By Sheila Stroup, The Times-Picayune NOLA.com
The store opened for business Wednesday morning, June 1, and every penny raised will go to feed and care for animals in need.
“We’ve gotten some wonderful donations,” Lynn Chiche says. “Rugs, gorgeous chandeliers, jewelry, silver pieces, dish sets, a new coffee table — just really nice stuff.”
Chiche, the co-founder and heart of Spaymart — a nonprofit group devoted to reducing pet overpopulation in the New Orleans area — has been running a cat sanctuary in Picayune, Miss., since Hurricane Katrina flooded her home in Metairie, and she and her husband settled there. First, she filled it with hundreds of Katrina kitties, and then she added another 110 cats from cruelty cases. After transporting and adopting out many of them, she is down to 275 adult cats, most of them seniors.
“Some of them aren’t adoptable, but a good 150 or 200 would make fabulous pets,” she says.
What she’s really excited about is the Linda Graf Second Chance Adoption Center inside the store, where selected senior cats will be featured attractions.
“This will be a chance for our older cats to finally get a home,” she says. “They’ve been at the sanctuary way too long.”
They will be available to people of all ages, but Spaymart is starting a special program called “Senior Cats for Senior Citizens” to encourage older people to take in older cats.
“Owning a pet is good for your physical and emotional health, and they’re great company for people living alone,” Chiche says.
Adoption fees will be waived for seniors adopting cats. The owners will provide food, litter and a loving home, and Spaymart will pay the cats’ medical bills. If seniors aren’t sure they want to adopt, they can begin by fostering, and they’ll be assured that if they do adopt a cat, Spaymart will find it another home if they get sick or become too frail to take care of their pet.
“I think it will be a win-win for the people and the cats,” Chiche says.
About five years ago, a woman adopted three of her senior citizen kitties.
“She said, ‘I’m an old lady, and I want three old cats,’” Chiche says. “She’s 92 now, and it’s been wonderful for all of them.”
There’s a story behind the name of the new adoption center: Chiche never met Linda Graf, but they became great friends over the Internet. Graf was a gifted writer, and she would write the bios for Spaymart’s cats in need of adoption.
“She could make a cat sound like the most unique creature on the planet, and that cat would end up getting adopted,” Chiche says.
Graf was also a source of strength for Chiche at times when she felt she didn’t have the energy to manage the sanctuary and get the thrift shop up and running.
“She was just a wonderful lady,” Chiche says. “I know how people can fall in love over the Internet, because I fell in love with her.”
Earlier this year, Graf called Chiche to say she was ill and needed surgery and would have to take a few weeks off from writing the bios. Then, she called again with sad news: She had cancer that had already spread too far.
“She said, ‘I want you to know I cannot die until you promise you will come and pick up my three cats,’” Chiche says. “Of course, I told her I would.”
Chiche and Lauree Nunez, program coordinator for Spaymart’s kitten foster program, booked a round-trip flight to Phoenix for a week later, hoping they would get a chance to meet Graf, but she died three days after Chiche made her promise.
The cats gave Chiche and Nunez quite an adventure during their trip home.
“The two 14-year-olds weighed 15 or 16 pounds apiece, and the 6-year-old, a Katrina rescue, was wild,” Chiche says.
They had to carry the cats in their arms through security, and keep track of three cat carriers as well. Then the flight had to land for a medical emergency, and they missed their connecting flight.
“We didn’t get home until 1:30 in the morning,” Chiche says.
The two 14-year-olds, Danny and Velvet, have moved in with Chiche and her husband, and the 6-year-old, Trixie, will be available for adoption.
“Linda donated $5,000 to the adoption center and gave us so much support we named it in her memory,” Chiche says.
Next to the center is the pet section of the store.
“We have absolutely adorable dog and cat things,” she says. “A lady brought in some T-shirts for dogs, and we have beautiful aprons with cats embroidered on them. We have pet beds and accent pieces for your house featuring dogs and cats, too — really high-end items.”
The organization will need a steady stream of donations to keep the shop going, and they’ll also need help in the shop. The whole operation is run by volunteers.
They need volunteers to help in the adoption center, caring for the cats, and they need volunteers to take in donations, price items, and do all the little things it takes to run a store. If you care about animals, have some time to spare, and like people, it might be a match for you.
“We want it to be a fun place for everyone who works there and the people who come in to shop,” Chiche says. “I think it’s going to be fantastic.”
Spaymart’s Thrift and Gift Shop is in the Century Plaza Shopping Center at 6601 Veterans Blvd., not far from T.J. Maxx in Metairie. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Senior cats will be available for adoption and donations will be accepted whenever the store is open. Donations needed include china, crystal, glassware, cutlery, pots and pans, artwork, hardback books, CDs, DVDs and jewelry. Small working appliances, decorative home accessories, small pieces of furniture and pet-themed items are also wanted. Please, because of space limitations, no clothing, computers or old TVs. To learn more or to volunteer, visit Spaymart, call the shop at 504.454.8200, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by the store.
Sheila Stroup’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in Living. Contact her at email@example.com or 985.898.4831.