The road less traveled; the high road; the hard road; the yellow brick road – whatever the name, it takes a special soul to choose it, travel it and have the tenacity to reach their destination. As animal advocates and rescuers, we know it takes not only heart and brains. Even more so, it takes COURAGE. An astounding 7 out of 10 cats are killed in shelters in the U.S., and many communities kill 100% of feral cats and community cats. Maneuvering through the dark forest of ordinance changes and facing the witches of opposition is not for the faint of heart.
The journey down that road began in 2009 with a cat named Solo, for a high school senior near Detroit named Andi Kola. It took courage to grow up fast when Solo became gravely ill, had lost half his body weight and was diagnosed with FIV and FELV (Feline AIDS and Feline Leukemia). Solo’s vet felt that he would not live through the day, and that it would be best to euthanize him. Fortunately for Solo, Andi did not give up and made the decision to at least try following the road to recovery. In addition to administering his medications, Andi and Solo slept together, he hand fed him to help get his strength back and Solo went from slipping away in a field of poppies, to a yawn and a stretch and an additional six purr-fectly happy years thanks to Andi’s decision to take the more difficult road to recovery.
During and right out of high school, Andi’s journey kept him busy as a federal legislative intern, a senate campaign intern and in a clerkship position at a lobbyist firm. His path led him to a recruiting position for an independent business federation, and to acquiring a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He liked politics, he understood it, and he knew his knowledge and understanding would pave the way toward making a huge impact on something he really cared about.
Well on his way, Andi applied and was accepted into University of Miami (UM) Law School. His application process led him to researching locally in Michigan, and while in the lobby of his neighborhood police station he saw a flyer with four big-eyed kittens looking back at him. It said that 3 out of 4 of those kittens would be killed, unless fosters could be found. This began his shocking education on the sad fate of cats which began stirring his mind like a twister. That flyer remains with him today and helps fuel his continued motivation. Soon after, on his way home from a college law school tour, a tiny black kitten crying from the median on busy Federal Highway (US 1) caught his attention as he left his hotel. There went Andi, across traffic. He rescued the kitten and took it to a nearby shelter on his way to the airport nearly missing his flight. While young cats stand a better chance than mature, feral or community cats, he found out later that the shelter was high kill, an unfortunate term he came to understand, and the certain death that meant to over a million cats each year nationwide began haunting him.
Once in law school he knew he was different. He noticed many of his classmates really had no real purpose for being there. Most considered it just another stop along the road of life with no real purpose other than it was one of the items most folks cross off their list like high school, college, career, marriage, kids, etc. Andi would never forget that he knew why he was there: He wanted to get into politics and to have an impact on things that were important to him. After reviewing the hefty >$63,000 annual costs for law school, which would essentially force him to be a lawyer – even if only to repay the mountainous student loans, he left law school. Official reason: To save big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, etc.). He decided his road veered toward a career in helping big cats at large zoological facilities and began applying for positions around the country.
The road curved again soon after, when an elderly woman Andi knew lost her cat and did not drive. He drove to the shelter to help look for her lost companion, when he saw a sign; a sign on the wall that turned out to be a path-changer for Andi. It said that over 50% of cats were being euthanized at that local shelter. He was shocked, deeply disturbed, and knew he had to do something to help save cats. Andi had clearly taken the fork in the road toward saving cats and was on his way.
He followed that path, marching steadfast, reviewing other communities nationwide and their programs to save domestic cats. He gathered statistics, made contacts and honed his skills. Along the way, he made fast friends with supporters and donors, worked on his marketing skills, and put in volunteer hours with large and small non-profit groups, learning about cats in communities from the ground up. It wasn’t long before he took on research and outreach projects or interned with local, national and global non-profits on the road to fulfilling his mission to help save cats.
