She calls them “special features kitties.”

Over the last five years, Cheryl Christensen has been rescuing felines and finding homes for them through Petco in Tucson and Green Valley. Saddened because the adoption centers won’t accept immune-comprised cats, the founder of the Desert Cat Rescue and Sanctuary of Arizona decided to do something about it.

She created the Desert Cat Rescue Safford Adoption Center. Now cats that suffer from physical deformities or diseases, such as feline immune deficiency virus and feline leukemia, are brought from her home-based rescue operation to Pawsh Puppies Grooming in Safford.

“I am the main foster home for those kitties because I refuse to euthanize them,” she said. “They don’t need medicine. They just need a quiet, stress-free home. They aren’t special needs because they don’t need anything. They’re special feature kitties.”

Each morning volunteers with the sanctuary bring the cats to the adoption center and place them in windows where they have food, water and a litter box. In the afternoon, the cats are returned to the shelter near Christensen’s home for the night. At the center, the cats are in the public eye and volunteers at the center can arrange adoptions, fosters, or talk to would-be volunteers for the sanctuary.

Since 2016 Christensen has collected 16 medically different felines. Once all of them have been adopted, regular cats will be placed in the center. If the shelter receives more “special features” cats, she will put them in the adoption center to find homes.

Sherri Klose, Pawsh Puppies owner, has known Christensen for years and used to volunteer on the rescue board. Klose is letting the adoption center use the windows of her grooming business to display the cats without charging rent.

“Every living animal deserves a kind and caring home. I believe in what Cheryl is doing,” Klose said. “They deserve a chance at a happy, healthy, and loved life.”

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A grant from the Bonnie Kay Charitable Fund allowed the shop’s windows to be adapted. Christensen also credits the hard work and volunteer hours of multiple community members, including Johnny Wilson. Multiple businesses donated items and skills, such as Trinity Floor Covering. Carpet Tile and More also sold quality flooring at a discounted rate. Christensen said she is grateful to the volunteers who work with her, and Klose, who is instrumental in the operation of the center.

The cats at the adoption center have all had their shots, been spayed or neutered, and are micro-chipped. If a pet owner already has other cats in the home and wants to adopt one of the medically unique cats, the sanctuary will provide up to two feline leukemia vaccinations. The vaccines are for adoptees who have other cats in the house in the effort to keep the other cats from catching feline leukemia. The price of the adoption of a special feature cat is $50.

According to PetMD.com, cats with feline leukemia should be separated from uninfected cats.

However, Mary Davis, a member of the sanctuary board, said that while no vaccine is 100% effective, she knows people who have both healthy cats and those with feline leukemia.

“I do know many people that have regular cats that have adopted feline leukemia virus cats and they’ve gotten the vaccine and their cats have never gotten feline leukemia virus,” she said.

Davis, who has volunteered with the San Diego Human Society and the Boulder Colorado Humane Society, said that in the case of feline immunodeficiency virus, it is actually quite hard to infect another cat unless they are giving each other deep bite wounds.

Since January, Christensen has found homes for 140 healthy cats and the work is exhausting, she said.

“Send help!” she said. “We also need fosters, and the supplies are provided. Any type of volunteer would be appreciated. If you’re willing to help bring the cats to the adoption center or sitting at the adoption center, we would love to have you.”

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