Well, it has finally happened.
Debra and I punched the online submit button a few weeks ago, and The American Cat Project is now officially a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization.
Why did it take so long? I've told the story before, but my cat rescue work (when I was all alone-io) was part of my wildlife control work, decades ago. I preferred to do the work for free as an individual, because that put the landowner or business I was helping, and myself, on the same level. "I'm willing to do this for free for you, and in return, you need to invest time as well, or be willing to allow shelters on your property, or feed the cats." This worked very well, and it was a model I liked. I wasn't a "rescue," I was just a person willing to shell out personal funds to help neighbors.
The wildlife control work ended when I left my job at Ithaca College and I no longer had the flexibility to check traps before and after work, and on my lunch hour. Cat rescue went on. The adoption of Dude to Debra and her family in Waverly brought the two of us together. Debra began tackling the cats in her area, and we began overlapping our efforts.
The negative impact of being a "rescue organization" is that part of the public (not all!) has expectations that the organization is now responsible for fixing things--and they themselves do not. "Don't you care about these cats? If you did, you would do something. It's not my responsibility at all--it's yours" Honestly, I would have preferred to just keep working as a "neighbors-helping-neighbors" effort because that made it clear from the start that our work was a partnership.
NYS, however, passed regulations (good!) that require anyone who is placing rescued pets in new homes--even if no fee is charged--to be registered with the state. To register, the group has to be a federal 501(c)(3), a NYS incorporated organization, and a NYS charity. All of this is good. It will help the state get some sort of handle on so-called rescue groups that seem to be selling pets rather than adopting them, or who are not providing adequate veterinary care. It will also dissuade people who want to set up less-than-reputable rescues from doing so, and it will encourage new reputable rescues to set themselves up legally, up front. And quite honestly, people like myself really do just need to buck up and get all their ducks in a row, instead of flying by the seat of their pants.
NYS's step does mean that a "neighbors-helping-neighbors" non-incorporated TNR (trap/neuter/return) group is no longer legal, if some of those rescued cats and kittens are being placed in new homes--even if the kittens are land-owner surrendered, and even if those kittens are adopted out without a fee.
Personally, I had to really sit down and decide if I wanted to do this any longer, if I were going to have to be part of an incorporated charity and the additional responsibilities that come along with that. I did call NYS Ag and Markets and ask if I were just a land-owner, and people dump cats on my property, and I get those cats vetted and find them homes, if I had to be registered as a rescue. They said "Yes." Since ignoring abandoned cats and kittens isn't something I can do, and I'm not going to be leaving this property for an apartment anytime soon, there really was only one option.
So here we are! Debra, Bill, and Lori are officers, and I am a director. Because I work in the pet industry, I felt I ought not be an officer, to prevent any conflict of interest in where AmCat might head in the future. The American Cat Project was state-incorporated almost two years ago, mostly due to Debra's hard work, but due to illness in both Debra's and my families, things stalled. Debra and I finally got together on St. Patrick's Day and got everything organized and submitted for the 501(c)(3). Now that it is freshly in hand, we can submit the state charity form and the rescue registration, with their associated fees.
To clarify, "The Owl House" is not an organization. It's the name of my farm. I moved the cat-housing space in from the barn to my renovated upstairs of my house to help meet possible future care requirements the state may set.
The name of the organization is the "American Cat Project" which is a spay/neuter group composed of several foster homes. We will shortly be setting up a PayPal link for AmCat (the link on this blog in my personal PayPal account) and all future donations in the new AmCat account will be tax-deductible, to be used for veterinary care for cats. I also will be sending in-kind donation receipts from The American Cat Project to anyone who ships food or gifts for the cats here to my address, going forward. If you are a friend or family member and you send me gift money via my own PayPal account, I will be checking with you directly to check to see if you actually meant it as a donation to AmCat.
I don't see us listed on the IRS charity search yet, but the last time I checked with them by phone, they said it can take up a to a fiscal quarter for that to happen.
Here's to a brand new step! Thank you, Debra, for getting us going!