By Janet McAfee
Valentine’s Day is all about love, and that includes the love 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. We tell their story every February, and their update this year is uniquely exciting.
The couple met by chance and fell in love while both working in Washington D.C. David was an ardent dog lover who never owned a cat until he met Leigh and her wonderful cat named Poodie. David was quick to fall in love with Leigh. He also acquired a love of cats by living with Poodie, rescued as a tiny feral kitten from the streets.
In 2005, the Kirks moved to the Coachella Valley, and Leigh began volunteering at the Coachella Valley Animal Campus, our county shelter. Leigh discovered that the vast majority of cats in America’s public shelters never make it out alive. They realized they could save some of them by forming their own 501(c)3 charity, and www.ForeverMeow.org was launched.
In 2014, David applied his skills acquired as an executive in the Silicon Valley computer industry to develop power point presentations about the crisis facing our homeless dogs and cats. The couple attended Best Friends’ “No More Homeless Pets” conferences, becoming experts on TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) for community cats. They assumed a leadership role when animal welfare groups banded together to create a “No Kill Coachella Valley”.
The Kirks added a kitten nursery in 2015, one of less than a dozen in the entire country. They partnered with Riverside County Department of Animal Services to save almost 700 cats and kittens that year from euthanasia, often accompanying animal control officers in the field to pick up animals. Feeding and medicating underage kittens, means 18-hour days, and the couple fought to save every frail tiny creature.
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 continued rescuing cats because life without that shared, burning passion would be less than complete.”
David and Leigh Kirk are blessed to be working as a team, 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.”
In 2018, the couple began a new animal related adventure. Leigh revisited her long-standing love for medicine, and with 9 cats on board they drove 18 hours to Fort Collins, Colorado where she began veterinary school. Colorado State University, College of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences are ranked 3rd in the country and 5th in the world.
David was the one to convince Leigh to make the final commitment to become a veterinarian. He is developing material to prepare veterinarians for Shelter Organizational Strategy. David is “the man behind the woman”, explaining, “I am the Uber driver, driving Leigh to the front clinic door when she was on call. Of course, I always help with the IT part.” Veterinary school is stressful, and it helps to have a supportive partner. David proudly points out Leigh’s outstanding GPA and success on the profession’s National Licensing Exam.
David sums up, “Leigh hasn’t changed from being that soft and caring rescue person. When you have the compassion of a rescuer, I think you make a better veterinarian! She won’t give up on an animal.” On May 12, 2022, Leigh receives her DVM degree, licensed to practice veterinary medicine at a time when our entire nation is experiencing a severe shortage of these professionals.
The couple, weary of Colorado snowstorms, will return to their home in the sunny Coachella Valley. Leigh plans to undertake a mentorship with a local veterinarian, exclusively treating cats. Performing high volume quality spay and neuter services for felines is among her goals. She explains, “I am nick named The Cat Lady at school. I believe one does better veterinary work focusing on one species.” David will be busy revising www.ForeverMeow.org, and will leverage funding for vet training and medical care for low-income pet owners.
Congratulations David and Leigh! We look forward to the return of this talented and dedicated couple. On a personal note, they are charming, witty, and a joy to be around. Looking for more love in your life? You will never be alone again if you adopt a loving homeless animal from one of the shelters on the attached list.