Pets

New program, the Joe Willie Initiatives, provides extra help for senior and special needs cats

Valentina is a cat available for adoption through the Sacramento SPCA.
Valentina is a cat available for adoption through the Sacramento SPCA.

When Mark M. Glickman was taking a lunchtime walk in San Francisco in November of 1990, he had no idea what a chance encounter with a tuxedo cat would lead to.

The San Francisco SPCA had set up a mobile adoption center in the plaza of a downtown office building. That’s where Glickman found the cat.

“It said on the sign, ‘My name is Felix and I have to be an indoor cat because my back legs don’t work too well,’” Glickman said. “So I adopted him anyway.”

Glickman watched as the cat, who had neurological damage to his back end, raced around his house for the next few days. “I thought, ‘Hmm. Bad knees, white shoes, jets around my house.’ So I named him after Joe Namath, the football player – Joe Willie.”

That little tuxedo cat inspired Glickman’s philanthropy across three different animal rescues, funding projects carrying Joe Willie’s name. There are Joe Willie projects at the Marin Humane Society and FieldHaven Feline Center; the newest program launched at the Sacramento SPCA last year.

Glickman, a CPA who now lives in Carmichael, wants to provide for feline friends in the Sacramento area. The Sacramento program is called the Joe Willie Initiatives. It provides senior cats and cats with special medical needs additional care that they may not have been able to receive otherwise.

The Initiatives

Kenn Altine, CEO of the Sacramento SPCA, said one in five cats that enter the shelter need additional medical care on top of what the SSPCA already provides. The shelter deals with feline immunodeficiency virus, kidney issues, dental issues, eye and ear infections and broken limbs, Altine said.

In addition to providing additional medical care, the Joe Willie Initiative also sponsors the adoption fees for senior cats that Altine and his team deem need the assistance. Outside of the JWI, Glickman also sponsors the adoption fees of The Bee’s “Pet of the Week” when it is a cat.

“Because of Mark, and the Joe Willie Initiatives, I think we’ve had almost two senior cats a week adopted,” Altine said. “45 since we started working with Mark late last summer ... and what makes Mark stand out is that he wanted to address a specific need by tackling the barriers this segment of cats face in getting to adoption.”

When Glickman had Joe Willie, his limited mobility and health issues proved challenging. It took Glickman four years of going from vet to vet to finally get Joe Willie the help he needed. As he aged, Joe Willie lost more of his leg function, and eventually his bladder function, but continued to be “just the happiest, sweetest cat,” Glickman said.

Glickman provided Joe Willie with constant attention and care and took him to the vet frequently to sustain a high quality of life for him. He set up “Camp Joe Willie” in his kitchen, with baseboard heaters to keep him warm, beach towels spread for comfort, and all the food, water and toys he needed.

Glickman had to learn to express the cat’s bladder, bathed and blow dried him, and took him in for checkups every three weeks. Joe Willie was even brought back from a heart attack, but in 2002, Joe Willie had a stroke, and Glickman knew it was time.

Help for those who need it most

Glickman said he never imagined that he would do all of these things for his cat, but if he had to do them all over again, he would. He also acknowledged that he was privileged to have time and money to provide that level of care and quality of life for Joe Willie, and he knows that many people do not have those luxuries.

Many cats that arrive at the SSPCA that are sick are there because they were surrendered by loving families who just couldn’t afford the extensive medical care they need, Altine said.

The Joe Willie Initiatives alleviates some of the costs so the SPCA can care for these cats, which Altine said the shelter will always accept.

“Being a open shelter means we don’t say, ‘Oh, that cat’s too old, that cat’s too sick, or that animal is too anything,’” Altine said. “We just say ‘We can take that animal, bring it to us next Tuesday at 10 a.m. and we will take that cat’. And give us all the information you can, don’t feel like you have to hide anything about their health from us, because we don’t care. We will still take that cat.”

Cats, regardless of age or medical condition, spend longer in the shelter than dogs, Altine said. They also have very low owner recovery rates, because people often don’t begin to look for an indoor-outdoor cat until they’ve already been in a shelter environment.

Adult cats also spend more time in the shelter than kittens and young cats, and with kitten season approaching, the Joe Willie Initiative is a boon for those cats who may have been overlooked.

“People come in and are like ‘kitten, kitten, kitten!’’ Altine said. “And here’s this great 8-or 9-year-old cat, like Valentina, like, ’Hello, what am I, chopped liver?’”

Valentina, a 6-year-old, is available and has no adoption fee because of the Joe Willie Initiatives.

How you can help

Altine said that anyone hoping to contribute to the SPCA or to the Joe Willie Initiatives can take several different steps.

“First, look within your own house, and make sure before you help another that your cats are spayed and neutered, and your cats are chipped,” Altine said. “The most important thing you can do is be a more responsible person for your own animals.”

There are a few other ways you can help out: first, you can make a one-time or monthly donation to the Sacramento SPCA, and if you’d like, earmark it for the Joe Willie Initiatives. It will be added to the fund.

Second: You can volunteer your time to help socialize cats, who need enrichment in the shelter environment, Altine said.

Third: Become a cat foster parent.

“If they truly want to make a difference they should start fostering cats who need medical fostering,” Altine said. “That would be the biggest help that you as an individual could do, is give of yourself.”

The SSPCA has a “pawspice” program for terminally ill cats who still have a good quality of life, Altine said. Pawspice cats need a comfortable home environment in which to live out the rest of their lives.

There’s also a medical foster program, where cats with non-terminal issues – like broken limbs – get fostered during their recovery period, and then are adopted out.

“Getting these cats out of a shelter environment gets them healthier, gets them healed faster, and then gets them adopted faster,” Altine said.

In both programs, there isn’t a long-term commitment to the cat, and the SSPCA covers the cost of the cat’s medical care, Altine said.

Inquiries about volunteering, donations, or fostering can be made to the Sacramento SPCA at sspca.org/how-you-can-help or at 916-383-7387.

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