Big Red’s Story: A Feral Cat’s Unexpected Transformation

Big Red is an unusual cat with a remarkable story. Not only is he the largest feral cat to come to the Humane Society of Utah’s clinic in St. George, but he’s also the oldest at four years old.  Typically, feral cats are much slimmer and considered lucky if they live to five due to the spread of fatal diseases. The feral cats treated at our St. George clinic are typically aged one-three. 

But Big Red’s surprising story doesn’t stop here. He was initially brought to HSU in the Spring of 2021 by Kris Neal, a woman who runs a local rescue called One More Chance. This rescue traps stray and feral cats and brings them to HSU to receive services through our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. TNR involves fixing, vaccinating, and ear-tipping feral and stray cats, then returning them to their territory. TNR is a humane way to control the community cat population and stop the spread of rabies and fatal viruses, such as distemper. 

Kris Neal was worried when she brought Big Red to HSU because he looked unwell, and she thought he might need to be euthanized. “He was badly beaten up and had horribly crusty and goopy eyes,” explains Kelsie Watters, manager of our St. George Clinic. 

Currently, our St. George clinic only provides spay, neuter, and vaccination services for the community. But after our veterinarian, Dr. Gray diagnosed Big Red with entropion, she decided to conduct entropion repair surgery since he had few resources as a feral cat.  Entropion is a condition in which your eyelid turns inward so that your eyelashes and skin rub against the eye surface, causing great irritation and discomfort. Through the surgery, the inward part of the eye is removed so the lid can lay flat. 

While at our clinic awaiting surgery, our staff got to know Big Red and fell in love with him.  “Normally, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with the feral cats we serve. But Big Red hung out in our office for some time. He wasn’t very friendly and had the grumpiest-looking cat face ever, but there was something special about him,” Kelsie shared. 

After his surgery, Kris took Big Red home to care for him while he recovered. The plan was to release him as soon as he healed entirely, but Big Red had plans of his own. Instead of running free, he stuck around Kris’s property and stayed inside a workshop on her property to let her know he now preferred living indoors. Curious if she could bond with him, Kris used protective gloves to get him used to touch, and, with time, Big Red eventually let her cuddle him.  

“This took us all by surprise,” said Kelsie. “We never thought in a million years this cat could ever be an indoor cat or would want to be held by anyone. He was very feral, so we thought he’d be much happier living outdoors.” 

Kelsie points out that Big Red’s story is unique, and so she doesn’t want it to encourage people to trap feral cats in hopes of turning them into house pets. “Handling these cats causes great undue stress, and so it’s important to recognize the majority of them do prefer living outside. TNR is our goal for these feral animals, and it’s working well here.”

Feral, stray, and free-roaming cats are the most at-risk animals in U.S. shelters as they are at significant risk of being killed if they enter shelters. As a result, many animal welfare organizations are working together to offer humane solutions for these cats through TNR.  In St. George, these cats are protected by a community of passionate and invested caregivers that feed and look after them. 

“The people here love the feral cat community, and they get upset if anything happens to them just like if they were their indoor pet,” Kelsie explained. “They are providing valuable resources and support not often highlighted, and we are so grateful for all they do to ensure these animals have the best quality of life possible.”

Today, Big Red still looks as grumpy as ever, even after his eyelid surgery. But, he’s got a softer side to him now, and he’s beginning to trust in his human friends, all thanks to our St. George staff and community partners.  And thanks to Kris Neil, Big Red is now living a life of indoor luxury with several other cat friends at his side. 

A Senior Dog’s Pawsome Glow-Up: Jagger’s Story

Jagger was 13-years-old with matted curls and severe dental disease when he came to the Humane Society of Utah in April 2021. Our SOAR team transferred this senior miniature poodle mix from an overcrowded shelter nearby to save his life. Due to a lack of resources and funding, they were unable to provide the medical treatment he needed.

Jagger wasn’t shiny or new, but we saw his value and understood that, without a doubt, this boy deserved all the love and care we could give him. So, we did everything to ensure he’d have the best chance of being adopted, which included removing his decaying teeth and the painful-looking mats in his fur.

He was severely dehydrated and underweight (weighing only 4.3 pounds) and showing signs of nervousness and fear. We decided it was best to put him into our foster program first. This way, he could recover in a calm environment and gain a pound or two before going onto our adoption floor. 

