A glance inside the storefront at the House of Mews in Cooper-Young reveals a kitty heaven. Cozy chairs and fluffy cat beds are placed strategically near the glass, giving the cats inside a chance to put their best furry face forward. Some curl up and sleep soundly, while others pounce and play in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, some soft-hearted individual, unable to resist their charms, will take them home.
Homeless cats in Memphis have depended on the House of Mews since 1995, but if something doesn't change soon, the cats may no longer have a safe haven while they await permanent homes. House of Mews founder Elain Harvey is planning a move to Michigan to care for her aging parents, and although there's been a search for her replacement for several months, no one has qualified for the position.
The main issue holding most applicants back is money. Whoever takes Harvey's place must be financially stable enough to pay for the store's expenses out-of-pocket when times are tough. But if the store can raise enough money, this may not be as big an issue.
That's why local rock pianist Jason D. Williams and his wife Jennifer have organized the first Meowathon 5K Walk/Run on Saturday, November 20th.
Williams, who's gained a local reputation as the next Jerry Lee Lewis, got his first cat from the House of Mews four years ago. Then, when he married Jennifer, they adopted another. And then, just a few months ago, Jennifer went back to the House of Mews for their third cat. On each of their trips, the couple and Harvey would talk about ways to raise funds for the store.
"Jason and I are both avid runners, and we participate in a lot of local 5Ks," says Jennifer. "We know the kind of money you can raise with 5Ks, so we thought that might be an answer for helping out Elain."
But the Williams had never organized a 5K before, and the House of Mews had never done such a large-scale fund-raiser. Most of their fund-raising is done at the annual Cooper-Young Festival, when people donate money to enter the store. They also do a few direct-mail fund-raisers each year.
Approximately 150 people have signed up for the walk/run, which will form a double loop through Overton Park. Jennifer is expecting more participants on the day of the race. She says about 80 percent of the attendance at most 5Ks comes from walk-up participants.
"According to the Memphis Runners Track Club, we're ahead of schedule for our first 5K as far as the percentage of people who have signed up," says Harvey. "They didn't really expect us to hit 100."
After the race, participants can take part in a silent auction for items such as behind-the-scenes zoo tours, dinner for four at Jack Binion's Steakhouse, and a two-night stay at the Tower Suite at Horseshoe Casino.
Proceeds from the race will go toward paying off debts at the House of Mews. In order for Harvey to wrap things up and move, she needs to pay off this year's $21,000 vet bill.
"Our vet bill was twice as much as it usually is because we've taken in 200 cats instead of our normal 100," she says.
Harvey says they're trying to scale back the number of cats rescued. The store is down to around 150 right now, and the House of Mews is not taking in new cats until the number drops below 100. Harvey hopes by that time someone will have stepped in to take her place.
For now, Harvey is staying put until a new manager is found or until all the cats currently living in the store have found homes. Regardless of what happens, Harvey will remain on the board as a consultant as long as the House of Mews is open. She also wants the Meowathon to become an annual event.
"I'd like to see it grow into a race centered around all homeless animals, not just cats," she says.
"All of the rescue agencies could participate and get a percentage. It has huge potential, especially if you consider the 12,000 runners who were registered with the Race for the Cure."
For more information on the Meowathon, go to HouseofMews.com/meowathon.html.