BY STEPHANIE DECHERT
PHOTO COURTESY OF FACEBOOK
It was the dead of winter. On a bitter cold night, she heard a kitten crying from outside. She looked out her window and saw the snow blanketing the ground and was starting to pile up. But she saw no kitten. The painful cries continued throughout the night. She decided to check one last time before bed. When she looked out the window this time, she saw a kitten shivering and crying to stay warm.
“I could not keep him, nor could I find anyone local to adopt him,” said Kelly Radcliff, transport director of Imagine Home. “So I put his picture on Facebook and found an adopter in New York. He had to travel over 800 miles to get there. Many of the larger cities have several kill shelters and not enough people in that city with the ability to adopt…You can see that before there was long-distance adoption, many cats were killed.”
Imagine Home is an all-volunteer organization created and maintained on Facebook. The group works hard to make the process of long distance adoption an option for many people.
The group was started in Nov 2012 and has grown on social media. The organization currently holds 11,244 members and approximately 2,000 active volunteers, fosters and drivers. Imagine Home helps find homes for cats in shelters and strays living on streets, and also rehoming of cats due to personal issues.
Members of the group coordinate safe travels from coast to coast. Volunteer drivers of the organization pick up a leg or shift. A leg or shift typically runs about an hour and a half. A meeting spot is arranged to pick up the animal. A driver will meet one of the members at the meeting spot to pick up a cat in the carrier and then proceeds to the next meeting spot. Drivers usually only drive about an hour; however, there have been a few members who are willing to drive six hours away to ensure that the domestic animal has a safe travel and makes it to their new homes.
“My first transport experience was great, I was nervous but so excited,” said Christina Seguine, a volunteer driver for Imagine Home. “From June 21, 2014, to March 5, 2016, I have helped drive 58 cats. I even took three very special cats from New Jersey all the way to North Carolina…To this day it was one of best days of my life.”
More often than not, the transport can take all weekend or sometimes even longer. An overnight stay, or foster home, is required. Transports only run on weekends due to the availability and schedules of drivers. Volunteer fosters will temporarily take in an animal on transport and house them until the following weekend for the next transport. This gives the animals a place to rest before another weekend of traveling. Some fosters will take in an animal for a few months until they are able to go to their forever homes.
“I had wanted to volunteer in some way to help cats, but I didn’t know what to do,” said Deb Dover, volunteer driver for Imagine Home. “When I read about transports, it really clicked. I knew how to drive and my exposure to pathogens would be minimal. I have time on the weekends to spare. It’s a perfect fit”
This group is mainly dedicated to cats due to the problem of so many cats not having homes and the overpopulation of stray cats. There are many cities that euthanize at shelters; by giving animals another chance at life, long-distance adoptions have saved them. Since the group was formed, Imagine Home has transported 547 cats and two dogs.
The use of social media has had a big effect on the group. It has provided safe transports for the animals, assistance, education and inspiration by connecting people with resources and other alternatives, but more importantly it has provided the animals with loving homes.
Along with fosters, drivers and volunteers, there are many other jobs that come with being a member and coordinating so everything runs smoothly as possible.
“My duties are mostly to coordinate transports on the day of their event,” said Noelle Spark, Development Director of Imagine Home. “I also do a variety of special projects. I work on complicated or involved requests. I create graphics for transports and recruiting, and do odd jobs that nobody else wants to do. I helped create Imagine Home, along with a group of friends, because we had been with another group that wanted to make money doing transports. We believed then, and even more now, that the most important thing was the cats who need help.”
As of March 10, the organization was able to obtain a 501c3 status. A 501c3 stands for a non-profit organization, and because the group is considered a charity, this exempts the group from all federal tax income.
Imagine Home is currently looking for more volunteers, and can be contacted through Facebook. Students who volunteer are eligible for volunteer hour credits. For more information visit: facebook.com/ImagineHome.