But a week later, Jagger got sick. He was vomiting, had bloody diarrhea, and he wasn’t eating or drinking. He seemed so fragile physically and emotionally that his foster mom worried he wouldn’t pull through. Our Shelter Veterinarian saw him for an emergency exam. He was immediately given medicine and fluids to help him recover.

Thankfully, less than 72 hours later, Jagger appeared to be – for the first time since coming to us – full of life. His foster mom reported that he was suddenly initiating games of fetch and eager to snuggle up to her at night. His usually tired-looking eyes were brighter and more alive.

We’re happy to report that Jagger never made it into our adoption program because, after only a few weeks with his foster mom, she officially made him a member of her family.

About her decision, she said, “What a joy it is to wake up with this sweet boy cuddled up next to me every morning. He follows me everywhere I go, and he can’t get enough of long car rides with the window down so he can look out and feel the wind on his face. Oh, and he loves a pup cup from Starbucks!”

We sure do love a glow-up story, especially when it’s a doggy glow-up story that ends with a senior pup living out his best life.

Little Dog’s Big Journey

Tiny Dog is a playful and scruffy Australian Cattle dog with an easy-going demeanor. She’s very friendly and good with kids, to name a few of the reasons why her guardians love her so much. 

But at just three years old, this sweet girl has already given birth to a handful of litters. Her guardians didn’t want her to get pregnant. However, it isn’t easy to keep this from happening since they live in a rural neighborhood on the Ute Reservation in Northeastern Utah, where access to veterinary care is extremely limited. Here the cost for spaying an animal is not only grossly overpriced, but the nearest vet clinics are either hours away or often booked to capacity for months at a time. 

“Due to the harsh conditions and a lack of animal shelters and control officers, there are hundreds of feral puppies running around the reservation at any given time,” explained Tyson Thompson, Executive Director of the Indian Housing Authority in Fort Duchesne. “

Before long, these free-roaming pups are pregnant and contribute to the animal overpopulation issue, which has troubled the Ute Reservation – the second-largest Native American Reservation in America – for years. The reservation houses nearly 3,000 Ute Tribe members and their pets, plus ten of thousands of homeless dogs and cats.  

Utah Humane first traveled to help the Ute Indian Housing Authority in March 2021. We took in 22 puppies surrendered by tribal members and set up a pet food pantry on a nearby lawn. Since our first visit, we’ve expanded our services to offer free vaccinations on-site and spay and neuter surgeries off-site on a pet retention basis. 

Our pet retention program allows individuals experiencing financial hardship to receive free or donation-based medical care without having to surrender their beloved pets. Tiny Dog is one of the dozens of tribal pets who have received support through this program. She was spayed at our facility in Murray on July 8th and returned to her family the next day.

“Currently, we’re traveling to the reservation every three weeks to host an owner surrender and vaccination event for the local community and to transport pets to our facility to be spayed or neutered,” said our Admissions & Placement Manager, Amber Henry.  “It’s a five-hour drive round trip, but there is so much value in keeping pets in their home with the people who love them; It makes the long drive worth it.” 

Our partnership with the Indian Housing Authority is in the beginning stages. But we’re working hard to collaborate with nearby neighborhoods and housing authorities and local animal control and veterinarians to develop a system of care to significantly decrease the number of free-roaming animals on the reservation and ultimately save and improve the lives of thousands of dogs and cats each year.

Tyson Thompson shared, “On behalf of my superiors and our residents, we thank Utah Humane for coming out here regularly to help us get this situation under control. Your work here has already changed things for the better, both short and long-term, and we cannot thank you enough.”

Tormund Giantsbane’s Hoppy New Beginning

Sara adopted Tormund Giantsbane, a 9-month-old male angora giant rabbit, from our Adoption Resource Center on Mother’s Day. She’d seen his photo on our billboard on I-15 and thought he was beyond cute with his impossibly long and fluffy ears.  

“I grew up on a farm with rabbits and had always been told they belonged outdoors and didn’t make good pets,” explained Sara. “I believed this until I adopted my first rabbit, Jango, years ago and witnessed for myself how incredibly personable and smart she was.”

