ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 12-29-09, By Janet Okoben
AVON -- Eight years ago, Ellen Quimper's life changed with a phone call about some cats in need.
A lifelong animal lover, Quimper had been providing foster care to needy cats through the local Love-A-Stray Animal Rescue. But a bigger-than-average challenge came to Love-A-Stray when 25 cats were unloaded on volunteers by a woman who had recently become homeless.
"Ellen, you have that barn," Quimper remembers hearing Bonnie Kajganich, director of Love-A-Stray, say in a not-so-subtle way.
Today, Quimper, 52, hosts up to 200 cats at a time in the 110-year-old barn on the property in Avon that used to shelter horses when Quimper was young. She lives in her childhood home next door and is director of claims administration at Kaiser Permanente by day.
"At night I come home, change out of a suit and into my barn clothes," she said.
During a recent weekday, volunteers swirled about as Quimper talked about the low-cost spay and neutering services provided by Love-A-Stray and the 470 cats who have been placed in permanent homes from the barn this year. Some of her cats have been around for years, serving more as shelter mascots now than as potential pets for others.
In a separate section of the barn, feral cats rescued from the streets roam freely as they gain weight and regain their health. Quimper says a feral cat often won't have the disposition to become a family pet, but she and her volunteers trap those cats anyway so that they can be spayed or neutered and vaccinated.
The poor economy has curbed the demand for adoptions and donations have dropped, but Quimper and her 70 volunteers persist. Volunteers range from middle-school students to senior citizens, and the shelter survives on donations alone.
Vincent Zack, 11, a regular volunteer since August, is an aspiring veterinarian who came to Love-A-Stray for a chance to be around animals. He is the only person in his family who isn't allergic to cats. Quimper is happy to train Vincent and the other young volunteers, who clean cages and make sure all the cats get attention.
Everything -- from food and litter boxes to the electricity -- comes from donations and fees paid through adoptions. Quimper makes up for what else is needed by herself.
"The number of cats in her care has increased dramatically during the past year due to the current financial crisis," Scott Sipple of Lakewood, who adopted a cat with Quimper's help and nominated her as a Plain Dealer hero, wrote in his nomination. "Ellen gives unselfishly of her time and financial resources to help the cats and kittens of western Cuyahoga and Lorain counties."
P.O. Box 46
Avon, Ohio 44011
Love-A-Stray is a non-profit, all volunteer, no-kill organization dedicated to helping homeless animals. Our mission is to end the pet overpopulation problem through aggressive low-cost spay/neuter programs, support and implementation of trap/neuter/return programs for feral cats, aggressive and innovative adoption programs, and education of the public on the importance of spay/neuter. We support our cause through adoption fees, fundraising, and donations.