UPTOWN — Lucinda, once a feral cat, has spent nearly a decade at the Tree House Humane Society awaiting a new home and owner who has yet to emerge.
A calm and quiet dwelling and a gentle owner who respects the 13-year-old cat's space would be best, shelter staff said — but her nervousness around humans coupled with her old age have made her a difficult candidate for adoption.
Tree House hopes the brown-and-white spotted tabby and about 50 other cats at its shelters who have had a hard time getting matched with owners will benefit from "Worth the Wait," a Valentine's Day-themed adopt-a-thon that kicks off Saturday and runs through Feb. 16.
Tree House said it's waiving adoption fees for cats 10 years and older and cats who have been waiting more than a year for a home. That includes about 35 cats at the Uptown location, many with special needs, disabilities and illnesses.
“We’re trying to highlight some of the cats who have a harder time getting adopted,” said Tree House adoption counselor Katie Walker.
Aside from waived adoption fees, Tree House is also sending "Worth the Wait" cats to their new homes with a "goody bag" filled with handmade catnip toys, coupons for cat products and treats, according to adoption counselor Elaine Kilgore.
In 2013, 778 cats were adopted from Tree House's two shelters: 1212 W. Carmen Ave. in Uptown and 1629 N. Ashland Ave. in Bucktown.
Tree House's Uptown shelter, founded in 1975, is housed in a converted single-family home filled with paintings and pictures of cats. About 150 cats live there. Walking through the building, from the basement to the third-floor attic, is like an episode out of a cat lover's dream.
Cats are everywhere — sauntering about the halls, asleep on mantels, lounging in baskets on staffers' desks, frolicking among themselves in rooms around the house or staring off into space with an air of majesty (and adorability).
Walker said most cats don't wait a year to get adopted. But others, such as elderly Lucinda, are tougher to match with owners.
“Not everybody is looking for a senior cat, but senior cats do make wonderful pets,” Walker said. “They tend to be calm, they’re a little more affectionate and they want to spend more time with you. Younger cats can be busy, they have a lot more on their to-do list.”
Cats who need special care can scare some people off, too.
Some have impaired vision or other disabilities. Some have severe allergies and must be kept on medication and a strict diet.
Others, such as the dozen or so cats who live in the Uptown shelter's attic, have a virus considered the feline equivalent of HIV.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is transmitted between cats through biting, and may not cause symptoms for years after infection — but eventually begins to weaken cats' immune systems, leaving them susceptible to other infections and disease. FIV is not transferable to humans or other species.
Tree House development director and spokeswoman Jenny Schlueter said the support the shelter provides via medical contacts and ongoing care for adopted cats "makes the difference" and encourages people to accept the challenge of taking in special needs cats.
Most of the cats people pass over "are really great cats," she said.
"But, you know, when you're at the dance some people are wallflowers — and some people are in the middle of the dance floor," she said, alluding to overlooked cats. "But a lot of times the wallflowers are worth getting to know. You get them in a room alone and they're really interesting."
Aggie, a gentle 9-year-old with impaired vision, is often spotted cuddling with Winking Willow, an 8-year-old cat brought from a home with 16 cats when her owner fell ill. Both cats have special diets for health reasons.
"They love each other, so we would love to have them adopted together," Tree House adoption counselor Walker said. "Usually, they are spooning."
Longhaired, elderly and ebony, 11-year-old Joey Ramone is known as a sweet and laid-back cat but suffers from pancreatitis.
Sunny D, 12, is a handsome orange tabby who was originally brought to Tree House in 2003 and adopted soon after but was returned to the shelter a decade later with all four paws declawed. He had trouble adjusting to the addition of a new kitten at his new home.
Orange-and-white Bertie, 6, suffers from FIV but the longhaired cat is described by the shelter as an extremely handsome, "fun, active young guy."
Some people come to Tree House and leave with healthy young kittens.
Even so, Schlueter said others "really want to make a difference for a pet that might have been overlooked by another person."