Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Person of the Week

Calling All Cat Lovers: Kelsey Helps BCC Celebrate 25 Years in 2022


No matter a cat’s age or stage, non-profit Branford Compassion Club (BCC) is dedicated to feeding, sheltering, and caring for homeless, abandoned, and feral cats and providing many with forever homes across the shoreline and the state. It’s a mission that resonates with Melissa Kelsey, who joined BCC as a volunteer four years ago and was recently elected vice president of the BCC board. Now, Kelsey is helping the board with some big plans to celebrate BCC’s 25th anniversary in 2022. Photo courtesy of Melissa Kelsey

No matter a cat’s age or stage, non-profit Branford Compassion Club (BCC) is dedicated to feeding, sheltering, and caring for homeless, abandoned, and feral cats and providing many with forever homes across the shoreline and the state. It’s a mission that resonates with Melissa Kelsey, who joined BCC as a volunteer four years ago and was recently elected vice president of the BCC board. Now, Kelsey is helping the board with some big plans to celebrate BCC’s 25th anniversary in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Kelsey)

Melissa Kelsey’s favorite personality is a funny, red-haired lady named Lucy. There’s just something about that gorgeous, fuzzy face that makes her smile.

Not too long after she started volunteering with Branford Compassion Club (BCC) in 2018, Melissa adopted Lucy, “a big, orange, 16-pound cat” sheltering at BCC’s feline rescue and adoption center in North Branford.

“I fell in love with her. She was about eight years old, and her name, at the time, was Tang,” says Melissa. “I’m a big fan of Lucille Ball, and she has the red hair, so I renamed her Lucy. She is my best friend, and I don’t know what I would do without her.”

Melissa, a Branford High School Class of 2010 alumnae and Branford resident, joined BCC as a volunteer four years ago. On Jan. 13, she was elected vice president of the BCC Board.

“She is our youngest board member and a great asset for BCC,” says BCC President Margaret “Peg” Johnson. “She, like so many other young members, are the future of Branford Compassion Club.”

At its website branfordcompassionclub.org, BCC notes its mission is “to provide for the feeding, shelter, and care of homeless, abandoned, and feral cats; to educate the public about the importance of spay/neuter population control, responsible pet ownership, and kindness to animals; and to establish an ongoing community network to achieve these goals.”

Known across the shoreline and the state, BCC makes in-state adoptions, placing cats and kittens into forever homes. BCC’s adoptions reach well beyond BCC’s Branford birthplace and its current bricks and mortar home, the BCC Feline Rescue and Adoption Center, located at 2037 Foxon Road in North Branford.

Melissa’s election as VP of the BCC board hints at her dedication to this cause, which involves many hours above and beyond her professional work and as an administrative medical assistant with Middlesex Hospital.

“When I’m not working there, I’m volunteering for the shelter or processing adoption applications,” says Melissa.

From her first visit in 2018, Melissa says she instantly knew BCC was the right fit for her volunteer aspirations.

“I wanted to work with animals, and I was researching different rescues. I had heard that BCC was trying to recruit volunteers, so I went in for an open house,” Melissa recalls. “I immediately fell in love with all the cats, and all the volunteers there were so kind and welcoming and friendly. I felt like I could relate to them a lot, just because of their love of animals that I share.”

During her previous service as a BCC board member, she came to know this special group which exemplifies the deep compassion that drives the non-profit’s mission.

“I work with an amazing group of people on the board,” she says. “Everyone has the same intentions: to make sure that we provide the best for our cats and to find them best homes possible.”

BCC was founded in 1997, which makes 2022 BCC’s 25th anniversary year. Right now, Melissa and BCC’s board members and volunteers are working on plans to celebrate the big milestone, including organizing BCC’s 25th anniversary gala to take place later this year.

“In September, we’re planning on hosting our 25th anniversary gala at the Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club in Branford,” says Melissa. “That’s going to be our big event, which we’re very excited about and looking forward to.”

More details will be revealed as the year rolls out. The BCC board is also developing some silver linings to add to other programs, including its annual Animal Awareness Day coming in October 2022 to the Branford Town Green.

“We always have all different tables and vendors come in, and we use it to help educate the public about how to care for animals and interact with them, and how to make sure that they are the best owners that they can be,” says Melissa.

Due to the pandemic, BCC had to cancel its 2020 Animal Awareness Day, but the event enjoyed “a really good turnout” when it came roaring back in October 2021, Melissa notes.

The big response was a hopeful sign for BCC, after more than a year of being affected by closures, cancellations, and other challenges created by the pandemic.

