Cat-rescue group gets building to house felines


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Friends, foes and guardians of Mimi, a nearly toothless tabby, agree: She has issues.

The orange-and-white 10-year-old wants to be the alpha cat among the temporary feline guests of Cat’s Twilight, a foster and rescue group in Westmoreland County.

If she isn't fed first thing when the humans awake, 8-pound Mimi gets in a snit, walks over to 22-pound Tonka — the group’s real alpha cat — and starts swatting, without apology. Even on her sweet days, when she walks into a room, other cats will turn timid and start to meow, seemingly in fear.

Tonka, Mimi and their fellow felines won’t have to tolerate their too-close-for-comfort quarters much longer. Last month, Cat’s Twilight, a nonprofit, received a gift that will change the animals' lives: a building and an acre of property, valued at $111,000.

Located on Route 711 in the Stahlstown section of Cook, Westmoreland County, the commercial structure will become a free-roam, indoor shelter, able to house 50 to 60 adoptable cats, Cat’s Twilight president Jasen Lentz said. The estimated 3,000-square-foot building also will serve as the organization’s headquarters.

"I was stunned when we were offered the building,’” Mr. Lentz said. “You hear of things like this happening, but they’re few and far between. Until the day I signed the paperwork making the building ours, it was like a dream.”

The donation came from the Margaret Raphael Foundation, a new, private, grant-making entity funded by the estate of the late Margaret “Maggie” Raphael.

An Oakmont native, Ms. Raphael  was an animal lover and activist, organic farmer and vegan restaurateur who, in 1996, founded the former OohMahNee Farm sanctuary for abused, abandoned and neglected farm animals. Ms. Raphael died in 2011 at age 63 in her home in Hunker.

The building donated to Cat’s Twilight formerly contained Ms. Raphael’s business, Maggie’s Mercantile, which included a vegan restaurant and organic grocery store.

Currently, Mimi, Tonka and about 12 other foster cats live in the Southwest Greensburg home of Mr. Lentz and Erin Oliver, who is director of marketing for the organization. The group's vice president, Amy Lentz of Monroeville, fosters another six cats. Jasen and Amy Lentz co-founded Cat's Twilight in 2009 while they were married; now divorced, they both remain committed to its success.

“This new building is huge, so it will actually give the cats more space, more time to take a break from the others if they want to, and more opportunities for interaction with scratchers and toys,” Mr. Lentz said.

Currently, Cat's Twilight adoptions are handled at Petco stores in Greensburg and Gibsonia.

The group rescues abandoned and surrendered cats mainly in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties. It takes care of the cats’ medical needs, places them in foster homes to be socialized and then works to get them adopted. The group focuses on adult cats but also handles kittens.

Amy Lentz said the organization’s name is a reference to cats living into their twilight — or later — years, but it also has a bit to do with her being a fan of the “Twilight” book series.

Cat's Twilight received tax-exempt status in 2010 and to date has made more than 175 adoptions, Mr. Lentz said.

The gift of the building came as a surprise at a time when the organization was in need of money, he said. Last summer, he posted a plea for donations on Facebook. On Aug. 6, Dormont resident Margaret Grace Stanley, a Foundation trustee, responded with the donation proposal.

“It was early in the morning when I read the message. I turned to Erin, who was on the couch dozing off, and said, ‘Erin, Erin, Erin! Someone’s trying to donate a building to us!’ We were floored,” Mr. Lentz said.

Ms. Stanley, a good friend of Ms. Raphael’s, said the foundation was created earlier this year to provide for the welfare of animals locally, nationally and internationally, she said.

She said she learned about Cat’s Twilight when the mother of a friend died and the friend could not find anyone to take her mother’s two cats. Cat’s Twilight did.

“We decided to donate to them because I heard of my friend’s experience and they seemed so self-motivated. We knew they had a need for the building and could make more of an impact if they had it,” Ms. Stanley said.

Cat’s Twilight is working to customize the single-level brick structure for a cat shelter, focusing first on repairing damage from vandalism, getting utilities to work and remedying drainage problems, Mr. Lentz said. He’s also trying to get a grant to install solar and wind energy, he said.

The organization is seeking skilled volunteers such as general contractors; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning workers; landscapers; and plumbers. Later, the organization will look for volunteer cat cuddlers and people willing to help with feeding, scooping and other tasks. They also hope to find a veterinarian willing to donate services in the planned medical bay.

“It’s going to be pretty amazing if the vision I have works out like I’m hoping it will,” Mr. Lentz said.

That vision includes dividing a large room into a few themed, 10-by-18-foot rooms for cats of different age groups. For instance, one with a hand-built, stone fireplace will become a penthouse with soft cushions and another will have a travel theme, with kitty bunk beds that a friend makes out of suitcases.

Mr. Lentz is extremely grateful to Ms. Raphael and Ms. Stanley.

“It will help more cats than Ms. Raphael probably could ever imagine,” he said.

To volunteer or to donate: catstwilight@comcast.net; 412-245-1585; www.catstwilight.org;  www.facebook.com/CatsTwilight; or P.O. Box 771, Greensburg, PA 15601.


Kathy Samudovsky, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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