Jango’s striking personality made Sara want to learn more about rabbits as pets. She was surprised to discover that these small mammals are generally very clean, easily potty trained, and incredibly social and playful.

When Jango passed away in 2018, Sara knew she wanted to adopt another rabbit one day but needed time to grieve. It wasn’t until Sara’s husband – after hearing his wife share all about the adorable rabbit she’d seen on our billboard – gifted her with rabbit supplies for Mother’s Day that she knew it was time.

“I drove to the Humane Society of Utah to adopt him that day, and he’s been a precious addition to our family ever since. He’s the sweetest, most curious bunny I’ve ever met. We have a dog and a new baby, but he pretty much rules the roost. We absolutely adore him!”

Sara says Tormund’s pretty silly, too. He likes to bop her with his head to signal that he wants more attention, and he will regularly dump his food on the floor to find the best bits to eat first.

As his caregiver, she makes sure he has plenty of indoor space to free roam and an outdoor run so he can play in the sunshine. In addition, she regularly grooms his angora wool to keep his coat free from mats and reduce the risk of wool blocks.

Sara shared, “both my rabbits have been very affectionate and helped alleviate my anxiety. These animals are worth learning more about.”

State-Level Advocacy

The 2022 Legislative Session

This year, Utah’s legislative session officially starts on Tuesday, January 18. With just 45 short days in the session, it is sure to be a whirlwind! The Humane Society of Utah’s advocacy team will be posted at the Utah State Capitol every day of the session, ready to educate legislators on the companion animal welfare issues facing our state. 

There are quite a few bills up for consideration this year that will impact pets and their people. Read on to see the bills we have brought forth and the bills we are supporting this session. We will keep an updated list of the bills we are supporting, and their progress, on our website throughout the session. 

State-Level Advocacy - Utah State Capitol on Animal Welfare Day

Our Bills

  1. Protection of Animals Amendments (HB 175) – Sponsored by Rep. Angela Romero, House District 26. We have partnered with Ruff Haven Crisis Sheltering for this important bill. This bill will allow survivors of domestic violence to include their pets in personal protective orders. Abusers often use violence or threats of violence against a victim’s pet as a psychological tool to manipulate and further control the victim. The fear of an abuser causing harm to a beloved animal often delays victims from leaving an abusive household or stops them from fleeing entirely. In fact, nearly 50% of domestic violence victims have delayed leaving their abuser out of fear of harm to their pets. The intent of this legislation is to ensure that survivors can protect themselves and their pets sooner. 
  2. Transportation of Dogs Act (HB 92) – Sponsored by Rep. Ashlee Matthews, House District 38. This bill protects public safety and animal welfare by specifying the methods by which a dog can be transported on a truck bed. Dogs riding unrestrained in a truck bed are at risk of being ejected from the vehicle in the event of an accident, are exposed to unforgiving Utah weather conditions, and risk being struck by flying debris. Unrestrained companion animals also pose a risk to public safety and contribute to distracted driving. The intent of this legislation is to ensure that dogs are properly and safely restrained on highways to prevent them from becoming projectiles, causing injury or death to themselves or others on the roadway. 

Bills We Support

  1. Animal Shelter Amendments (SB 69) – Sponsored by Sen. David Hinkins, Senate District 27. This bill will mandate euthanasia-by-injection in animal shelters throughout Utah for non-emergency euthanasia. Utah is one of very few states that still allow euthanasia by gas chamber. While there are a lot of hurdles for companion animal welfare in our state, inhumane euthanasia should not be one of them. The intent of this bill is to ban gas chamber euthanasia, which we at the Humane Society of Utah fully support!  
  2. Animal Fighting Penalties (HB 112) – Sponsored by Rep. Marsha Judkins, District 61. This bill will expand the animal fighting laws in Utah to apply to all animals, not just dogs, and roosters. While dogfighting and cockfighting are the most commonly known forms of animal fighting, many different species of animals, when pitted against one another by bad actors, can and do fight. The intent of this legislation is to ensure animals of any species are not forced to fight, and if they are, the greedy humans involved are met with legal consequences. 

Here’s hoping for a successful legislative session, where animal welfare wins and changes in our laws make it a little easier to Change Their World.

