|Perth, Domino, Pickles, Olive,
Rosemary, Hobart and Plume are the names of
some of the cats awaiting adoption at Valley
Cat Rescue. But they could all be appropriately
Heather Balester is their guardian angel.
Since 1996, Balester and Valley Cat Rescue
have taken in more than 300 stray and abandoned
cats and placed them in good homes.
Balester knows the adoptive homes are good
- she checks out each one personally before
she turns over one of her precious friends
to a new family. A few times Balester has
even changed her mind and nixed the adoption.
She also makes the new family aware that
the cat can be returned if the situation
doesn't work out.
"Rescuing a cat means following through
and seeing that it has a good life,"
Balester said. "I guess the difference
between me and other people is that I don't
see them as just cats. They're a precious
Many of the cats owe their lives to veterinarian
I.H. Kathio of the Pittston Animal Hospital,
who donates his time and expertise to the
cause. Kathio helps to nurse sick strays
back to health and offers low cost rabies
vaccine clinics and spay and neuter clinics
to the public to benefit the program.
The spay and neuter clinics are offered
at $40 for a female cat and $25 for a male,
less than half what one might pay in another
situation. Rabies vaccinations cost $5 at
Yard sales, canister collections and private
donations help to keep the program going.
And overhead is low for Valley Cat Rescue.
A group of dedicated volunteers do most
of the work at the clinics. Strays awaiting
adoption are housed in a couple of rooms
at Balester Optical in Wilkes-Barre, where
Balester can keep a close eye on their progress.
"We don't have any administrative
costs to speak of," she said.
Balester is a true cat person. She moves
about the two rooms where cats roam with
ease and grace like she's one of them. She
is aware of their idiosyncrasies, needs
and habits, and has respect for their personal
Heated beds, litter boxes, food and water
dishes, and plenty of toys are spread about
the rooms. A large cage keeps a new arrival
separated until it is ready to join the
She is quick to dispel any misconceptions
about the animals. For instance, Balester
said people believe cats are aloof and self-sufficient,
and can fend for themselves when abandoned.
Not true, she said. Cats are vulnerable
to many diseases and misfortunes when they
live outdoors. Feline leukemia and feline
AIDS are some of the more common maladies.
Cold weather lowers their resistance to
disease and the lack of medical care makes
it impossible for them to survive.
One such stray touched her heart so much
that Balester decided to make it part of
her own family.
A little kitten, not more than 8 weeks
old, was pulled from a pond where it was
drowning. The kitten was brain-damaged,
and could only walk in a circle. His swollen
belly and protruding ribs were an indication
that he was starving. Balester took the
kitten to Kathio's office for emergency
care before deciding to adopt the animal.
She named the kitten Gyro because of his
odd movements. "He's never going to
be like a normal cat," Balester said.
Valley Cat Rescue receives between 50 and
125 calls per week to take in cats. "I
can only help a limited number of them,
so I try to take in those most in need,"
Supply and demand is the problem. Cats
can have three or four litters a year, with
an average of four kittens per litter. Also,
people prefer to adopt cute and spirited
kittens over older cats. "There are
too many cats and not enough good homes.
There's a complete over-supply situation."
"Our mission is three-fold,"
Balester said. "Finding good homes
for cats in need, spaying and neutering
to decrease the cat population, and educating
people are the priorities."