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$1.2M expansion of local cat rescue includes surgical suite, kitten castle and catios

Yes, these adorable kittens are up for adoption at Pet Pride.
Jasmin Singer
Yes, these adorable kittens are up for adoption at Pet Pride.

When she was 11, Marlies Sullivan snuck a litter of newborn kittens into her bedroom to save them from what very well could have been a terrible fate.

The newborns belonged to the barn cat where Sullivan was taking horseback-riding lessons, and the owner had threatened to drown the kittens.

A week later, Sullivan’s mother found out about the feline refugees, but Sullivan didn’t get in trouble. Together, she and her mom adopted out each kitten — and a cat rescuer was born.

Since 1988, Sullivan has turned her passion for helping cats into a career, eventually winding up at Pet Pride — a 45-year-old no-kill sanctuary and adoption center for cats. Sullivan is now the vice president of the growing nonprofit.

The sanctuary and adoption center is tucked away at the end of a long road in Victor, amid 15 acres of lush forest. Word to the wise: It’s very easy to miss the turn.

“Pet Pride was kind of a well-hidden secret, the little gem that not a lot of people knew about,” Sullivan says. “The word has really gotten out there.”

Indeed it has, and even aside from Sullivan, there’s a lot of transformation going around.

Pet Pride recently embarked on a massive expansion to the tune of $1.2 million dollars, thanks to a mixture of grants and benefactors. These funds allow the organization to, among other things, provide veterinary care to cats in-house, rather than relying on the already stretched-thin animal hospitals throughout the Rochester area.

A state-of-the-art surgical center was a major part of the expansion. It’s run by co-founder, Dr. Stuart Gluckman, who has decades of experience practicing veterinary medicine, and a passion for helping cats.

“They're just all just begging for a home, and their life is up for grabs, and it’s kind of up to us to save them and take care of them,” he says. “So it's so rewarding.”

Spayings and neuterings will be a major part of what they hope to accomplish with the new surgical center. Gluckman said recently that he was getting ready to do 15 spay surgeries in just one day — something that would never have been possible before the expansion.

But beyond that, Gluckman says they will be able to do “just about anything” at the surgical center, adding that the cost savings are significant.

“If someone's walking around with one eye, for instance,” and they need surgery on the non-functioning one, “that would've been a small fortune to send out and have done elsewhere,” he says, looking around on the ground for someone.

As if on cue, a black-and-white tabby arrives seemingly out of nowhere, rubbing the side of his body along whatever walls, furniture, and humans he can access. Like many other cats there, he is friendly, curious, and dignified. It takes a moment for Gluckman and Sullivan to realize who he is.

“Is this Mr. One Eye?” Sullivan asks.

The kitty (whose name is actually George, though he answers to both) looks up, indeed sporting just one eye.

“Look how good he's doing,” says Sullivan, patting Mr. One Eye’s head. “He's happy.”

From left to right: Kari LaBounty holding Comet; Stuart Gluckman; and Marlies Sullivan holding Blitzen (Rose is the cat in the background)
Jasmin Singer
From left: Kari LaBounty, holding Comet; Stuart Gluckman; and Marlies Sullivan, holding Blitzen. (Rose is the cat seen in the background.)

In addition to the surgical center, the new-and-improved facility has a separate intake room, a sitting room for possible adopters to meet the cats, many enrichment areas for the animals, a kitten castle and six large catios — each made out of super-resilient redwood to withstand Rochester winters.

Every single detail — from the size of the enclosures to the countless cubby holes and ramps — was designed with the cats’ needs in mind. Even the sick bay has its own heating and cooling system in order to avoid possibly spreading illnesses.

Among Sullivan's favorite parts of the expansion are two new apartments, Whiskers Lodge and Catnip Cabana, created so that already-bonded kitties can continue to live together.

Providing that attention to detail ultimately helps the cats thrive more quickly, she says.

“Once their stress levels go down,” says Sullivan, “they're easier to adopt out.”

Being a no-kill shelter — one that does every effort to rehabilitate and rehome the feline residents — there is inherently a limit to the number of cats Pet Pride can take in.

“We never want to overcrowd, ’cause that doesn't help the population at all,” Sullivan says.

The newly expanded facility can house between 75 and 80 cats.

But Pet Pride is more than just a rescue; it’s also a sanctuary, which means there are select cats who permanently call Pet Pride their home. For various reasons, these are felines who are considered unadoptable and would thrive in a permanent environment like Pet Pride, rather than someone’s house.

Minnie, Jonah, and Marge, for example, were three out of 39 cats the organization rescued as part of a hoarding situation. They were all packed in a trailer with no litter box or food anywhere to be seen.

So Pet Pride took them in and gave them the care and rehabilitation they needed, and all but these three were adopted out. According to Sullivan, they are too traumatized, and perhaps even feral. But they’ve made themselves comfortable at the rescue, so they get to stay.

“These guys are living their best life here now,” says Sullivan, smiling at Minnie, who sits atop a tall kitchen counter, gazing down.

Another example of a cat who would become a permanent resident, rather than be adopted out, would be one who has a terminal illness but whose quality of life is still considered good.

Take Koala, a cat who was rescued along with several others. When Koala went for her spay appointment, they found out she had mammary gland cancer. And although she underwent an operation to remove it, the prognosis was that it would return.

“I don't know what other shelters would do,” says Sullivan, “but she lived here for a little over two years. We just lost her a couple of weeks ago.”

By the time Koala died, many of the staff had formed a strong bond with the kitty, so much so that they named a room after her. In it hangs two large portraits of Koala — who Sullivan says spent the end of her life under top-notch care, watching the comings and goings of Pet Pride with curiosity and delight, and enjoying her life to the max.

Marlies Sullivan pays tribute to the late Koala, a cat she adored
Jasmin Singer
Marlies Sullivan pays tribute to the late Koala, a cat she adored.

Pet Pride, located at 7731 Victor-Mendon Road in Victor, offers tours to the public. 

Jasmin Singer is the host of WXXI’s Weekend Edition and Environmental Connections, as well as a guest host for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Connections.