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Gwinnett no-kill shelter offers home for 200 animals

At Furkids, a no-kill animal shelter in Gwinnett, cats sleep in cozy beds and on folded blankets. Other cats play on custom-made cat trees or eat from dishes neatly lined up against the wall. Although 200 cats live here, few cat fights ever break out.

In fact, the shelter, with its pastel-colored walls and cage-free rooms, is surprisingly serene.

"I really wanted the shelter to be stylish and welcoming and not some dreary place for people to come. I wanted it to be friendly, like home," said Samantha Shelton, founder of Furkids.

Though the residents of Furkids purr happily and beg to be petted by visitors, all of the cats who live here were rescued from varying degrees of danger.

Flipper, a gray tabby, was a feral cat who is now being socialized. Elvira, a black-and-white female, was dropped off at the shelter by a woman who drove away without coming inside. Sushi, a white male with patches of gray, was running loose in East Atlanta after his owner went into a nursing home.

Shelton knows the names and stories of all 200 cats who live at the shelter.

Some of the newest arrivals at Furkids are 14 cats that came from the home of an animal hoarder in Doraville. They were among 36 cats being kept by the same woman, who wasn't caring for them properly. The cats all have bad teeth, which must be pulled, and other health problems.

"It was our third hoarding case since the beginning of this year," Shelton said. During the first seven weeks of 2007, Furkids has offered shelter to 51 cats from hoarding situations.

Furkids often takes in cats with special health needs. It is the only shelter in the Southeast that accepts cats with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Shelton said. The virus causes feline AIDS. The 17 FIV-positive cats at Furkids live in their own room and are available for adoption.

"FIV is not a reason to euthanize, unless they're symptomatic. They can live 10 years with FIV," Shelton said.

The founding of Furkids

Five years ago, a mother cat brought three kittens into Shelton's yard. She couldn't keep them, but she didn't want them to be euthanized. As she worked with an animal organization to find homes for three of the cats (she kept one of the kittens), she discovered a passion for helping animals.

"When this came along, I realized this is what I was meant to do with my life," Shelton said.

Since the group was founded five years ago, Furkids has helped 2,000 animals. Last year, about 500 cats were adopted from the organization.

In April 2006, Furkids moved into its current home, which is part of an office park in southern Gwinnett. It took a year to transform the 5,000-square-foot warehouse space into the welcoming shelter it is today.

The group's five-year anniversary party, scheduled for March 24, will help raise the $60,000 needed to open a spay-and-neuter clinic at the Furkids shelter.

The nonprofit shelter is funded by donations, both large and small. "Every little bit helps. It's the small donations, and lots of them, that sustain the organization," Shelton said.

For example, $10 can be used to fund a rabies shot, while $20 pays for a neuter surgery, she said.

Ultimately, Shelton hopes Furkids will be able to raise enough money to buy its own property, so the group can shelter dogs as well. Right now, Furkids helps abandoned dogs, but the animals have to be housed in foster homes.

Adopting a cat

Initially, Paige Newton-Jones of Snellville contacted Furkids because she wanted a second cat to keep her first cat company. She had seen a cat she liked on the group's Web site and applied to adopt it.

The volunteers and staff at Furkids, though, didn't think the cat Newton-Jones wanted would be a good match for her. After talking with her for 45 minutes about exactly what she was looking for, they recommended another animal.

"The cat I adopted from them - his name is Keegan - is perfect," Newton-Jones said.

She was so pleased with her Furkids experience, she began to volunteer at the shelter. Now she spends between two and eight hours there each week.

"I love working there," Newton-Jones said. "I just really believe in what they're doing."

She cleans the rooms where the cats live, doing everything from emptying litter boxes to refilling food and water bowls.

While volunteering, she encountered a special-needs cat, named Scooter because of the way she walks. Scooter was born without part of her back right leg and only a stub for a foot on her back left leg. She was part of a litter of kittens rescued from Gwinnett County Animal Control. "She was so cute. She only weighed a pound," Newton-Jones said.

Though Scooter needed extra care, Newton-Jones decided to adopt the cat. Scooter has adjusted well to her handicap. The cat usually runs up to greet Newton-Jones and her husband when they get home.

The face of Furkids

An orange tabby named Mr. Red is one of Furkids' most famous alumni. He was one of five cats chosen to appear on the Georgia Lottery's Fat Cat tickets. "We've bought several of him, but he's a big loser as far as the lottery goes," said his owner, Arlene Gunter of Berkeley Lake.

Though Mr. Red's tickets have yet to bring his family a jackpot, they still think he's a winner. "He's brought so much into our lives," Gunter said.

Gunter was a Furkids volunteer when she met Mr. Red, who is FIV-positive. As she worked in the room where the FIV-positive cats live, she never paid much attention to Mr. Red. He typically ignored her as well.

Then one day, he was perched at the top of a cat tree and when Gunter came close to him, he put his front paws around her neck. He started hugging her every time he saw her and watching her as she walked out of the room.

"When I would leave, he would stand at the door and paw it, like 'You forgot something,'" Gunter said.

Last spring, she decided to take him home. Gunter keeps Mr. Red away from other cats, though FIV is usually only spread through severe bites. Though their immune systems are weak, FIV-positive cats can live for years.

"They're pretty much healthy. If you plan to have a one-cat household, it works fine," Gunter said.

Adoption Info

Furkids cats are available for adoption. The fee, which includes shots and spaying and neutering, is $125 for one cat and $200 for two.

Cats can be seen on the organization's Web site and at the adoption centers at three metro Atlanta PetsMart stores, which are open during store hours. Call 770-613-0009 or visit www.furkids.org.

•PetsMart Midtown, 650 Ponce De Leon Ave. in Atlanta. Call 404-872-2363.

•PetsMart Perimeter, 128 Perimeter Center West in Atlanta. Call 770-481-0043.

•PetsMart Smyrna, 2540 Cumberland Blvd., SE in Atlanta. Call 770-432-8250.