‘Cat Weirdo’ Group Turns Pejorative Into Positive

Pipsqueak is one of 44 cats to benefit from the Asheville Cat Weirdos Emergency Fund.(Photo: Courtesy photo)

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What started as a Facebook group for people to share photos, information and stories about their cats has morphed into an online community with almost 6,000 members from around the state and beyond, as well as a nonprofit that assists cat owners with unexpected veterinary bills.

Asheville Cat Weirdos was founded by Veronica Coit, a hair stylist at Westside Shears in West Asheville, as a humorous response to a comment on the dog-friendly West Asheville Exchange Facebook page, known as WAX, when someone jokingly asked, “where do cat people go to meet?”

When it was proposed that no one would ever visit a cat-only Facebook page, Coit issued an invite on WAX to people who were interested in sharing about their cats — a “social experiment of sorts, to see where it would go.”

The group grew quickly to more than 500 members before Coit created the first Asheville Cat Weirdos calendar. She polled the group to see where they felt the revenue generated from the sale of the calendars should go, and the ACW Emergency Fund was born. Now the nonprofit also offers T-shirts and bumper sticks for sale, and the proceeds benefit the fund.

ACW Emergency Fund attained 501(c)3 nonprofit status in February. Since its inception in March 2016, the group has assisted members who are faced with unexpected veterinary bills or who have become financially unable to support their pets and don’t want to have to give them up.

Kerbie Berggren and her cat have received assistance with medical bills. Pipsqueak, a 5-year-old black cat, was born with a rare bone and jaw disorder.

“Scientists are still studying the disease and are finding that it’s similar to brittle bone disease in humans, Berggren said. Pipsqueak was adopted from Brother Wolf and when she went for her first medical checkup, the vet mentioned that “your cat walks funny.”

img itemprop="url" src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/8987eb6b50d7afd27af9ad3ae121d1395d93846c/c=3-0-258-192&r=x408&c=540x405/local/-/media/2018/04/16/CarolinaGroup/Asheville/636594696091676167-pip-4.jpg" alt="Pipsqueak is the only cat in North or South America" width="540" height="405" data-mycapture-src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/media/2018/04/16/CarolinaGroup/Asheville/636594696091676167-pip-4.jpg" data-mycapture-sm-src="https://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/ff49be55d79b0ee87b3509c02af043e79f75bd15/r=500x367/local/-/media/2018/04/16/CarolinaGroup/Asheville/636594696091676167-pip-4.jpg"">>

Pipsqueak is the only cat in North or South America to survive a unique bone condition. (Photo: Courtesy/ Kerbie Berggren)

Pipsqueak had surgery to remove the retained deciduous teeth and left jaw bone and another operation to reshape the jaw bone —the first of this type of procedure ever performed on a cat. There are only 59 documented cases of the rare bone and jaw disorder in North and South America, and only five of these cases have had a proliferation of the jaw like Pipsqueak. Of these five cats, only she has survived.

The removed jaw bone has been sent from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville, Tennessee, where one of the surgeries was performed, to a pathologist at Kansas State University where it will be studied and the results shared with a doctoral student at the Bristol Veterinary School at the University of Bristol, England, who is doing her thesis on Pipsqueak’s condition.

Berggren, whose works as a pharmaceutical compounder, was working two additional jobs to pay on the estimated $10,000-12,000 medical bills. ACW helped her pay $2,200 towards the costs.

Peter Parker, a fluffy orange cat whose owner had him for only three weeks before he was placed in an extended quarantine due to a bite received from an animal of unknown origin, also benefitted from the ACW Emergency Fund. ACW worked with rescue organizations, Henderson County Animal Shelter, veterinarians and others to ensure that the cat was held in quarantine, rather than being euthanized.

Boxers, Butts and Other Mutts, another rescue organization, contributed towards the final costs of his $1,300 medical bills.

To date, the ACW Emergency Fund has assisted with medical expense for 44 cats, contributing more than $11,500 in financial assistance.

The organization has a five-member board of directors that is writing grants, accepting donations, recruiting volunteers, selling ACW merchandise and holding monthly yard sales and an annual silent auction each Spring to benefit the ACW Emergency Fund. While ACW doesn’t foster or rehome pets, members often help various other rescue and shelter organizations with adoption events, and some members also foster cats from other organizations.

Coit’s wish list for the future includes working to establish the group in other states. They also hope to set up a pet pantry with food samples to see if pets would eat it before committing to a purchase.

The group plans to hold its Seasonal Yard Sale April 28 at The Odditorium in Asheville and “Cinco de Meowo,” ACW’s second annual silent auction May 5 at The Grey Eagle, also in Asheville.

Karen Governo Ingraham is an office manager at The News-Record & Sentinel and a member of ACW. For more information on Asheville Cat Weirdos, visit them on Facebook or at ashevillecatweirdos.com.

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