A ‘purpose’ comes with paws
Sometimes it seems like it was only yesterday that Medford resident Melody Spiegel first signed up to walk dogs and socialize kittens for the Southern Oregon Humane Society.
She’d always dreamed of helping animals but figured the possibility of working in animal rescue was a long ways off.
Just seven years since her start date as a volunteer, Spiegel is one of the most trusted names and familiar faces in local cat rescue.
Often called on by other rescue groups and local shelters, Spiegel, who headed up her own rescue last year dubbed Melly Cat, is the “go to” person for everything from trapping and rescue to scrambling to access limited spay and neuter resources.
While she says it feels like she started as a volunteer just months ago, some days feel like they go on for weeks. Her phone starts hopping early each day with texts, Facebook messages, emails and phone calls.
Community members and pet owners reach out in need of help with feral cats, injured cats and unwanted litters of kittens. Sometimes it’s more basic, like advice on how to trap or help with a few days’ worth of food.
Regardless of why they call, the need is nonstop.
Spiegel said the epidemic of kitten overpopulation, lack of adequate resources and financial stress for local families has been a perfect storm during the ongoing pandemic.
“Dec. 13, 2014 was my first day volunteering at SoHumane. I don't remember when, but several years ago I said I wanted to have my own rescue or sanctuary someday. I just wasn't sure if it would ever be a reality,” she said.
“Initially I was just volunteering, but I'd felt for a long time that something was missing in my life and, once I submitted my volunteer application, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I knew my purpose was to work with animals.”
“Basic volunteer stuff” for the 42-year-old quickly turned into online groups, networking with various spay-and-neuter entities and a growing realization of the overwhelming amount of need. Nine times out of 10, if someone posts on social media about a cat or kitten in need, Spiegel’s name is mentioned.
This past year, Spiegel took over an established rescue effort and applied for nonprofit status, hence the start of Melly Cat in official capacity. Over the next year, she hopes to move to a more rural area with more sheltering capacity.
“I think things really started to take off when I became an admin for Pet Finder and other groups. People started to learn who I was and that I was involved with lost and found,” she said.
“Then I got more into trapping/cat rescue, and people started tagging me more and more for those issues.”
While plenty of community members help in cat and kitten rescue, Medford resident Annie Heitmanek said Spiegel has become a trusted resource known for her big heart and willingness to problem solve the hardest of cases.
“I am a huge supporter of Melly Cat and of Mel. She is busy woman, and there’s a lot to be done and she always seems to find a way to do even more. I think the biggest part of it is, before I got to know her, I didn’t realize just how many kittens there were running around needing help,” Heitmanek said.
Heitmanek said she was shocked to learn that Spiegel uses much of her own income to fund medical bills for her menagerie of rescue animals.
“She does it all. She doesn’t just say, ‘Let me trap a cat and eventually get it spayed or neutered.’ She’s helping so many animals and she’s changing litter boxes, changing water, feeding, medical appointments, checking out potential homes. The bare minimum takes hours and hours and there are never enough foster families,” she said.
Christy Wilson said she was inspired to foster because of Spiegel’s passion for trying to make an impact on such a huge problem.
“I think this is probably my sixth litter I’ve taken in this year. Melody is the absolute best, and even when you’re fostering she is still thinking and helping in so many ways. Anything that’s happened with the kittens she is right there, answering your calls or providing anything you need,” Wilson said.
“If an animal needs to go to the vet, she gets it to the vet. She provides food. She checks in. I’ve just had the most pleasant experience with her, and she’s a very loving and kind person with such a heart for these animals.”
Headed into the time of year when donations dwindle and with “kitten season” on an eternal 12-month loop, Spiegel said her biggest hope, with her credentials in place to receive donations, is to recruit foster families and get donations for medical care.
Tending to a handful of kittens recently with serious injuries, Spiegel said it’s a juggling act each day to provide basic care while worrying about the bigger issues like overpopulation and funding woes.
“We have a little one right now named Selenite. She has a luxating patella. She needs surgery so we’ve visited a few places to find someone we can afford, but it’s overwhelmingly expensive. It doesn’t bother her a lot just yet but when she’s eating she kicks her leg out to the side and it’s painful when she moves it a certain way,” Spiegel said.
“Her poor kneecap is just floating around, so she spends a lot of time crated to avoid injury.”
Spiegel said she was hopeful an upcoming move to Ruch — and more space — would allow her to help more cats and kittens.
She’s also holding out hope for the universe to send a little help.
“Our biggest needs are fosters and funds. Those are the two biggest things we need to keep doing what we’re doing,” she said.
“It’s so frustrating to see people post ‘free kittens.’ There’s so much more to it and to know that it’s making an overwhelming problem even worse. With COVID, it put a huge kink in surgeries and veterinary access, but it seems like we always are most in need of money to help the ones most in need and foster families to care for and socialize to give them cats a chance at a happy life.”
To contact Spiegel or donate online, visit the rescue page on Facebook for details: facebook.com/mellycatrescue/
Reach reporter Buffy Pollock at email@example.com.