Herding Cats 

Tough economy puts strain on House of Mews.

Over the past 15 years, House of Mews founder Elaine Harvey has housed countless cats and kittens at her no-kill shelter in Cooper-Young. But now the passionate animal rescuer is selling her own home to keep a roof over the cats' heads.

"My house is tying me down. It's an expense I don't need," Harvey said, fighting back tears. "If I didn't have a home to worry about, I wouldn't have to come up with as much money to take care of myself and I could handle the store."

After her East Memphis home sells, Harvey plans to save money by moving into an efficiency apartment. Donations to the House of Mews have been slow over the past year, likely due to the weak economy.

Currently, the shelter houses 95 cats at its storefront at 933 S. Cooper. The rent is $980 a month, and Harvey must constantly raise funds for food, litter, and veterinary care.

"The vet bills have been really expensive over the past couple of years, as much $20,000 a year," Harvey said.

The House of Mews receives regular donations of canned food and supplies, and they pay a couple hundred dollars a month on dry food. Litter costs run the shelter about $500 a month. The store's largest revenue generator is the annual Meowathon 5K, which brought in $29,000 last November. But that still isn't enough to run the shelter year-round.

"People have put us in wills or put us down as beneficiaries on insurance policies and investment accounts, but those are someday things," Harvey said. "We have to wait for someone to die for that to happen. We always just go day by day. During this economy, it's gotten really tough."

Though the shelter doesn't seem to be in immediate danger of closing, Harvey is putting together an emergency plan in case funding continues to dwindle. She's asking people to volunteer to take in a cat should the operation close.

"We think all the time, What would happen if we just didn't have the money to pay the rent one month? If we had to move quickly, what would we do with 95 cats?" Harvey said. "We want a list of people who would be willing to take one kitty."

As of press time, 17 people have volunteered for the emergency list. Harvey is also looking for donors to help with the monthly bills.

"We would like to get people to sign up to have part of the bills paid out of their bank accounts," Harvey said. "It would help us breathe easier if we had a number of people willing to donate toward the rent. At least we'd know we'd have a place to be, and any excess could be spent on vet bills."

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