Haven on Earth Animal League
Submitted By: Bill Johnson
GATEWAY, FL – As sun was setting in Lehigh Acres one evening in May, Marcie Fernandez was on the hunt. She had been notified that a stray cat and kittens were in the neighborhood and may have been left behind by someone. Fernandez was called because she is dedicated to a non-profit cat rescue organization she helped establish 11 years ago called HEAL (Haven on Earth Animal League). Her search was unsuccessful, but she didn’t give up. After two more hunts with two more volunteers, the cats were corralled. As this was written, the cats were in “foster care” by a HEAL volunteer. They are now friendly enough for adoption.
What it takes to save cats is a time consuming labor of love for Marcie Fernandez. This is in addition to her full time job at Renaissance Country Club and family responsibilities with her husband and daughter at their Gateway home.
You could say this began 21 years ago when she worked in Connecticut where stray cats outside the building spent cold winter nights. Feeling sorry for them, she made a bed of blankets to put out after work. When she later moved to Florida, she joined an animal rescue group, and then decided to form her own. She knew of other rescue organizations, of course, but says, “The need is great. There are too many cats out there that need
homes.” Besides providing safe homes for cats and companionship for adopters, Fernandez emphasizes another great benefit from getting cats off the streets. “Having them spayed and neutered prevents untold numbers of unwanted cats from populating the area.”
Still, HEAL cannot take every cat it learns about. “Cats that aren’t friendly cannot be adopted, and not every feral cat is suitable for adoption,” Fernandez says.
While I talked with Fernandez over a lunchtime sandwich at Tropical Smoothie Cafe, her mobile phone periodically rang, and she patiently answered inquiries about related topics. In the evenings after work she reviews applications for adoptions and from volunteers, fields multiple phone calls, sometimes goes out in search of a cat, or to an adoption location to manage an adoption. She may be involved in weekend fundraising events, adoptions, or negotiating with pet stores to display the cats, as she has done with four pet stores in the area. She’s always handling administration tasks, recruiting volunteers, and talking by phone to adopters and potential volunteers. “What I do would not be possible without the volunteers and especially Lily Broslovsky and Diane Flipkowski,” Fernandez told me. “They do as much as I do.”
On a Saturday afternoon at PetSmart in Coral Square at Colonial Blvd. and Six Mile Cypress Parkway where rescued cats are displayed for potential adoptions, Broslovsky arrived with a cat wearing a protective covering around its neck. She had been caring for the cat since it was found nearly dead with the side of its neck gashed open, apparently in an attack by another animal. HEAL got the cat to an animal hospital where two surgeries were performed to clean and close the wound. After some of Broslovsky’s TLC at her home, the cat – named Harrison – was ready to be shown for adoption.
The PetSmart store is among four pet stores that cooperate with HEAL by housing and displaying cats for adoption. The others are PetSmart at Coconut Point in Estero, Petco at Gulf Coast Mall, and Petland on College Parkway, near Route 41.
When cats arrive at HEAL they are almost immediately spayed, neutered, micro- chipped, and given appropriate vaccines. There are two ways to cover that medical cost – through donations or adoption fees, which can vary depending on the cat.
Money, volunteers, and foster caregivers are needed
Besides money for medical care, HEAL always needs volunteers, and welcomes those who will give just an hour or two once a week to spend time socializing the cats, feeding them, cleaning litter boxes, making sure they have clean water — the care you’d give your own cat. “Compassionate “foster” caregivers are also needed. At this time, 10-15 volunteer families temporarily “foster” cats waiting for space to be displayed for adoption, and HEAL needs more.
Those interested in adoption or volunteering can find applications online. Just go to healrescue.com or “Google” Haven on Earth Animal League. Adopters must be at least 21 and agree to keep the cat indoors so it won’t be attacked by another animal, as Harrison probably was.
Those who will make financial contributions can donate a number of ways – at the HEAL web site, through Facebook or PayPal, or by mailing checks to HEAL, P.O. Box 61088, Fort Myers, FL 33906. Donors help provide safe homes for cats while preventing an increased number of feral cats running through our neighborhoods. Because HEAL is a certified 501 (c3) non-profit organization, donations are tax deductible.
Despite the collective effort by animal rescue organizations, “the problem of wild cats is still so big,” Fernandez says. “We still can’t take care of all of them. We’re putting our finger in the dike.” But the size of the problem hasn’t slowed her down; she seems tireless, despite seemingly constant demands on her. You might think she’d be burned out by now, after 11 years.
During that time, she estimates that HEAL has rescued and placed from 2300 to 2500 cats, and Marcie Fernandez isn’t done yet.