As the weather turns and the spring takes hold, we are excited to be opening the Sanctuary to visitors again.
“In the old days” we had Sunday afternoons open almost all year round – but it was a fairly quiet affair, since we were still Richmond’s best-kept secret. That had been a result of dealing with a Richmond feral cat situation, a very full Sanctuary, and the tendency of people to dump cats off in the driveway, and it took some education to get people to take their cats to the Shelter for assessment first. Gradually the numbers decreased – but our costs expanded with an aging feline population. The decision was made to make the Sanctuary more public, and to ask for a minimum donation for admission.
Some enthusiastic social media nearly swamped us at the beginning, and produced too many people, too many cars, nowhere to park, and outnumbered tour guides and ambassadors! We also noticed that the cats were overwhelmed, and knew we had to find a way of limiting the numbers. Now we are asking people to book online, so that we can restrict the capacity in any hour, and we have some great volunteers around to answer questions. The cats who enjoy company are happier, and the ones who don’t, go find somewhere to sleep in a cats-only area.
Car-parking space is limited because of next-door Phoenix Perennials; we ask that visitors park out on No 6 Road and walk up the driveway, or have the driver do a drop-off at the gate before finding parking. The Adoption Centre is also on-site, but is not open to Sanctuary visitors unless they have a meet-and-greet appointment.
In common with other organizations, COVID has not helped! We totally closed down to visitors in March 2020 through to the following summer, and then opened only in the outdoor spaces. Volunteers and staff working in the buildings do so masked; in the outdoor areas there is some leeway, but with caution, so for everyone’s safety we will be asking for visitors to be masked while with us. We are also keeping some areas closed. The Double-Wide has the greatest number of caged cats receiving medical attention, so they will likely be kept in peace and quiet.
If we have enough ambassadors, we will be allowing limited visitors in the Single-Wide because cats like Mr Pink and Dodger do love the company. As always, no visitors are allowed in Old Aids, where the Leukemia cats live, but the FIV cats in New Aids and Val Jones may have visitors as long as there is an ambassador in with them.
New visitors have to be reminded that all of our cats are here for good reasons, and aggression is sometimes one of those reasons. There are cats who warn you of their aggression right away, and then there are the cats that go rub-rub-rub-CHOMP. They are a big part of why we don’t allow young children (under 6 years) at all, and why any children need to be under adult supervision. Even savvy volunteers get bitten or swatted from time to time, and all the bathrooms have peroxide and bandaids!
We ask that visitors do not bring treats for the cats; experience has taught us that not only do the cats not eat their dinner, but we were finding a lot of throw-up. Instead, we can offer small bags of healthy kibble, to be doled out rather than tossed around in great handfuls. In any case, many of the cats would rather have your attention for petting and play, and you will find grooming tools and toys in each area (please don’t carry them from one area to another).
If you’re a return visitor to the Sanctuary, you probably know the areas you like to visit, and the cats you want to see. You’ll find “ambassadors” around – volunteers who may know that area, and can answer questions (or know who to ask). If you’re a first-time visitor, ask for a tour, and one of our tour guides will walk you around and do a general orientation – it probably won’t be your last visit!