By Emma Castleberry
In 2016, Veronica Coit came across a funny post in a local Facebook group about how Asheville is a dog-friendly city. Many people were chiming in to talk about their cats, and Coit realized that, even though there were a lot of cat groups online, none of them were specific to this region. So she started a group herself: Asheville Cat Weirdos (ACW).
The Facebook group gained more than 200 members in its first year, and the group now boasts nearly 15,000 members. A complex community has evolved from the social media page. Members share cat photos, celebrate their animals and support each other through the grief of a lost pet. They can recognize each other about town by the ACW bumper sticker and other branded merchandise, and there is even a shared sign: three fingers held in front of your face to simulate cat whiskers.
Beyond the community aspect, ACW’s mission is pet retention. “One of our mantras is, ‘There’s no such thing as a free kitten,’ which refers to the cost of spaying/neutering and vaccines,” says Star Broadnax, a member and online moderator for the group.
“Instead, ACW focuses on pet retention, hopefully allowing cats to stay with their owners, regardless of the associated costs.”
ACW takes a three-pronged approach to this mission. Through the nonprofit Asheville Cat Weirdos Emergency Fund (ACWEF), the group raises money for unseen emergency vet visits. Through their Cat Pantry, ACW redistributes donations of cat food, cat litter and non-prescription flea, tick and heartworm medication to folks in need. The third component is a grant-funded, local, low-cost spay and neuter program.
“When Veronica started the organization and realized the scope of the endeavor, she decided that we would need a board of directors and more moderators, as well as intake folks with veterinary experience to review emergency fund requests,” says Broadnax. “Opening the ACW Cat Pantry also required additional willing volunteers to organize, collect and redistribute the supplies. Everyone involved with the group does so on a volunteer basis.”
Karen Governo Ingraham is a member who volunteers to track the inventory of the Cat Pantry. While she’s never used the services of ACW herself, she sees first-hand how meaningful they’ve been for people. “The assistance they’ve received has allowed them to keep their pet, rather than having to give them up to a shelter,” she says. “ACW is vital to the community because any one of us could find ourselves in unforeseen circumstances—perhaps we lost our job, the car up and died on us or we have unexpected expenses that tax our finances. For a group that originated as a social media network, Asheville Cat Weirdos has grown into an essential resource for Buncombe County and beyond.”
For more information or to make a donation to Asheville Cat Weirdos, visit AshevilleCatWeirdos.org, where you can also find a list of seven local drop-off locations for the Cat Pantry.