More than 100 riders have registered to compete in the Cats N CANS Benefit Barrel Race on Saturday that will support the rescue work of Cat Aid Network (CAN) of Blairsville.
The event that will be on the grounds of the Clyde Saddle Club of New Florence begins at 9 am, with the open section starting at 1:30 pm and continuing until about 4 pm Admission is free and open to the public.
The fundraiser was organized by CAN volunteer Whitney Charlton-Serakowski, of Salix in Cambria County, who is also a member of the equestrian club.
“Whitney and her father have a farm and horses and she saw how much we’re struggling and she offered to do this fundraiser for us,” said Kimberly Rose, of Blairsville, the president of CAN who founded the nonprofit in 2016.
Barrel racing is a western horseback riding event in which riders and their horses navigate in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels. The one with the fastest time wins. Saturday’s competition has categories for pee-wees, beginners, youth, adult and master riders.
“It’s a pretty big thing in the horse community, especially in this area,” Charlton-Serakowski said. “People will be coming from the local region, from out of state and as far as five hours away. Because this event is sanctioned by a few larger barrel racing organizations, it’s drawing riders from far away.”
Proceeds from participant registrations, raffles, and the sale of refresh auctions will benefit the feline rescue that has foster homes for about 400 cats in Indiana, Westmoreland, Cambria, Allegheny and Fayette counties.
“This year has been absolutely terrible,” Rose said about the volume of cats they take in and the need for funds.
She receives calls every day about neglected, abused, sick and injured cats and kittens. She has responded to reports of kittens left along roadsides or in fields, horrendous hoarding cases and colonies of feral cats that have gotten out of hand. Things are particularly worse at kitten season this time of year.
“One of our veterinarians thinks that we’re seeing this because during COVID-19, spaying and neutering was shut down,” Rose said. “Now there are so many more cats giving birth.”
There’s not just a need to “fix” them at CAN’s spa and neuter clinics. Many of the cats and kittens are infected with flies and parasites, common upper respiratory infections and eye problems.
Unfortunately, many of them also have serious diseases such as panleukopenia, which is like a feline version of the parvo virus that can be deadly to dogs. One outbreak can contaminate an entire foster home that gets shuts down to any cat that’s not vaccinated against it.
“Panleukopenia can live in the environment for a year, and the scary thing is that you can take it home with you,” Rose said.
There’s also feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline coronavirus, herpes and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) that, until recently, could not be treated.
Feral cats and many surrendered cats have never been vaccinated nor received any medical care. So veterinary services add up, along with the costs of food and other supplies for the foster locations.
The goal is to get each cat or kitten ready for a forever home.
“Our adoption fee is now only $50 just because we are trying to move cats into good homes,” Rose said. “And so we take a huge financial loss on every adoption.”
That makes every donation and every fundraiser crucial. CAN conducts ticket and tipboard sales on its Facebook page and has plans for a spaghetti dinner and another flea market in the near future. They have also partnered with Helping Hearts & Healing Tails of Stahlstown in organizing a virtual gun bash, but ticket sales have been slow.
“I honestly don’t know what the answer is,” Rose said about the crises in the cat overpopulation and the rising financial needs. “Maybe more spaying and neutering and people being more responsible. But I don’t think that will ever happen.”
Saturday’s barrel race will be at Clyde Saddle Club at 696 Horse Thief Road in New Florence.
For information about CAN, their current and upcoming fund raisers, low cost spay and neuter clinics, adoptable cats and kittens, and ways to volunteer or donate, visit Cat Aid Network on Facebook or cataidnetwork.org.