By Janet McAfee
Valentine’s Day is all about love, and that includes the love that we share with our 4-legged family members. One amazing Coachella Valley couple, David and Leigh Kirk, are bonded by their love of feline creatures and their commitment to saving them. They are the founders and operators of ForeverMeow cat rescue, a charity that saves the lives of and adopts countless homeless cats and kittens.
The couple met by chance and fell in love while working in Washington D.C. David was an ardent dog lover who never owned a cat until he met Leigh and her amazing cat named Poodie. David was quick to fall in love with Leigh. He also fell in love with cats by living with Poodie, a special feline Leigh rescued as a tiny feral kitten from the D.C. streets.
In 2005, the Kirks moved to the Coachella Valley, and Leigh began volunteering at the Coachella Valley Animal Campus, our county shelter. Like most animal lovers, she had no idea that the vast majority of cats in America’s public shelters never make it out alive. The Kirks were distressed to learn that the live release rate for cats at our shelter was only 20%, and that in one recent year over 1,000 underage kittens were euthanized. They realized they could save some of them by forming their own 501(c)3 charity, and ForeverMeow was launched.
In 2014, David applied his skills acquired as an executive in the Silicon Valley computer industry to develop powerpoint presentations about the crisis facing our homeless dogs and cats in our county shelter system. The couple attended Best Friends’ “No More Homeless Pets” conferences, conducted more research, becoming experts on TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) for community cats. They assumed a leadership role as animal advocates and animal welfare groups banded together in the hopes of one day creating a “No Kill Coachella Valley”.
In 2015, the Kirks added a kitten nursery, one of less than a dozen in the entire country, to their rescue operation. The couple partnered with Riverside County Department of Animal Services to save almost 700 cats and kittens from euthanasia, often accompanying animal control officers in the field to pick up animals. Feeding and medicating tiny underage kittens means long 18-hour days, and the couple fights to save every frail tiny creature.
As their rescue efforts expanded, David realized, “By early that year, we realized that we had jumped right into the deep end, and the tsunami that is the Coachella Valley kitten season was crashing around us. As much as we’d researched, planned, and visited other kitten nurseries and connected with neo-natal experts, here we were in this thing together, and not sure at all if we could swim. But that’s us – when we discover shared passion, decisions of the heart overrule the fears. We continue rescuing cats because life without that shared, burning passion would be less than complete.”
2017 brings even more changes for this amazing and dedicated couple. Leigh is in the process of applying to UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine to become a DVM. If successful, she will focus on low cost spay and neuter surgery. Leigh explains, “The solution to this overwhelming problem is the capacity to do more spay and neutering in our Valley when so many of our low income residents simply cannot afford it.”
Rescuing animals is a labor of love. David and Leigh Kirk are blessed to be working as a team on this effort, where each of them understands the heart and mind of an animal rescuer. Leigh sums it up, “We keep rescuing cats because the joy we get from saving them and enriching the lives of their adopters melts away all the personal sacrifices.” You can make a donation to this worthy organization and view their adoptable animals at www.ForeverMeow.org or contact them at (760) 335-6767.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your 4-legged friends who love you unconditionally.