Joy Austin of Healing Hearts Animal Rescue in Madison, Tennessee, has been fostering cats for 17 years and serves as the organization’s main foster home for cats and dogs. We spoke to Joy in January 2018 about cat rescue and cat dental health.
Hi Joy, could you tell us how your involvement with animal rescue began?
I have been fostering cats for 17 years and serve as our main foster home for cats and dogs. When I had just finished college a friendly black female cat named Shadow followed me home and demanded to come in my apartment. I let her in but knew I couldn’t keep her so I applied to foster with a local animal rescue and I’ve been fostering cats ever since.
Tell us about Healing Hearts Animal Rescue, what is your mission?
Healing Hearts is located in Madison near Nashville in Tennessee and our main goal is to save cats and dogs with special needs and help them find loving forever homes. With cats, we foster mainly shy cats and kittens, FIV positive cats, deaf cats and those with mobility issues. We also fosters pets without special needs to help bring in income to pay for the expensive veterinary care required by our special needs pets. All of our pets are listed for adoption online through PetFinder.com, AdoptaPet.com and RescueMe.org.
Tell us about the cats – where do they come from?
Most of the cats fostered through Healing Hearts come from local county shelters. The majority of our cats come from Cheatham County Animal Control, a rural shelter that works hard to keep their animals healthy, place as many animals as possible with local rescues or adopters and has a low euthanasia rate. Most shelter cats are either picked up as strays by Animal Control or are surrendered by their owners to the shelter. We do take a few stray cats and kittens and a few from owners who can no longer care for them.
What are the most common type of cat seen in your rescue?
I have a special love for Bengal mixes and Maine Coon mixes so many of our rescue cats and kittens are one of those breeds.
What type of cat is the most difficult to find a new home for?
Senior cats and cats with special needs tend to be the most difficult to find homes for. Many people don’t want a cat who is 6 years or older because they think it will not live very long but the average cat lives 15-20 years with good veterinary care. Most special needs cats can live just as long as any other cat.
What are the advantages of adopting a senior cat?
Some of the advantages to adopting a senior cat include a lower energy level, less destructive behavior, a calmer cat, and a cat that is not as demanding. Young kittens are high energy and are far more likely to scratch furniture or chew on things than a mature cat.
If you work long hours and just want a cuddly cat to come home to, then a senior might be ideal.
Why should someone adopt a cat from rescue when they can one for free in the newspaper or on Craigslist?
Free cats online may sound like a good deal but they typically have no vet care done and no health guarantee. You may end up with a healthy kitten but you could also end up spending hundreds of dollars on a sick kitten. When you adopt a cat from a rescue you know that the cat will be spayed or neutered, negative for AIDS and leukemia, dewormed, up to date on shots and treated for fleas. You also know that the cat has been socialized and you know in advance if the cat is comfortable with dogs, other cats and children. Plus if anything doesn’t work out, a rescue cat can always be returned to the rescue to find a more appropriate home.
Can you tell us about one of your favorite cats that is currently looking for a family?
Princess is a beautiful 7 year old Calico who was living outside in the freezing cold this time last year. I spent 6 months trying to slowly earn her trust outside and once I finally got her inside it took her 2 months to decide that she could really trust me. Now she is still shy with strangers but is the most loving and affectionate cat ever. She is getting her teeth cleaned soon and then she will be ready for her forever home.
What is the dental health like in the cats that come to your rescue?
Typically kittens and young adults do not have dental issues but with senior cats dental issues are all too common. Our senior cats range in age from 10 years old to 14 years old and nearly all of them have required extractions at their most recent dental cleaning. Young adult cats with FIV or feline leukemia often end up with dental problems at a younger age.
One of the biggest challenges is that even with an annual exam it is often difficult to detect dental problems in a cat until they have become severe enough to affect the cat’s overall health.
How can you tell that a cat has dental problems?
When a cat’s teeth become painful they typically eat less which results in weight loss. A cat with dental problems may begin to swallow dry food without chewing it because it hurts too much to chew.
Some of the clearest indicators that a cat has dental issues is when they start to lose weight and start swallowing dry food whole.
What are your experiences with ProDen PlaqueOff® Powder?
I have been using PlaqueOff® with my senior cats and dogs for about 8 year. It doesn’t taste bad and is very easy to mix with canned food and warm water. I have never had a cat refuse to eat it. Putting a cat under anesthesia every year for a dental cleaning comes with health risks for a senior cat. PlaqueOff® helps keep our senior cats’ teeth healthy enough that none of them need a cleaning more often than every 2 or 3 years. For a multiple cat household the savings on dental work are significant.
I love that it works for both cats and dogs since I have both. Some of the main benefits of this product is that is easy to administer and is naturally based. It typically takes about 6 weeks to begin seeing dramatic results with PlaqueOff®.
Have you tried any other dental health products for cats?
I tried a liquid dental medication that goes in the cat’s drinking water but my cats refused to drink it so that was not very helpful. Many of our senior cats are shy or feral so PlaqueOff® is perfect for them because I can just mix it with their canned food. I have had senior cats as old as 10 years old who did not need any extractions with their cleaning because they had been on daily PlaqueOff®, which is also is a great preventative for cats with a weakened immune system.
For cats who are shy, feral or hard to handle PlaqueOff® is a great way to keep their teeth healthy without the stress of trying to get them to the vet.
Besides using PlaqueOff®, what can cat owners do to promote a good dental health in their pets?
It is always helpful to feed your cat a healthy, grain-free cat food and provide plenty of fresh drinking water.
Any advice about brushing a cat’s teeth?
Brushing your cat’s teeth can be very stressful on both cat and owner so my advice is to invest in PlaqueOff® instead. I give PlaqueOff® to cats who are 4 years old or older.
February is National Pet Dental Health Month – will Healing Hearts have any special activities?
This February we are focusing on raising donations to pay for Tabitha’s dental cleaning and extractions. Tabitha is an 11 year old grey tabby feral cat who has never had a dental cleaning. She also needs her exam, senior blood panel and 3 year shots, all of which have to be done under anesthesia. The total cost for her visit will be between $600 to $1,000 depending on the number of extractions needed.
If people want to help but are unable to foster or adopt at this time, how can they assist Healing Hearts on their mission?
Healing Hearts Animal Resuce is always in need of donations. Monetary donations can be made through PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org. Since we are a 501c3 certified nonprofit organization, all donations are tax-deductible. Donation money goes toward veterinary care of our foster cats and dogs. The average cost of basic veterinary care for a cat or dog is about $100. The average cost of a dental cleaning with extractions is about $600 for a senior cat. We can always use donated items too.
Specifically we can use donations of:
- Grain-free dry cat food
- Friskies canned cat food
- Treats and toys
- Scratching posts
- Towels and blankets
- Cat beds
- Scoopable litter
If you want to learn more about adopting a cat or dog or are interested in volunteering or donating items, Healing Hearts Animal Rescue in Madison, TN, can be contacted via their website and Facebook page: