Volunteers are creating the Purrfect Storm!

An amazing energy happens when digital technology, hundreds of unwanted cats and a group of enthusiastic volunteers come together with a common goal. You get the Purrfect Storm!

All over Victoria, volunteers are working to better the cause of animal welfare. Digital technology is helping not only to promote their good work on websites but also list, feature and promote the stories and photographs of animals in need of a ‘fur-ever’ home. One rescue organisation is Maneki Neko Cat Rescue.


Volunteering Victoria Writer Lesley Sharon Rosenthal and adopted kitten Cassie
Volunteering Victoria Writer Lesley Sharon Rosenthal and adopted kitten Cassie

Recently, when elderly Charley, my silver tabby died due to illness, I adopted rescue cat Cassie from Maneki Neko. I couldn’t bring dear Charley back but I could give another homeless kitty a happy home.  When I went to meet Cassie for the first time at the volunteer carer’s flat, Cassie ran over to me at top speed. I was lying on the floor to make her feel more secure. Suddenly she planted a big kiss on my lips! It sealed the deal and the volunteer agreed. I adopted her there and then and a few days later the volunteer delivered her to my place. It’s been fun keeping in email contact about Cassie’s progress.

Maneki Neko means good luck!

Maneki Neko Cat Rescue is an all breed cat rescue organisation run entirely by volunteers. Volunteer foster ‘mums’ and ‘dads’ take cats and kittens from shelters into their own homes where they are prepared for adoption and a forever home.

The name Maneki Neko, is a Japanese symbol of success, prosperity, good health and happiness. Founded by Samantha McKernan and her partner Carl four years ago, Maneki Neko Cat Rescue and the team of volunteer foster ‘parents’ have so far rehomed a staggering 1,100 cats and kittens. Last financial year it housed over 800 cats. It’s impressive work.

Volunteer foster carers need to be able to keep the cat or cats in their care in a safe environment with no outdoor access. They must provide them with food, clean litter, suitable bedding and a warm place to sleep as well as activities and interaction (as much or as little as they would like).


Maneki Neko Cat Rescue is born

Samantha McKernan with cats Mr Bubble and Ragamuffin
Samantha McKernan with cats Mr Bubble and Ragamuffin

Four years ago Samantha and Carl lost their beloved diabetic cat, Mousey to Myeloma. It was a sad time for the couple. Mousey had been part of their family and now their house no longer felt like a home. The couple began fostering, taking in homeless cats, at first making them one of the family and later finding them loving homes.

Little did they realise their volunteer fostering was leading to something more, a large network that would eventually involve over a hundred volunteers and change many cats’ and volunteers’ lives for the better.

“We started fostering for another organisation but found that we wanted to do even more so our passion developed into Maneki Neko Cat Rescue which was established in 2012 to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome cats and kittens,” said Samantha.

Samantha set up Maneki Neko to be a different model in that its aim is to be no longer required! She is very grateful to Halfway Home Animal Rescue who assisted her by allowing them to model Maneki Neko on its great work.

“Rescue should be a safety net for difficult and specialised cases however with the current methodology of most of the large shelters and council providers, we are stepping in to do their work for them by temporarily housing cats in homely environments that better the survival of the cats,” she explained.

Samantha works full time for a large telecommunications company in a professional role. To ensure that she could maintain a good work life balance, she recruited over 100 volunteers to support and continue the cat adoption work, the goal being that the organisation is not reliant solely on her. But look inside her front door and you’ll see cats galore.

“My partner and I currently have 16 cats living with us. Some are permanent residents whilst others are available for adoption,” she told me.

The key challenge for Maneki Neko is the same as for most small organisations these days and that is funding. Every cat or kitten that is rehomed is done so at a loss, and must be supplemented by donations and fundraising.

“We have on occasion had to undertake costly surgeries for some cats and so on, for which we will never recoup the costs through an adoption fee,” said Samantha.

