Rita Wessel has been an active champion of community cats since 1999. For a person who claims to be a dog-person, that is an outstanding achievement and an admirable record of volunteering on behalf of cats. Rita says, “Once you start making a difference and you know you’re making a difference, you can’t stop.”
Back in 1998 when Rita still had her dog, Dearie, they found two kittens. She reached out to Rosi Mirko, the founder of Town Cats, and the kittens were adopted. In 1999 she started volunteering with Town Cats because “Once it’s in your blood, you keep doing it.”
While working 25 years as an administrative assistant at FMC/United Defense/BAE Systems, she became highly organized and got enjoyment from creating order out of chaos. In 1991, she became United Defense’s office and plant recycling coordinator, and in 2004 Rita spearheaded an innovative program where the profits from their recycling paid for veterinary services for their community cats. She’s always been an environmentalist; it’s in her blood. She believes that “Giving back it’s the best gift you can give yourself. It makes you feel good. By just changing small behavioral habits, we are capable of turning anything into a positive to make the world a better place.”
Rita was part of the core group of women, along with the heads of the San Jose Animal Care Center and the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, to focus on helping feral cats in Santa Clara County. In time the Feral Freedom Program started in 2010. Healthy community cats who are brought to the participating WeCARE shelters are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and their ear is tipped to indicate that they can no longer breed. After the cats are ready, volunteers from Town Cats go to the shelters and pick up and return the community cats back to their home territories to live out their lives. “Since the Feral Freedom Program started in 2010 it has changed the whole landscape for feral cats and euthanasia rates have dropped dramatically.”
Rita continues to volunteer as a Feral Freedom driver and she also volunteers at the Town Cats’ adoption center at Petco in San Jose.
Rita shares her life with a handsome, orange cat named Sunny, who she trapped at work and brought to her home, along with Al the Guinea pig and a betta fish named Windy-Wanda.