Want to be kept up-to-date with our advocacy efforts, including action alerts on the bills listed above? Follow us on Facebook or Instagram for weekly updates.

Understanding urinary tract issues in cats

header image of a ginger cat

Cats can experience urinary tract issues which can lead to house soiling. This is the top reason older cats are surrendered to the Humane Society of Utah. In addition, cats that develop urinary tract infections can sometimes suffer from endocrine diseases, including hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus. 

Often the former guardians are unaware of the urinary tract issues, and it isn’t until they are in our care that they find out. Luckily, some families are willing to reunite with their beloved feline friends once they are informed and a treatment plan has been implemented. 

The most common symptoms of urinary tract infection in cats include: 

  • urinating small amounts more frequently
  • straining to urinate
  • pain or discomfort when urinating
  • not urinating at all
  • urinating around the house (outside the litter box)
  • passing urine tinged with blood (pinkish color urine) 
  • sudden-onset fear of the litter box
  • lethargy
  • vomiting 

If your feline friend is exhibiting any of these symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Here are our tips for maintaining your cat’s urinary health

cat drinking out of a fountain

Increasing your cat’s water intake is one of the most important steps toward keeping their urinary tract healthy. Keeping your cat well-hydrated means they will urinate more frequently which will flush out toxins and maintain healthy kidney function. In addition, a higher urine water content dilutes the toxins, minerals, and urinary irritants that can lead to problems like crystals and urinary stones.

Our first tip is always to provide fresh water. Cats often prefer fresh or running water, which is why you often see them trying to drink straight from the faucet. Many cat bowls today come with a fountain option. 

Second, incorporate wet food into your cat’s diet. Wet food holds more moisture than dry and easily adds water to a cat’s intake.  

Third, if your cat has had previous urinary health problems, they will likely benefit from a urinary diet. These formulas contain specific amounts of minerals, protein, and bladder protectants to help maintain a healthy urinary tract. Urinary diets have restricted amounts of minerals, such as magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium which can contribute to urinary crystals and stone formation. 

Talk with your veterinarian if you think your cat may benefit from a urinary diet. These prescription bags of food often cost about the same as most high-end cat food brands.

Fourth, avoid stressful environments for your feline friend. Cats are sensitive to environmental stressors, which have been linked to inappropriate elimination and feline UTIs. Eliminating simple stressors and providing an escape when your cat is fearful or anxious can keep her urinary tract healthy. 

Cat in a litter box

Lastly, keep your cat’s litter box clean daily and avoid harsh-smelling litters that are heavily scented. These types of cat litter may smell better to us but are often offensive to our feline friends.  

A Year in Review: St. George Clinic

In September 2020, the Humane Society of Utah launched a new spay/neuter and vaccination clinic in St. George. As the only low-cost clinic in the area, it provided a much-needed community resource in Washington County. In 2021, the St. George Clinic was voted “Best of Southern Utah” as a silver nonprofit organization.  

The clinic has officially celebrated its first year and has already achieved great success in the St. George animal-loving community. In 2021, our St. George Clinic spayed/neutered 3,265 cats and dogs. These surgeries are the first step in helping curb the pet overpopulation issue that burdens surrounding animal control agencies.

Additionally, 5,095 vaccines were administered to cats and dogs in the community These core vaccinations not only help keep community-owned pets healthy but also protect pet owners and other community members from dangerous viruses like rabies.

HSU aims to continue serving the people and companion animals of St. George and surrounding areas, whether by keeping owned pets happy and healthy with preventative care or committing to helping homeless animals through our rescue partners in the area. 

2021 In Review

aerial view of our facility

Dear Humane Society of Utah Family,

For 61 years, the Humane Society of Utah has served as a vital resource for the animals of Utah and beyond. Two things have held consistent in that time: our focus and change. We remain as focused as ever to provide the best life possible for the animals we share our lives with, but how we do that is always progressing. With regularity, we ask ourselves “what’s next?” Staying on the forefront of best practices, we implement new programs to save lives like we never have before to produce the best outcomes for all animals, both in our pet resource center and in the communities we serve.

Despite the many challenges of the ongoing pandemic, this past year has been one filled with success, growth, and forward momentum for the Humane Society of Utah.

