By Janet McAfee
One amazing local couple celebrated Valentine’s Day in a special way. David and Leigh Kirk share a home with their foster daughter and an assortment of family and rescue cats. They are the founders and operators of ForEverMeow, a charity that saves the lives of countless homeless cats and kittens.
The couple met by chance while working in Washington D.C. It was a Halloween evening in the late 1990’s. David recalls, “I had no idea how my life was about to change.” Meeting the love of his life was only the first of two major changes for David that day. David had owned dogs, but never had a cat until he met Leigh and her amazing cat named Poodie. David was quick to fall in love with Leigh. When asked how he fell in love with cats, David quickly responded, “By living with one named Poodie.”
David explains how their shared love for Poodie led to their animal rescue work. “Most people in animal rescue got into it through their love for a special animal, usually the loss of a pet that touches them deeply and inspires a desire for greater helping and giving. And so it was with us….the loss of Poodie in 2007 took us on a journey of self-discovery across Africa and India….moved us from San Francisco to Palm Desert.” David and Leigh each have a paw print with the dates of Poodie’s life tattooed on their hands.
In 2005, Leigh began volunteering with the cats at the Coachella Valley Animal Campus, our county shelter. They were shocked to discover that the live release rate for cats at the shelter was less than 20%. They learned that in one recent year over 1,000 underage kittens were euthanized at the shelter. A public shelter is unable to provide the round the clock bottle feeding required by these motherless babies. The Kirks began fostering some of the animals to save them, and started recruiting more foster homes.
Their common purpose brought them closer as a couple. They had a shared mission, and it took them down a path they traveled together. They joined the ranks of thousands of other “accidental” animal rescuers who become part of an army to save animals once they discover that adoptable, loving cats and dogs are being euthanized in America’s public shelters.
ForEverMeow was launched when the Kirks realized they could save more cats by incorporating as a 501(c)(3) charity. They began a search for the “purrfect” property that could accommodate their own pet cats and growing rescue operation.
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 cats and dogs. The couple attended Best Friends’ “No More Homeless Pets” conferences, conducted more research, became experts on TNR (trap, neuter, return), and assumed a leadership role in the movement to create a “No Kill Coachella Valley”.
In 2015, they added a kitten nursery, one of less than a dozen in the US, to their rescue operation. The couple partnered with the county shelter, Riverside Department of Animal Services, to save almost 400 cats and kittens from euthanasia, often accompanying animal control officers in the field. Feeding and medicating tiny underage kittens can mean an 18-hour day, and they fight to save every frail tiny creature.
David reports, “By March, 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 all fears. We continue rescuing cats because life without that shared, burning passion would be less than complete.”
Rescuing animals is a labor of love. David and Leigh Kirk are blessed to be working together on this effort, where each of them understands the heart and mind of a rescuer. Leigh Kirk sums it up, “We stay 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 tax deductible donation to this worthy organization and view their adoptable animals at www.forevermeow.org.