By Story and photos by Mikael Krummel

At last count, Shelter Animal Resource Alliance (SARA) volunteers had rescued nearly 1,000 dogs and more than 900 cats from being euthanized in local shelters. Another 160-plus pets from low-income settings that SARA has sponsored for spay and neuter operations translates into 1,700 estimated averted animal killings. The combined total reflects more than 3,600 saved lives.

Stunning statistics, especially when you realize this passionate concern for pet welfare emanates from a small, secondhand shop tucked away on River Road. The store’s mission dates back to the late ’90s, when now-retired founder Diane Robinson launched the charity to rescue dogs facing euthanasia because of foster placement or adoption shortages.

But Kelly Coulter, SARA’s current operations manager, says conditions affecting the homeless pet population have changed over the past two decades. “We work with a lot of other dog rescues,” Coulter says, “but it seems like right now, we’re finding that the need for cat rescue is up a lot.”

Which is why the thrift store sometimes shelters upwards of several dozen furry felines on location. Some live alone in unlocked cages. Some share space in kitty dormitories. Some daytrip underfoot or among shelves of secondhand goods. Others wander the store as free-range critters overseeing their kingdom night and day. Most embody a common condition: They all have special needs, such as extreme shyness, old age, health issues, or social anxiety.

Coulter says SARA used to rescue “almost every cat on the block that needed a home.” But then, other feline rescue groups started stepping up. “And yet, most of the other groups just weren’t able to work with special needs,” she says.

SARA relies on several dozen volunteers in service to special needs cats. The team includes veteran helpers, a cluster of skilled foster parents, and a variety of part-time workers, including high school students. They take care of the cats, raise funds, arrange foster placements and adoptions, and manage the store.

“We’re all very dedicated, but still it’s a hard job,” Coulter says. “Being successful requires a lot of work—finding enough money to feed and assist the cats, providing medical care, and managing special fundraising events. That’s a good way to sum it all up!”