Boxes of PVC pipe and a bolt of heavy-duty outdoor fabric fill the room. A card table holding a sewing machine, extra needles and thread, and boxes of fabric squares and metallic snaps stands in a corner. Does 13-year-old Hailey Vanz usually spend the first few weeks of her summer making cat beds? Not exactly. Julie Knudsen, a volunteer at Anderson Valley Animal Rescue, recounts the series of events that led to this Ukiah teen's bedroom turning into a summer sewing factory.

When Mendocino County Director of Animal Control Bliss Fisher found a unique pattern on the UC Davis Shelter Medicine website, she knew it would be ideal for the Plant Road shelter. The pattern showed how to make a simple raised cat bed by buckling sturdy fabric onto a PVC frame. When Fisher mentioned the pattern, Knudsen thought of Hailey.

"She took this on with no hesitation," says Julie Vanz, Hailey's mom. "It took awhile for her to let her sisters help! She wanted to do it all herself." But the project quickly became a family affair, with parents Harry and Julie and sisters Madison, 14, and Isabella, 11, pitching in.

"Each bed takes about an hour to make," says Hailey, explaining how the snaps are affixed to separate squares of fabric before being sewn on, so the cats' hair won't get caught. "The snaps are actually really hard to put in! You have to pound them. My dad does that part."

Hailey hopes that the beds she is making will help make the cages at the shelter more comfortable. "I think it will be funner for the cats to be able to jump up and down and play a little bit more," she says. Knudsen agrees. "It gets them off the cold ground."

It didn't take long for others to get involved. Jim Mayfield of Rainbow Ag provided the PVC pipe at cost, while Brian and Fran Dorsett and Drew Wallace of Iron Paddock Upholstery donated the fabric.

Although the girls are still working hard on the beds, which won't be finished for another week or two, when Knudsen told them two days ago about a pair of kittens found in the Covelo dump, the girls jumped at the chance to foster them.

"Our parents called us all out in the living room, and the first thing we asked was, Are we in trouble?'" recalls Hailey, laughing. "We were very happy as soon as mom told us."
Knudsen remembers their excitement. "I told them I'd bring the kittens on the weekend, and they said, No we want them tonight!'"

According to shelter policy, cats cannot be adopted before they are spayed or neutered and caught up on their vaccinations. This means waiting until the kittens weigh about two pounds, which can take several weeks. During this time, because of the sheer number of animals in the shelter, these kittens often don't get much human interaction. This is where a foster family can help.

"There's a huge difference in kittens that get to spend time with a family," Knudsen says. "It makes them so much more adoptable. It makes a difference in their whole lives. That's the wonderful thing about these girls. Two days ago when I brought these kittens here they were so fearful. Now look how friendly they are! All it takes is three little girls."

There are lots of ways to volunteer at the shelter. "If you can't take cats for a whole two weeks, even just going down and playing with the kittens or walking a dog is a great way to help out," says Julie Vanz.
Knudsen encourages anyone interested to contact Sage Mountainfire, adoption coordinator at the Ukiah Shelter. She teaches monthly volunteer orientation classes and is a great resource for community members of any age who want to get involved.

These are the first kittens the Vanz family has fostered. Would they do it again? "Yes!" is the unanimous response. The kittens, which the girls named Gracey and Bianca, play in Hailey's room as her and her sisters finish the beds. They are visual reminders to the girls of why they are doing all this hard work. "We give them baths, trim their nails, play with them while we're watching TV. We carry them everywhere we go."

As the Vanz girls watch, Gracey climbs onto one of the finished beds, curls up and immediately falls asleep. "Look!" says Hailey. "She likes it."