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Building fund started for Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary

July 31, 2019
By MEGHAN BRADBURY ( , Pine Island Eagle

A no kill cat shelter, which opened its doors in 2010, in St. James City, is seeking the community's support to help with their new building fund.

"It was one of those things that I said ... I always wanted to open a shelter if I ever won the lottery," Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary Founder Marnie Miszewski said. "I got laid off of work and needed to make a career decision. I took out my retirement money and everything I saved up and started the shelter."

The shelter became a reality after she found a stray cat a week before she got laid off. The black cat, named Thomas O'Malley, tested positive for FELV, leukemia. She said the news was devastating, especially when she realized there was no place for him to go.

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Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary is seeking the community's support to help with their new building fund.


"It made me realize that there was more of a need for another place to take special needs cats, in addition to all the healthy ones out there," Miszewski said.

Unfortunately Thomas died of the disease in February 2013, but taught Mis-zewski and many others a great deal about FELV.

The Pine Island community, she said, has been a blessing because if there is anything they need, it kind of just falls into their lap. For example, when the center fell short on litter one day, the next day there is plenty waiting by the door.

Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary rents space on Mallory East Parkway. She said she and her landlord had a discussion about him wanting to be closer to his grandkids who live on the other coast, which meant she would need to find another space for the shelter. It was shared that he hoped the transition would take place over the next five to seven years.

With the heads-up, Miszewski said they have started a building fund at Centennial Bank on Pine Island, and Chuck's Auto Body has started a collection for the shelter.

"I didn't want to be limited to just cats," she said of her original vision of the shelter. "But since we are renting a small building, we had to start small. One day I want to take on dogs, horses, sheep, llamas. I don't want to be limited on just cats. For that we need our own place."

The building which houses the shelter, Miszewski said, really is not for cats.

"I want to be able to give them a place with more outdoor access if they want it. We don't have open/close windows. I want a shelter that is easy to clean, cheaper to cool and more animal friendly," she said.

Miszewski said they need to buy land before they can build an actual building.

"I do want to stay on Pine Island. The island people have been so good to us. There are shelters everywhere. There are a lot of rescue groups. As far as brick and mortar shelters, there is no one out on Pine Island," she said. "I would never leave them (Pine Island community). They are so loyal. We wouldn't be where we are if it weren't for them."

The new shelter will start off small with cats before hopefully growing into one that meets the needs of many animals.

With a new shelter being built in Cape Coral, Miszewski said she put off doing a building fund earlier because they were raising funds hard to open that shelter.

"I didn't want to compete with them. It's important for them to get their start as well," she said, adding that putting off the shelter for Pine Island is "kind of no longer an option."

Those interested in making a donation can do so by contributing to the Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary Building Fund at Centennial Bank, or by calling Miszewski at 239-283-9100.

"If there is another business that wants to collect on our behalf, too, let us know. We would appreciate it," she said.

In addition, Miszewski said they are always looking for volunteers that would like to help them raise funds.

Helping Paws Animal Sanctuary typically has about 200 cats, but in the summer it dwindles to about 130, which are up for adoption. The difference is due to less volunteers and money coming into the shelter during the summer months.

"We are down to 10 volunteers for the summer. Come fall, we will fill back again to about 30," she said.

The shelter houses cats, kittens, as well as special needs, FIV and FELV cats. The kittens are kept at a foster home because there is no way to keep them separate from adults at the shelter.

"We usually bring them out to the shelter on Saturdays for people to come and see them, or by appointment," she said.

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