By James Johnson
Alana Miller is the living embodiment of the words “no nonsense.” As founder and director of the Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary in St. Pauls, Miller clearly has a big heart, but she is also not one to mince words. That straightforward and fearless outlook is likely what got her into the rescue business in the first place.
In 2001, while volunteering for a local shelter, Miller and her daughter learned that because a cat brought in was blind, it was going to be abandoned in a parking lot, as it was deemed unadoptable.
That cat, named Louie, became the first in a constantly growing family of blind felines that would be taken in by Miller, who four years later founded a shelter for blind cats.
“It was total insanity. What was I thinking?” Miller joked. “He was literally our first blind cat and the second, third and fourth came from that same shelter.”
Today the facility, located at 99 Prairie Lane, is home to 90 cats that most shelters would consider unadoptable, and likely would have euthanized. In 2009 the sanctuary also began accepting cats suffering from leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Those cats are kept separate from the rest in a specially built building.
In North Carolina, animal control facilities are legally obligated to immediately kill any cats that are sick, injured or blind. Miller sees this as unfair, noting that since we don’t demand that people who are blind be sentenced to death, it is wrong to not have that same decency for a cat.
“People think they are disabled but they are not,” Miller said. “A cat doesn’t know they are blind, and we sure don’t tell them. They chase bugs, they run, they leap. Go to our YouTube channel and watch the video ‘Can Blind Cats ‘See’ a Bird?’ You can see them all, moving their heads in unison in the direction of where they hear the bird moving.”
That video, as of this writing, has more than 18,000 views on YouTube, and it isn’t even their channel’s most popular video. (That honor belongs to a simply titled video, “Playing.” It has nearly 40,000 views.) For reasons Miller says she can’t quite understand, the sanctuary has become remarkably popular with online fans.
The group’s Facebook has garnered 1,386,986 likes, and the shelter has made a regular habit of hosting live streams online so that fans can keep track of the daily activities of their furry inhabitants.
Miller says she doesn’t quite understand how or why the Internet took so much of an interest in their sanctuary, though she does have her theories.
“That was such a wild thing. Two years ago we had 70,000 likes, and all of a sudden in one year’s time, it went nuts and we went to over a million likes,” Miller said. “I think people like seeing that disabled cats are not being killed and murdered in shelters.”
Miller says that the sanctuary now runs 12 online cameras at all hours of the day, and occasionally holds online contests for naming their cats.
Another benefit of the Internet’s interest, is their ability to use it to fundraise. While Miller would not go on record as to the exact cost of running the shelter, she says it is not cheap. Each month, the shelter goes through 400 pounds of dry food, 120 cases of wet food and a pallet of kitty litter. Meanwhile, because some of the cats have incurable health problems, that can add to the overall cost of taking care of them.
One way to help ease the financial burden, has been asking cat lovers to “sponsor” specific cats.
Those sponsors get a chance to help save a cat’s life, but they are not allowed to adopt any of the cats.
One rule the sanctuary decided on early on, was that none of the 90 cats could be adopted.
“We are a lifetime care sanctuary. Most of the cats have been thrown away multiple times and somebody has gotta say, ‘the buck stops here,’” Miller said. “The shelters won’t have you, the rescues won’t have you, so you come to me and you no longer have to lose everything. How would you feel, if a Martian came and took you from everything … Everything! Cats experience that all of the time… Why don’t cats get a place they can call their home forever? You decide to throw your cat away. That is so wrong. Once they come to us, they have the same family, same things, same home, throughout their lives … People move all of the time, but they keep their family. Why do the cats have to lose everything?”
That also means, the shelter has a limit on how many cats it can take care of at once. Miller says that they are at the state limit for the number of cats a facility their size can have. The sanctuary is behind a gate, to prevent people from trying to leave cats outside the shelter and driving off.
But that doesn’t mean that cat lovers who want to get to know the sanctuary’s residents are out of luck. Visitors are welcome, by appointment, and occasionally the shelter will hold events, such as the Book Buddies initiative, where children are invited to come in and read to cats.
Another way that people can visit the cats while also helping improve their quality of life, is by volunteering. Miller says the shelter needs volunteers more than anything else at the moment.
“We need volunteers,” Miller said. “We need volunteers badly. Volunteers are needed mostly to clean, help clean litter. Come with some consistency and help clean and socialize with the cats in the afternoon.”
For more information on the Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary, including on how to volunteer, go to blindcatrescue.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The sanctuary is a registered nonprofit and donations are tax-deductible.