Andi’s road led him in Broward County, Florida and he stuck to his path. He began lobbying for cats locally in a big way with local government and out in the community. He spoke at community and homeowner association meetings, fed community cat colonies and researched and applied for sterilization grants all with one courageous goal in mind. Andi pushed, politely – but pushed nonetheless – on behalf of cats, often up hill, and never faltered. He even gave up his full time job to focus on saving cats, and worked when he could to (not!) make ends meet, all in order to save cats. With his personal bank account overdrawn and bills, like flying monkeys hot on his trail, he continued. He pushed through the poppies of politics, and stuck to his chosen road.
Luckily, the local support for community cats was shining so brightly it could not be ignored and the local shelter was able to institute a community cat program, which would vaccinate, sterilize and return community cats to their outdoor community homes – a tactic known as TNR (trap, neuter, release) which, when employed vigorously, not only saves lives, but reduces community cat populations faster than catching and killing the cats. Broward County Animal Care & Adoption was on the road to saving cats! Adoptable cats began flying out the doors of their adoption partners’ Petsupermarket stores faster than flying monkeys. Sterilized community cats that came in to the shelter were returned by local community cat angels, heroes, saviors and rescuers, and were later no longer accepted. And with a click of the heels, it was time to begin the long awaited program to vaccinate, sterilize and return community cats per a new ordinance approved by the County Commission. Shelter management gladly suited up in their ruby slippers and magic wands and the numerous fairy godmothers (& godfathers) on staff got to work on the program. Once they were able to send community cats “no place like home,” they knew just the man to help get things started in the form of a pilot program, partnering with the shelter: – community CATalyst: Andi Kola.
By this time, Andi had founded his own non-profit named after his beloved cats, Lumen, Layla and Solo (LumenLS, Inc.) and had a broken down, donated van to transport cats. Literally, from the side of the road with the van hood open, he sold the van to pay for his airfare to Jacksonville, FL, to thankfully borrow a van from First Coast No More Homeless Pets, whose groundbreaking, Feral Freedom Program has saved nearly 30,000 pets since 2008. Like his wish had been granted by the wizard, Andi began returning cats to the community – cats that would have otherwise been killed. In a few short weeks, the program had saved hundreds of cats! Andi was able to lease a commercial location where cats can be held after surgery, but initially he kept them as quietly as he could, in his own apartment between trips to the shelter. No matter; Andi continued, though his unhappy roomate moved out during that time.
LumenLS, Inc. stands for Lumen, a community kitten that Andi adopted in 2013, Layla, his family cat since 2009, and of course, Solo his first cat – who taught him that cat lives matter. Andi just wants to save cats. He repeats it at every possible opportunity. Any who know him have heard him recite that mission: “I just want to save cats.” He adds that his non-profit “is named after Lumen, Layla and Solo – his living cats – to emphasize that he appreciates them while they are ALIVE!” and acknowledges that “Cats make me a better person.” He also firmly believes it was his friendly collaboration with local shelter staff, the community and government officials that has helped the program significantly and that his underlying goal and good intentions gave him the courage and confidence to continue.
Now in its very own location, LumenLS,Inc. has successfully returned over 600 cats since September! Per a recent article on Broward’s Return to Field Program, the county shelter has reached an 88% Save Rate on cats in December, 2015!
Broward County continues to expand the program, recruiting additional local rescues and humane societies to assist with sterilization surgeries and with field work, and informing citizens on their program, so it only gets better from here.
Andi Kola is now determined to there be NO CAT LEFT BEHIND, which urgently requires he dedicate space and resources for the temporary care of sick cats, in order save additional cats like those with easily curable health problems such as minor injuries, mange or scabies to save as many little ‘munchkins’ as he can. Sick & injured cats and infant/kittens remain the largest at-risk group at the shelter, and are not candidates to be returned to the community. That means for the most part, they do not make it out alive.
Lumen, Layla and Solo, along with Andi have the courage to save community cats, but they need help! If you want to help there be NO CAT LEFT BEHIND, please lend a hand by means of a donation of any size to this fundraiser to help open and maintain a sick room for cats by clicking here.
Please have the courage to help by donating or volunteering your way down the (yellow brick) road to saving cats!