A flurry of furry friends greets visitors at the main foster home for LI Kitties in Speonk, batting at dangling shoelaces and offering an affectionate nuzzle.Most were rescued off the street as youngsters and now await permanent homes, Sharon Ippolito, who established the organization, explained last week.
Her love for cats led her to volunteer with local shelters after she retired from her job in the insurance industry about 20 years ago. In 2008, that passion, coupled with the large population of stray or homeless cats on Long Island, led her to formally incorporate LI Kitties as a nonprofit organization.
“A litter of kittens here and a litter of kittens there, and then the word gets out and your phone doesn’t stop ringing,” she said.
She currently has about a dozen cats waiting for adoption or to be placed in a foster home with her roughly 15 volunteers. “I do have to turn people away,” she said, explaining that she simply doesn’t have room to take in cats or kittens when community members ask.
Ms. Ippolito runs the organization from her home’s attached garage like a well-oiled machine. The dozen or so cats she cares for are rotated, in shifts, in and out of the cages that line the room to allow them plenty of play time without unleashing chaos. A chart on the wall details notes about each of the animals, as well as when they were combed and played with.
Running a cat rescue and foster organization—especially one as tidy as LI Kitties—is a full-time job. Ms. Ippolito said the chores begin early in the morning and the cats require lots of attention throughout the day. “This is seven days a week,” she said.
The organization’s mission statement stresses that LI Kitties is not a shelter, and that it relies on the assistance of others who provide temporary foster homes for the strays. “We foster, socialize when necessary, and then place them into loving homes,” the statement reads.
On top of the work, the organization is also costly. Ms. Ippolito said she spends hundreds on medical care, including shots, tests for leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, neutering and spaying, plus thousands for food, litter and supplies. She has received various grants, but said those funds are running out.
To help her continue the mission, the Art of Massage, a business on Montauk Highway in Westhampton Beach, is donating 100 percent of the proceeds raised from massages and facials on Monday and Tuesday, February 10 and 11, to LI Kitties. Half-hour massages or facials are $50, while hour-long massages and facials cost $100. Appointments are required and can be made by calling (631) 288-5588.
“It’s very important,” Ms. Ippolito said of next month’s fundraiser.
Adopters are charged an $85 fee for kittens and a $70 fee for adult cats, which helps cover some of the medical costs. She added that requiring the fee also helps ensure that adopters have the resources to care for the animals and are committed to the endeavor.
Before she lets the cats go to their new home, Ms. Ippolito also vets potential new owners to make sure they either own a home or rent a home where pets are permitted.
“The longer they’re here, the harder it is,” she said of letting the cats go.
Emma Bonn, 22, who began volunteering with LI Kitties when she was 16 and a student at Eastport South Manor High School, knows the difficulty of letting cats go after caring for them as kittens.
On Sunday, she recalled her first experience handling young kittens, which required bottle feeding every two hours for at least four weeks. “It’s a labor of love—you never sleep,” she said.
When the kittens grew old enough for adoption, she brought all but one—a kitten named Jenny—back to LI Kitties, where they waited to meet their new owners.
“I just couldn’t let her go,” she said, explaining that she adopted Jenny.
Ms. Bonn said her volunteer work with LI Kitties has also taught her valuable lessons and skills, which will come in handy when she is applying to veterinarian programs after she graduates from Suffolk County Community College this year. She said she has learned how to care for the young animals, how to medicate them and socialize them.
“It’s definitely my passion,” she said.
Ms. Ippolito, whose husband helps with the organization, but declined to be named for the article, said she shares that passion and hopes to continue running the successful nonprofit for some time.
“All my kids have four legs,” she said.
Anyone considering adopting cats or kittens from LI Kitties can call (631) 987-8152 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment. Those wishing to make a donation can mail them to LI Kitties, Inc., PO Box 754, Speonk, NY, 11972.