“It was definitely very difficult, especially when everything shut down and everyone was in quarantine. It was really hard to find ways to fundraise and to bring more money into the shelter,” says Melissa.

Facing New Challenges

Since 2011, when BCC’s North Branford site first opened, Saturdays were a day for the public to come by the shelter to visit felines or for adoption meetings—until COVID came along.

“We used to be open every Saturday to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” says Melissa. “Since the beginning of COVID, we had to close the shelter to the public, and we started limiting the number of volunteers coming into the shelter to try to reduce the risk of COVID spreading.”

In the early weeks and months of the pandemic, volunteers were working all-day shifts, she adds.

“They would come in and work hours on end all day doing direct care, feeding the cats and socializing them. It was very tiring, but they loved the cats so much they would do anything for them.”

These days, volunteers come in daily with morning and night shifts for cage care, feeding, and socializing. Volunteer feral feeders continue to go out all year long to care for the remaining Branford feline feral colonies that have long been supported by BCC’s TNR (trap, neuter, return) policy.

“All of our volunteers are absolutely incredible. We wouldn’t be where we are without them,” says Melissa.

Those volunteers include BCC’s foster families, which have stepped up during COVID to provide even more temporary homes for cats and kittens. At the last count at the end of December 2021, BCC had approximately 160 cats and kittens in its care.

“We have a lot cats in foster care all over the shoreline at the moment,” says Melissa. “We have 65 cats total in the shelter at the moment and we’ve got dozens in foster homes.”

Pre-COVID, it wasn’t uncommon for potential adoptive families to visit available cats and kittens at their foster homes around the shoreline and the state. Now, to help keep everyone safe, it’s not uncommon for fosters to instead share videos and “talk about the personalities of the kittens” over the phone with potential adoptive families, says Melissa.

As a member of BCC’s Adoption Team, Melissa is one of about five adoption counselors who screen applications received online at BCC’s website or via mail. Counselors try to find the best match for each cat or kitten with an adoptive family.

“Once we process the application and approve it, we make appointments with the approved adopter to come into the shelter, and we try to do what we would call match-making,” says Melissa. “We try to find the applicant their perfect companion based on what they’re looking for—personality, temperament, what their home life looks like, if they have other pets.”

For the time being, the counselors narrow the feline matches down to about two or three cat candidates and bring them into the shelter to meet their potential new family. Melissa says the counselors are always looking to see if there’s “a connection, a spark.” Apparently, it’s working: In 2021, BCC adopted out 194 cats and kittens, bringing the total adoptions since the North Branford facility opened to more 2,516.

During the 12 months of 2021, BCC accepted more than 264 felines into care. The felines may require not only shelter and a chance to find a new home, but moderate to high levels of veterinary care and work on socialization before they can be become adoptable.

As costs go, “our largest expense is our veterinary bills, despite getting discounts from certain area veterinarians,” says Melissa. “We really do rely completely on our donors and some small grants, because we’re non-profit.”

As Johnson wrote in BCC’s 2021 annual appeal, “never has the need for rescue been so great or our veterinary cost, due to serious health issues and volume, been so high. We exceeded our 2021 budget for veterinary care in September. By the end of October, our expenses had exceeded last year’s by more than $36,000, despite the considerable discounts received from our dedicated team of veterinarians.”

BCC relies on community support, contributions and the work of more than 100 volunteers to assist the non-profit in providing food, shelter, and veterinary care for all of the felines it takes in. One especially vibrant community of supporters is BCC’s large following of more than 6,000 at its Facebook page @BranfordCompassionClubCT.

“We have such a large group of people following us, it’s definitely the best way for us to get information out,” says Melissa. “We constantly post cats that are looking for homes; sometimes we’ll post stories about them. We also post cats on PetFinder [www.petfinder.com], which is another tool people can use to look up available cats that we currently have.”

BCC’s Facebook page is also the place to find news of the many different fundraising events and opportunities the board works to add to BCC’s busy calendar. For example, on Jan. 17, in honor of the late Betty White’s 100th birthday, BCC posted an invitation to make a BCC contribution as way to recognize White’s legacy and passion for animals and pets. Contributions of any amount, any time of the year, are also welcome and accepted via BCC’s Paypal donation link, branfordcompassionclub.org/donate.

For her part, Melissa plans to devote “many, many more years” to supporting BCC.

“It’s definitely very rewarding to volunteer and to be on the board,” Melissa says. “And to see our cats go through this transition, from where they first come in, when they’re scared or shy or angry, and we’re able to work with them and get them to a point where they’re ready to go to their forever homes. It’s such a good feeling.”

Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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