat haven. Soon dozens of felines lounged around two bedrooms. Edwards and cat-loving volunteers took care of food and cat litter, friendly vets cared for the sick at bargain rates, and no savable cat was put down. A second branch opened in a Hamburg apartment.

The nonprofit organization took the only name that fit: Ten Lives Club. When a cat's other nine lives were up, Edwards & Co. gave it the extra chance.

She is 47, a straight-ahead, big-voiced force of nature fueled by caffeinated diet pop and a dream: owning a big, comfortable shelter that no cat would want to leave, except for a kind heart and a warm home.

The dream came true last week. It came true courtesy of a $50,000 loan from an anonymous friend and a friendly bank weary of a foreclosed former restaurant on four creekside acres in East Concord, near Springville. Hundreds showed up for the shelter's grand opening. Countless felines on their 10th life now have a comfortable place to call home -- at least until a real home calls them.

Donut is among the first guests. She was delivered with a dozen other youngsters from an overloaded shelter. Had Ten Lives Club not been there, Donut would not have gotten past her ninth life. Little Miss Personality -- undoubtedly soon to add fun and life to a loving home -- would have been a carcass on a cold slab.

This is how it goes. There are too many cats and not enough homes. There are too many owners who do not know enough, care enough or have enough money to get their animals fixed. It prompts folks like Edwards to make a mission of salvation.

Cats are discarded once they outgrow kittenhood, left behind in a move or sent Ten Lives' way by the SPCA and other overcrowded shelters.

More than 100 folks volunteer at Ten Lives (646-5577; tenlivesclub.com). A half-dozen vets give discounts (and endure overdue bills), generous folks donate, pet stores double as adoption centers. Every dollar is used for care or shelter. The kindness brings a cumulative count: In the past six years, Ten Lives Club found homes for 5,000 cats. That is a lot of Donuts.

"I hate saying no to a cat," Edwards said on a recent afternoon. "Whether it's a cuddly kitten or a 15-year-old, to me a cat is a cat."

Unlike most shelters, Ten Lives is a commune. The animals roam free in spacious rooms with big windows overlooking woods and a creek. They find their own space, with seldom a spat. Marie Edwards' dream is their salvation.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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