Maneki Neko volunteers

Volunteer foster carer Kelly with kitten Alexa
Volunteer foster carer Kelly with kitten Alexa

Yet she continues. Her heart is in rehoming all the unwanted, homeless and unloved cats and kittens languishing in shelters. Their welfare weighs heavily on her mind.

“We need volunteers from all walks of life to do all sorts of things from knitting, driving, graphic art, sourcing donations to marketing plans, advertising campaigns and so on,” said Samantha.

Volunteers are asked to list their preferences to care for certain stages or needs. Some carers specialise in bottle babies (no mother to feed milk); palliative care; mums and babies; adult cats and so on.

Regular events and fundraisers are held such as sausage sizzles and shopping centre appearances with the cats. These promotional events bring the volunteer foster carers together for a social occasion to attract potential adoptees.

Maneki Neko volunteer cat foster mum Kelly

For Maneki Neko volunteer Kelly Winder, mums and babies were the go even though looking after a brood can be very time-consuming until they become older and more independent.

Kelly’s family has always been passionate about animal rights and activism. But it was world travel that left Kelly and her kids wanting to foster animals in need. After last year travelling the world, they saw some distressing sights of animals in third world countries that needed medical treatment but stood no chance.

“Some of those images were burned into our minds, and even the kids bring it up from time to time. I decided to do voluntary fostering when I returned because it’s a way I can help save precious animals and provide respite, without a long term commitment,” said Kelly.

Kelly officially signed on in January 2016, after taking some time to weigh up which organisation she wanted to foster for. Maneki Neko she decided, and is really pleased with her decision.

Kelly’s volunteer fostering

Susie (Kelly’s first adopted out cat)
Susie (Kelly’s first adopted out cat)

“Our very first foster was a gorgeous adult long haired female cat, Susie. Being an adult cat, we thought she’d be with us for a while. But she hadn’t even settled in when we received the first and only adoption application we would get for her. After a short 1-2 week stay, Susie was resettled into a very loving home. We get photos and updates from time to time. I love how well she’s settled in.

When one cat is rehomed it leaves a space for another to be fostered and Kelly and the kids soon welcomed Alexa and her family in early March.

“Alexa came to us from an animal shelter with her mama and five brothers and sisters, only a few days old. Sadly mama had cat flu and the babies caught it too. Two of the babies died, but we managed to keep mum and the other babies well,” explained Kelly.

When she started fostering, she worried about the standard of homes the cats would go to. After a rough time being dumped or surrendered, she wanted to be assured they’d have a wonderful forever home.

She was quickly reassured when she saw the very loving people who were attracted to adopting a foster pet, rather than buying from a pet shop.

“As volunteer foster carers, you do put in so much time, effort and money into making sure these cats are well and healthy. Trips to the vet, quality cat food and lots of love are required to ensure they are ready for a new home,” she said.

A single mother of three children, aged 3-14 years, Kelly has two cats of her own. She also runs a home-based business and gladly shares her home with cats in need.

“We’ve fostered around a dozen cats and kittens since January. I have my hands full! We don’t have any other pets aside from cats. At the end of the day, we’re all volunteers, and some can help more than others as we all have different lifestyles and responsibilities,” said Kelly.

Calling volunteers!

Volunteers with Maneki Neko Cat Rescue (a)Visit Maneki Neko website and straight away you see the following request.

There are loads of ways you can volunteer to help Maneki Neko Cat Rescue to improve the welfare of cats and kittens in the community. We welcome any ‘pawsome’ ideas to support Maneki Neko rescue cats. Get in touch today!”

Volunteers need to be enthusiastic and dedicated to what they do. All opportunities are posted on Maneki Neko’s Volunteers Facebook Group that those interested can find and join at https://www.facebook.com/groups/nekovolunteers/.

by Lesley Sharon Rosenthal Volunteer Writer for Volunteering Victoria

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