By Janet McAfee
Valentine’s Day is about love, and that includes love for the creatures with whom we share this planet. One amazing Coachella Valley couple celebrates 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 cat rescue, 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 only ever owned dogs, but never had a cat until he met Leigh and her amazing cat named Poodie, Leigh rescued Poodie as a tiny feral kitten from the Washington D.C. streets. 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.”
Poodie and her humans moved west and made plans to sail around the world. Poodie was fitted with a cat life jacket, but she always managed to wrangle out of it. David and Leigh’s plans changed, they ended up living in San Francisco, and their furthest destination by sailboat was Catalina Island. On New Year’s Day 2001, David and Leigh married, noting that the date 01/01/01 was significant in both Celtic and Chinese culture.
After sharing many adventurous years with David and Leigh, Poodie passed away in 2007. They buried their beloved cat’s ashes under a Jacarunda tree on the island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya. It was a peaceful, moving ceremony for the Kirks, juxtaposed with the turmoil and riots occurring just across the water in Nairobi and Somalia. The island of Lamu is a significant place for feral cats believed to be the descendants of the ancient Egyptian cats. David and Leigh each had a paw print with the dates of Poodie’s life tattooed on their hands.
In 2005, they began living part time in the Coachella Valley, and after Poodie’s death, Leigh volunteered with the cats at the Coachella Valley Animal Campus, our county shelter. Like most animal lovers, they had no idea that the vast majority of cats in America’s public shelters never make it out alive. They discovered the live release rate for cats at the shelter was less than 20%. They began fostering some of the animals to save them, focusing initially on the seniors with little chance of adoption.
Their common purpose brought them closer as a couple. Saving the lives of the animals they loved became more and more important. They had a vision and a 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 them once they discover that adoptable, loving cats and dogs are being euthanized in America’s expensive sheltering system. Away from the public eye, overcrowded shelters struggle with a pet overpopulation crisis caused in part by unaware or irresponsible owners who fail to spay and neuter.
Realizing they could save more cats if they incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charity, ForEverMeow was launched. When they became full time Coachella Valley residents, the Kirks 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 a power point presentation about the crisis facing our homeless cats and dogs. The couple attended Best Friends’ “No More Homeless Pets” conferences, conducted more research, and became experts on TNR (trap, neuter, return).
They were shocked to learn that in 2013 over 1,000 underage kittens were euthanized in our local county shelter system. A public shelter cannot accommodate the needs of tiny motherless kittens that require around the clock bottle feeding. The Kirks began recruiting more kitten foster homes. A kitten nursery was just added to their home, and they anticipate this will save between 200 and 300 underage kittens yearly.
David has a mind for strategy and numbers, and developed visual images so that others could grasp the issues. As part of a community team, David and Leigh helped develop a plan to reduce the euthanasia experienced by homeless adoptable pets. That plan resulted in a coalition that brought together the directors of our two public shelters and every private animal rescue organization in our Valley. The organization I work with, Loving All Animals, is part of this effort that has already seen tangible progress.
Rescuing animals is a labor of love. David and Leigh Kirk are blessed to be together working on this effort, where each of them understands the heart and mind of a rescuer. You can make a tax deductible donation to their organization at www.forevermeow.org.
If you don’t have a date on Valentine’s Day with the love of your life, you can find an amazing fur creature that will melt your heart from the moment your eyes meet. A cat or dog will love you unconditionally. Visit the animals at the Coachella Valley Animal Campus at 72-050 Pet Land Place, Thousand Palms, (760) 343-3644. View them at www.rcdas.org. Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!