Written by Lia Hobel | Photos by Michael Butcher
There’s the old adage that cats have nine lives, which references their resiliency and stages of life. But not every feline is gifted with the same opportunity to be in a welcoming and loving home. Some are without care from the start or given up for behavioral or physical issues — or even no reason at all.
Fortunately, there’s a Northern Virginia nonprofit that helps all cats and kittens land on their feet, often saving ones that would otherwise be euthanized. The Cats at Long Street is an all-volunteer nonprofit specializing in cases where life hasn’t been so kind and placing cats in homes for their remaining days.
Although the nonprofit was founded in 2017, Dr. Kathi Werden, who serves as CEO, and COO Kristin Lassiter have been performing their healing work for well over a decade. The two kindred spirits met at a veterinary clinic. “Sometimes you meet people that you’re supposed to meet when you’re supposed to meet them,” says Werden fondly.
The organization started at Werden’s home on Longstreet in Round Hill, Virginia (hence the name), where she took in her first foster cats. In the early years, expenses were paid out of pocket or with generous donations from those who knew of the exceptional work that they performed. Thousands of cats have been helped by their hands and support team. “It was very organic,” says Werden, who notes that even before moving to Virginia more than a decade ago, she was helping cats at Michigan State veterinary school. “When I moved down here, it was the same thing where there was just a need, and I was like you know what — I have a bathroom. I have a place that I can work to try to save this cat who deserves something better than spending her entire life in a basement.”
Werden describes all cats as agoraphobic, therefore needing to be given a small space when introduced to a new environment. Over time, she’ll gradually increase the space allotted to them. Her first bathroom cat was Sophie. “Sophie was brought in for euthanasia after being locked in a basement by herself for her entire life, which was seven years. From what the owners told us, someone went down every few months to change the litter box and she was just left there, and she peed all over the basement.” Werden took Sophie into her home and retrained her to use the litter box. In time, Sophie was adopted by Jen Zimmerman, who is now the treasurer of the nonprofit.
The next cat that she helped was a tiny black kitten that had been hit by a car, and one of the assistants that worked at the clinic brought him in on Werden’s day off — and she answered the call to assist. “I put the kitten back together — literally took it to surgery and put it back together,” she recalls.
It’s stories like these that show that life can be rewritten for felines when there is willingness and compassion. From an early age, Werden was one of those people who had both attributes. “When I was a kid, I remember a mom cat that belonged to a neighbor and she had kittens and one of the kittens, a little orange striped one, was stillborn. I remember looking at that itty-bitty kitten and being frustrated that there wasn’t anything I could do to help it,” she remembers.
As the practice owner of Harmony Hill Hospital in Sterling, Virginia, Werden helps all pets, from dentistry, pain management, behavior, internal medicine, and end-of-life care. She says the nonprofit occasionally helps dogs too, in addition to cats, but cats tend to be the “underserved population.”
During the interview, Werden had a cat sitting at her feet who had come to them pregnant with a compound fracture of her femur. “She was miserable, so we paid a small fortune to have her fracture repaired … and then she had her babies.” Werden said other rescues would have aborted the babies, even though they were close to term, and then done the surgery.
The Cats at Longstreet is a collective effort, with four officers and six directors in addition to the support team. “All of us wear more than one hat, but we would not be able to do half the stuff that we do if I didn’t have other people helping.” The organization also teams up with other nonprofits, including in West Virginia and underserved areas within Virginia. Werden finishes, “It just blows me away with all the stuff that we’re able to accomplish now.”
But there is always room for more help, and the organization is in need of foster parents. “We need people who are willing to open their hearts and their homes to senior cats that nobody wants because they’re seniors. And we always need financial donations,” says Werden, as the toughest cases often require the most funding. “We take the hard luck cases, so we take the ones that are covered in maggots. We take the ones that have a broken limb.”
Community events are one way for those interested to learn more about the opportunities available for volunteering and adopting from The Cats at Longstreet. In September, volunteers will be at the Loudoun Pet Expo to answer questions, and there is currently an ongoing flower sale online to support The Cats at Longstreet mission. ML
For more information, visit thecatsatlongstreet.org.
Published in the September 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.