Cabarrus CARES formed in 2003, the same year textile giant Pillowtex Corp. declared bankruptcy and left more than 10,000 people unemployed throughout and beyond Cabarrus County.
Just weeks after that, the Cabarrus Coalition of Animal Rescue Efforts and Services began its first project: a pet food pantry. The nonprofit helped provide food and other supplies to thousands of pet owners who had lost their jobs and could no longer care for their pets.
In the year that followed, area veterinarians gave free rabies vaccinations or offered low-cost spay/neuter programs. Other volunteers raised money, bottle-fed orphaned kittens and created a small adoption program using a foster home network.
Cabarrus CARES has since become a regionwide resource for animal advocates.
"Our tagline is 'We help pets and the people who love them,' " said Patsy Beeker, president of Cabarrus CARES since 2003 and program director for Kitty City since 2005.
"We started out with 800 square feet," she said, "and in three to four years we had so outgrown it that we moved to 3,200 square feet, and we're really outgrowing this."
From its early drive to purchase pet oxygen masks for first-response fire vehicles at 25 local fire departments to ongoing spay/neuter programs in schools and clubs, Cabarrus CARES and its volunteers strive to make lasting and effective differences.
Beeker said the nonprofit's biggest needs are cat/kitten litter, gasoline cards, office supplies and donations for veterinarian and spay/neuter costs. A volunteer also is needed for a database project.
"Office skills are great," said Beeker. "I have some people that never lift a finger to clean."
Beeker said the county's pet overpopulation is worse than most can imagine.
Judy Sims, executive director of the Humane Society of Concord and Greater Cabarrus County, said there are easily 200,000 feral cats throughout the county.
"Go behind any Wal-Mart, grocery store, and for every cat you see, there's probably 40 or 50 that you don't see in that colony," said Sims.
"They have an average offspring of six to eight - and then they have six to eight offspring - and it increases exponentially to hundreds of thousands of cats."
Not only are feral cat colonies out of control, a great number of them have feline leukemia or feline AIDS and are contagious, said Sims. The solution starts with educating the public about spaying/neutering, she said.
That's why Beeker and the nonprofit "vigorously approach" schools to talk to kids about the effects of not getting pets spayed or neutered.
$90 spays two cats
Beeker is the only full-time paid staff member, but the nonprofit has two paid part-time workers, 75 regular volunteers and hundreds of student volunteers, from fifth grade to college, who help with various projects.
"Some students have sat out here on Saturdays selling candy, drinks and bracelets, and they made like $90," said Beeker. "Well, $90 will spay two cats."
Seven board members, who served with other rescue organizations, created Cabarrus CARES with the goal of networking more efficiently and becoming more oriented toward community service.
Many Cabarrus CARES board members have seats on various councils, advisory panels and other boards that promote the well-being of pets.
Kitty City, a pet adoption program, was added in 2005 with an effort to educate people about pet responsibility and spaying or neutering.
That year, more than 1,000 students from eight Cabarrus schools saw presentations from Kitty City about a variety of topics.
Today, Kitty City presents to students in six area counties and offers community service project opportunities for hundreds of students in 11 area schools.
The people behind the nonprofit, and its volunteers, consider themselves true animal advocates.
Denise McLain has been a volunteer secretary to the board of the directors for five years. She started volunteering with her son, Travis, as part of a community service project for his homeschooling.
"He stayed here about a year volunteering, and here I am years later," said McLain. "I just love animals, and there's a big need in this county for helping to place unwanted animals.
"Also, the education aspect of the organization shows that we're really trying to be proactive in the county and not just reactive to pet overpopulation problem."
Volunteers at Kitty City say it's also a great place where people of all ages can learn how to be a part of the solution.
Lisa Woodke has volunteered at Kitty City for two years simply because she loves cats.
"Services provided by Kitty City are so necessary," said Woodke.
"And people don't realize what it takes. People think it's just a place where cats go to be adopted, but there's so much behind the scenes that needs to go on. Spay/neuter is such an important thing, and people don't realize how quickly (animal populations) can get out of control."