6,282 animals were adopted in 2021 who are now in loving homes and 6,282 families are now happier and more complete. Keep in mind, each of these adoptions and placements represents a life – a life positively transformed by you, our HSU family of supporters.

Adoptions don’t just come about when a loving family picks out an ideal animal companion and signs an adoption contract. Adoptions come about because people know when they are no longer able to care for an animal, HSU will. They come about because we are able to give animals excellent veterinary care right when they come through our doors, and because we are able to give them love, food, and a safe space. Adoptions come about because our foster volunteers give those in need a little extra help and the time they need to grow or heal. Adoptions come about because our animal behavior team develops specific training plans for those needing a little refinement. They come about because our transport team rescues animals from overcrowded shelters near and far. Adoptions come about because you donate enrichment toys to keep them busy and blankets to keep them warm and comfy. They come about because you, our supporters, share their photos and stories on social media. They come about when someone chooses adoption and space frees up for the next animal. Adoptions come about because of amazing people including a dedicated staff, incredible volunteers, generous donors, and a supportive community. Adoptions come about because of you! Together, we were able to make all of this come about, 6,282 times, just last year.

Families in crisis sometimes feel they must resort to surrendering the pets they love and care for because they don’t know where to turn for temporary assistance with pet food, veterinary care, or behavior modification assistance. The Humane Society of Utah is focused on keeping pets in their current home, if there is a reasonable way to do so. Helping to keep animals in good homes is essential to reducing the homeless animal population. In 2021, we helped 1,464 pets avoid becoming homeless in the first place through our pet retention program and other resources.

Despite the challenges of COVID, using both in-person and virtual lessons, our amazing humane education team finished 2021 with 10,267 children taught about humane practices and compassion. We are very excited to have received a $100,000 grant from the Toscano Family to expand our humane education program. This grant funding gives us the opportunity to develop lessons for both junior and senior high school students reaching even more children than ever before.

Helping pet owners to spay or neuter their animals at no or low-cost also helps keep animals out of shelters by reducing the number of unwanted litters. In 2021, we sterilized 12,643 animals at our veterinary centers and sterilized 457 feral cats through our CATNIP Community Cat Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program.

When families are separated, we want to get them reunited. So, we microchipped 4,635 animals in 2021, which means 4,635 animals have an easy road home if they are ever lost!

Some animals who come into our care require a little extra time and care before they’re ready to be adopted into loving homes. Sometimes they’re not old enough to be adopted, sometimes they’re recovering from injury, sometimes they need extra socialization, and oftentimes they have an illness, such as kennel cough. That’s where our amazing foster caregivers jump into action. These loving volunteers provide short-term care for our animals until they’re ready to be adopted.

In 2021, 1,560 animals benefited from a short-term stay in 498 foster homes across the Salt Lake City area. That’s 1,560 more lives saved, thanks to the compassionate caregivers who were willing to open their homes and hearts to animals in need.

Collectively, our volunteers donated more than 11,740 hours of service last year alone. Our volunteers go above and beyond every day for the animals in our care. That is 11,740 hours ensuring dogs are walked, cats are cuddled, animals are photographed for the website, and our adoption and fundraising events are operating smoothly. The simple fact is, HSU could not exist without our volunteers!

While HSU works to save lives in Utah and beyond, we have always stressed that the job ahead of us is too big for any one organization. This is why we feel it is important to foster a cooperative animal welfare community. HSU works with hundreds of rescue groups and animal shelters to advocate for better animal-friendly laws and policies and to transfer animals into our facilities when other organizations need assistance. This year we took in 1,562 animals from other organizations, of which, 442 came in from out of state.

2021 was the first year of operations for our St. George clinic. In 2021, we worked with 17 shelters and rescue groups in Washington County and the general public to spay/neuter 3,265 animals. We also purchased a great piece of land for the future home of the Humane Society of Utah’s St. George Pet Resource Center.

We are committed to using the incredible successes of the past year as a foundation to even greater things this year. But to do this, we need your help. Whether you can adopt, foster, donate, volunteer, advocate, or all of the above – we greatly appreciate you being part of the HSU family. Together, we were able to positively impact the animals and people of Utah and beyond – and we are resolved in our ability to make your continued support go even further in 2022 and save more lives!

Humanely Yours,