Walking past the windows on Ogden Avenue, it’s hard to miss the curious faces and animated tails roaming around Milwaukee’s newest cat shelter. Inside, you’ll find a donation bin overflowing with cat supplies, and cat-obsessed volunteers giving their full attention to the feline residents.
Cats arrived at Almost Home Cat Rescue (925 E. Ogden Ave.) for the first time a couple weeks ago. In the main room filled with “catios” – various structures for cats to chill out inside and explore – you can meet the shy and gentle Lilac lounging in her cat condo, or the bonded pair Polo and Muppet leaping along scratching platforms attached to the wall. A door connects this space to a smaller one: the kitten room. Mother Bianca’s litter of nine four-month-old kittens are busy traversing a cat tree and dashing after toys.
“They’re like ping-pong balls of energy,” said Animal Welfare Officer Mel Kleverova Zilliox.
Although the physical shelter is newly open to the public, Almost Home has officially been a nonprofit since March of 2021. Since then, they’ve taken in over 120 cats from surrenders and other shelters, and coordinated almost 100 adoptions. Thanks to foster families, the cats had a home while volunteers spent the past year and a half readying the building. The rescue plans to continue emphasizing foster care: some cats struggling with medical or behavioral problems will start out in foster care until they’re ready to join the shelter, and others go directly from a foster home to their adopters.
One of the founders of Almost Home Cat Rescue MKE, Kleverova Zilliox, is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and Trainer. She’s dedicated to giving every cat a chance at life and will work with any aggressive, fearful or unsocialized individual. Almost Home is certified fear free and no-kill, and they follow The Five Freedoms for animals.
The name Almost Home reflects the rescue’s mission: to provide a safe, temporary stay that connects cats with people looking to adopt. The open-community cat room model makes coordinating adoptions easier for both humans and cats – the former have the chance to meet multiple cats at once, and the latter can freely roam about their environment. Once adopted, cats can more easily acclimate to their home after staying at a shelter that closely resembles the environment of a house or apartment. Although you can also meet adoptable felines via the virtual shelter on Almost Home’s website, Kleverova Zilliox says that sometimes the cat chooses you.
Almost Home is entirely volunteer-run. Volunteers coordinate adoptions and fostering, plan fundraising events and even provide health care. Medical Officer Krisitin Simons examines every newbie from head to tail, checking for any signs of injury or disease, and administering vaccines. The rescue partners with Wisconsin Humane Society to get every cat spayed or neutered and microchipped.
The idea for a no-kill shelter started when a group of 14 animal welfare volunteers wanted to create a space where no cat is turned away. For example, Polo and Muppet are FIV-positive, an immunodeficiency condition comparable to HIV in humans. Standard policy at many shelters puts cats with this condition on a euthanasia list. Almost Home took in Muppet and Polo from the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha, and hopes to soon find a loving home for the pair. They’ll need some special accommodations, such as remaining strictly as indoor pets and not interacting with other cats, but otherwise can live a purrfectly healthy life.
“We believe every cat and kitten deserves a chance to find their forever home,” said Kleverova Zilliox.
Community donations are the financial lifeblood of the rescue. Almost Home partners with nearby restaurants and events to raise money, and accepts donations of cat litter, food, toys and other supplies. Jodi Wilde, a founder and one of the fundraiser coordinators, says they hope to implement additional fundraising strategies such as corporation sponsorship and a sustaining donor program.
Almost Home is always looking for volunteers, especially those willing to foster. The shelter is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cat visits are free even if you’re not looking to adopt, but the shelter does recommend donations of $5.