Cat Girl in the 501(c)3 World

When I first started SAFA in 2014, I was an eighth grader with a passion to end the casual killing of my favorite animal, cats, in animal shelters. Most people do not know that two million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters yearly for lack of a home while 30 million Americans add a new animal to their households every year. Clearly, the problem is not that we have too many animals but that the animals who need homes are not finding their eHarmony match.

I discovered my cause to champion by watching YouTube videos on the subject, which turned into me researching how to help these creatures I loved. But as I was only one kid in the world, the massive nature of the problem soon paralyzed me into inaction.

When Dad saw me moping, he said, “To the world you are but one person, but to one person (or creature, in this case,) you can be the world. Start with one cat.”

I did. However, what I first needed to figure out was where I would put these cats I planned to rescue and how I could afford my imaginative plans -- I did not want to ask my parents for any financial help. And so, I decided I needed a vehicle that would allow me to solicit donations, which meant founding SAFA, the Society Against Feline Abuse. I wanted my foundation to not only rescue cats and care for them until we found them permanent homes, but also publicize the importance of adopting from shelters.

I found an unused office full of cobwebs on a small farm to be SAFA’s headquarters, which I dusted, painted, tiled, and transformed into a feline sanctuary. Running a nonprofit from the age of fourteen was not easy. For one, convincing pet stores that my organization was legitimate enough to qualify for discounts and asking them to promote my cause during monthly pet fairs was daunting.

But what was even more daunting was getting my classmates to care.

I was ecstatic when forty kids signed up for SAFA club, then crushed when only a few friends showed up. Apparently, some kids had signed up as a joke. But the joke was on them when I decided to hold a baking contest and suddenly, everyone was competing for my Best Baker of the Week award. The popularity of this contest meant I was raking in hundreds of dollars’ worth of baked goods a week for the prize of a $20 Starbucks card. My baking contest ended up raising thousands of dollars for SAFA, especially when neighbors saw me with my overloaded little red wagon and ended up writing checks without buying anything--maybe because some of what my classmates baked looked inedible.

I think at the end of the day what made my venture successful is my passion and people skills. Passion keeps me going past the first ten no’s, and people skills allows me to inspire people to do things that are good for themselves and the planet. I learned my people skills by watching my father and cousin run their companies. By pointing out that driving the cats the shelters would otherwise euthanize to me would not only get them out of their hair but also give them a beautiful ranch home, the shelter workers ended up regularly making the eight-hour round trip with a car-full of cats to Santa Ynez, CA. I also convinced them to donate beds, food, litter boxes, and medications.

I think most people are good-hearted, and if you appeal to their better natures, they will do more things of awe and wonder than you think. As Richard Branson says, if you seek the good in people, you will find it.

By Catherine Kiani, Guest Contributer