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Local hardware store home to more than meets the eye

Feral cat adoption service helped local feral cats for three decades, settled down in Ferndale business

A small orange kitten poses for the camera as it waits to be adopted, sitting right inside the entrance of an ACE Hardware in Ferndale, Wash. on Aug. 10, 2019. // Courtesy of Joanne Merriman

By Sophia Struna

Creatures’ Comfort has worked with feral cats in Whatcom County since 1987, originally operating out of a local PetSmart adoption center. However, when the founder of Creatures’ Comfort, Lois Wade, found herself looking towards retirement, the local Ferndale ACE Hardware became the perfect place to size down operations.

Despite the service now running out of one location, Creatures’ Comfort finds they are busy and will remain busy with the countless feral cats in the area that need their care.

Pamela Staeheli, charity president of Feral Cat Assistance & Trapping, has seen similar trends in Seattle.

“After 27,000 cats in my 20-some odd years, you would think you would see a dent,” Staeheli said. “And some areas are better, some areas have now gotten worse, but in general, for the most part, I'm seeing it escalate back up again,”

While the presence of the large feral cat population has kept Creatures’ Comfort working for the past three decades, the service did not always run solely out of a local hardware store.

In 2009, Wade asked her volunteers if anyone was willing to settle in the hardware store and oversee the cats’ care, and Joanne Merriman raised her hand.

“I didn't know it was going to last 12 years, but I still love the cats and I still love doing the adoptions,” said Merriman, who began volunteering with Creatures’ Comfort in 2007.

In its early years, Creatures’ Comfort provided trap-neuter-release services and rehoming assistance. Now the service has quieted down to work on a smaller scale of adoptions.

Merriman, now the adoption coordinator out of ACE Hardware, finds herself going through adoption applications every day. With a goal to create the best fit for every person interested in adopting a cat or kitten, Merriman said she has to make sure the cats are completely ready to go to a home.

Staeheli said ensuring feral cats are spayed or neutered is vital, as ferals exist when people don’t spay their cats in the first place.

While some feral cats can be tamed and placed into a home environment, other cats who remain feral are trapped, neutered and returned to where they were found instead. Staeheli said this process keeps colonies from becoming overpopulated, while allowing the feral cats to return to where they came from.

Merriman said the first job in getting adoptable feral cats ready is to ensure they are vaccinated and fixed before going to their new homes, given the conditions they are coming from.

However, before the cats find their new homes, they become accustomed to their temporary home in the store. Nicole Orchard, manager of the Ferndale ACE Hardware for the past five-and-a-half years, said employees and customers have become just as attached to the cats.

“I know that people definitely enjoy coming just to see the cats, bringing their kids in just to see the cats,” Orchard said. “I know that it's awfully lonely when there are no cats here.”

Orchard added that community reception of the adoption service has been nothing but accepting. 

“We have some regulars here who've adopted, you know, some up to about four cats,” Orchard said.

Laura Willkie adopted her cat Nellie four years ago from Creatures’ Comfort. At the time, the service was running out of its original PetSmart location, as well as the ACE Hardware. Willkie said Nellie locked eyes with her son Ben one day while shopping at the PetSmart location, and that was it.

“They found her in the Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot, and she was [in PetSmart] for six months,” Willkie said. “Nobody adopted her.”

Willkie said Nellie is now her emotional support animal, while maintaining her calico cat personality over the years. 

“She's definitely got a ‘cat-titude’,” Willkie said.

For the past 12 years, Creatures' Comforts has helped cats find homes outside of the Ferndale ACE Hardware, today, they help inspire a new generation of cat lovers.

Chelsea Mathews first volunteered for Creatures’ Comfort during the summer of 2015. After her mentor, Wade, started working to condense the service, Mathews found an opportunity to branch out.

In January 2019, Whatcom Feline Alliance (WFA) was born, operating out of the PetSmart adoption center as a foster home based and volunteer-run service. 

Mathews developed WFA to ensure humane trap-neuter-return assistance to feral cats in the community, as well as to take on some of the higher-volume work of finding homes for adoptable feral cats that Creatures’ Comfort once did.

“I really learned a lot from [Wade],” Mathews said. “I always knew that I wanted to run a cat rescue and kind of got into it with feral cats.” 

Creatures’ Comfort established the organization’s work of humanely helping and finding permanent homes for feral cats. Mathews said WFA continues to respond to the needs of the community as feral cats roam Whatcom County. 

“The idea is to improve their life,” Mathews said.

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