In the early days of the Kitsap Humane Society, there was only room for nine cats at a make-shift shelter in a shed at the county’s dog pound.
But through years and years of hard work by Almeda Harris Wilson, a state-of-the-art cattery was dedicated Tuesday in honor of her.
“When we started, way back then, there wasn’t any place to take stray cats,” Wilson said. “We made an indoor area at the dog pound and had a cage built that could old nine cats.”
It was after a neighbor found an injured dog and took it to the dog pound, only to find that there was no one there on the weekends in the 1960s that she was able to finally get people on board and help her create the humane society and the first shelter.
“When there was nowhere for the injured dog to go, he called the police and an officer came out and shot the dog,” she said.
“That was it. I went to city hall and complained to the mayor and he said ‘Why don’t you get one started?’ So I did.”
Wilson is the founding director of the Kitsap Humane Society and has contributed to its success since the early 1960s. When she saw how badly an animal shelter was needed, she went to work to recruit “the big shots” in and around Bremerton, said the 99-year-old Wilson, who still lives on her own.
“I went down to the offices at Fourth and Pacific, where all the attorneys in town worked and I just went door-to-door asking them to be on the board of directors,” Wilson said.
One of the first people she asked was William Mahan. Mahan served as a founding board member and also was remembered at the dedication Tuesday. His daughter, Kathy, appeared in his honor. He died in 2006.
Wilson said the dog pound soon gave way to a new shelter near Charleston Beach that opened in the late 1960s and was enlarged in 1971. But as the population of the county grew, an even bigger shelter was needed and the current shelter was built on Dickey Road in Silverdale. It opened in 1989.
Wilson marveled at the new accommodations in the cattery as she toured it Tuesday.
“This is just so nice,” she said. “We would have never dreamed of anything this nice in the beginning.”
The cattery, which opened in early 2011, can house 42 cats. Interim Executive Director Eric Steven told visitors on Tuesday that it is “almost always full.”
“But last year we took in 2,301 cats and about 90 percent of them were re-homed (adopted),” he said.
The new facility has separate living areas for each cat and each has its own litter box in a side area to its living space. The room has natural lighting. Cats can see outdoors and they are surrounded with classical music.
“It makes for a better environment for the cats and for those who come to see them,” Stevens said. “It’s just much more relaxed and less stressful, away from the (dog) kennels and the noise.”
Wilson has always been a cat lover. She grew up on a Kitsap County farm and remembered her first cat.
“He was a white short haired male,” she said. “I named him White Man. I would sit behind the (wood) stove with him to keep warm.”
Today she has two cats, Pixie Bob, a long haired black and white cat and Lucy, a Siamese.
“She’s really the neighbor’s cat,” Wilson said. “But she prefers to live with me.”
Wilson told supporters, friends and neighbors who attended the dedication that twice she tried to start a human society, but failed.
“I was 47 years old and I told myself I just had to make it work this time,” she said.
Although there had been a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Kitsap County in the early 1900s, it dissolved several years before World War II. By the 1950s the problem with strays became critical and finally Wilson and others were able to get a shelter going in the 1960s.
“Lots has changed since then,” she said. “Today, it’s almost like the cats have their own apartments.”
About 40 supporters, volunteers, staff and friends of the Kitsap Humane Society attended the dedication which included the unveiling of a plaque on the wall outside the cattery. It pays tribute to both Wilson and Mahan.