Wonderful new adoption stories are waiting to be written in the annals of the French Animal Protection Society (La SPA) during their Open House on 7th and 8th October
It is a number that shocks, and a sad European record. In France, no less than 50,000 domestic animals end up in the shelters of La SPA – Société Protectrice des Animaux – annually, anxiously awaiting a new home. And that is just one of many such organizations. Placing as many of them as possible in good new families is therefore a Herculean task. Among numerous animal welfare awareness campaigns throughout the year, the SPA also holds two nationwide Open House adoption events per year. One of its 64 national outlets is located in downtown Nice, and like all other SPA shelters and offices it opens its door to the public the weekend of 7 and 8 October, giving visitors not only the opportunity to learn about the SPA’s activities in animal rescue and welfare, but also to possibly meet their newest family member under this fall’s motto “Adopt and start a beautiful story”.
Centrally located in 74, rue de France, just steps from the Negresco Hotel, La Maison SPA is not a refuge but a city office from where manager Stéphanie Villette and her assistant Marine Séguin (both pictured below) coordinate between shelters and foster or adopting families. But they also intervene in cases of animal neglect and cruelty, and educate the public on important issues like sterilization, animal health, cruelty and abandonment, and the Chats Libres project, the TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) campaign allowing feral cats to safely live in îlots de chats colonies in controlled conditions, fed by volunteers.
Responsible adoption is key, says Stéphanie. A rescued cat or dog therefore typically goes to a foster family first to be stabilized and socialized. Here it gets a chance to recover from traumatic experiences like abandonment, life in the street, cruelty, neglect, and abuse, or from a medical intervention like recent sterilization at the shelter. This is also the time to learn more about its personality and check for underlying health and behavioral issues that had not shown up while at the pound. The animal learns to overcome trust issues and integrate itself in a domestic setting, often with children or other pets already present.
“Our goal to place a cat or a dog in the forever home best suited for their character, and also to get to know the potential new family a bit better and learn about their motivation. Adoption is a commitment for the animal’s lifetime and has to be well-thought-out – too many animals end up in the shelter just because someone found them cute as a kitten or a puppy and took them in at a whim but then grew tired of the responsibility that comes with pet ownership,” Stéphanie explains. The pet’s transition into a foster family therefore gives her the time to find the ideal “furever” home. “Fostering is a real act of animal protection, a labor of love that comes from the heart,” she says. Once a family is matched with the perfect feline or canine candidate, she provides a truthful report on the prospective adoptee, including potential issues such as a developing or chronic health problem. “We want everyone to be happy with each other, and the family has to be certain they found their perfect companion. Only then we can be sure that both have a real chance at a long and happy future together.” There are also scheduled follow-up home visits and ongoing consultation if needed.
While the SPA shelter in Flayosc (Var), has animals on the premises all year round, the Maison SPA de Nice usually does not – they are all in local foster homes. But on the occasion of the Open House on October 7 and 8, some of the beautiful felines looking for a good new home will exceptionally be present. Among them are two who truly deserve a fresh start: Loki, a sweet and gorgeous 6 year old white Persian who for whatever unfathomable reason wound up at the pound before he wormed his way into the SPA’s very own Marina’s heart for his transition. And then there is Flora, the gentle, tiny one year old alley cat who was found completely emaciated and exhausted from bearing her third litter. She has since been spayed and nursed back to good health, and will still stay with her six babies for another month until they are old enough to be be weaned and go their own ways.
Loki, Flora, and all their little “colleagues” are hoping for a new lease on life, with cats outnumbering dogs by a ratio of 9:1. Many others have come through here before them, and had their dream come true. Happy adoption stories – there are many. Among Stéphanie’s favourite ones is that of little Romy, a kitten who got stuck in a car’s engine compartment, suffering multiple fractures. After a lengthy physical end emotional healing process, she went on to live with a wonderful family who treats her like royalty. And then there is Alto, an 11 year old Yorkie who was no longer wanted at his former home and just cast aside like a piece of trash. He came to the SPA in a state of abominable neglect, ribs sticking out of matted fur. In Stéphanie’s loving care, the poor little guy soon found back to his old, handsome self, and subsequently went to live with a lady and her two other Yorkies. And Aldo’s new “mom” could not be happier with this bundle of love and joy. “You cannot imagine how much happiness he has brought to our household,” she says. They still come by the office every now and then to say hello, and Aldo cannot jump in his lifesaver Stéphanie’s arms fast enough. “Those are the moments that make up for all the misery and tragedy we see day in and day out. We live for them, they are the fuel that keeps us going when we run out of faith in people.” Indeed…
Even though Stéphanie Villette has been an animal lover all her life, she took the long way home to Maison SPA de Nice. Born in Burgundy and growing up in the Paris region, she first earned a degree in literature at the Sorbonne university, and another one in psychology, and then headed into publishing, sales, and advertising. But her passion for fur kids in need drove her to carry on with her volunteer work in animal welfare, and finally had the opportunity to work for the SPA in the Paris suburb of Gennevilliers for two years. When the organization opened a city office in Nice in June 2016, Stéphanie was appointed its manager. And here she has great ambitions: along with all her regular duties around the well-being and adoption of animals, she seeks to educate as much as possible.
Among her pet projects – pun fully intended – are her regular visits to senior citizen residences to work with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. “Here, we have people encapsulated in their anguish of losing their memory. When my dogs Jaff, Lily, Jin, and Noâ arrive, miracles happen. The look on people’s faces becomes attentive, their faces light up, they smile, and there is a sense of real joy in the room. Even patients who no longer communicate with their environment, neither verbally nor through their expressions, light up at contact with the dogs.” Another one of her initiatives is aimed at the young generation. Just this week Stéphanie and her colleague Marine organized a day for kids at the municipal Raoul Mille library, packed with animations, games, and story time, to plant the seed for the respectful treatment of animals in their young minds. Even City Hall took note, sending city councillors Hélène Saliceti-Adroguer, in charge of animal causes and education, and and Jean-Luc Gag, wearing his hat as the library delegate, to convey the City’s support for the project. Along the same lines, Stéphanie plans on creating a “club des jeunes” for older children and teenagers, and a programme for kids with physical or other handicaps.
So much good is done by the SPA, improving the lives of animals first and foremost, but also indirectly of humans. Founded in 1845, the animal protection society is a no-kill organization whose acronym SPA could also stand for “Sauver, Protéger, Aimer” (save, protect, love). But contrary to public perception, it does not receive any public funding and is entirely financed through donations, membership fees, the sale of merchandise, and the rare windfall like an inheritance. But bills keep adding up and funds are notoriously right – 50,000 hungry mouths need to be fed, supplies from blankets to toys need to be purchased, and vets need to be paid…. Occasionally the SPA will also do donation drives in large local supermarkets to collect food and litter. “For a shopper, a couple of cans of tuna or a few pouches of kitten chow is not a big expense. But for our little protegés it can make a tremendous difference,” is Stéphanie’s reasoning. Some businesses also donate in-kind. But practical help is as much needed and appreciated as financial contributions. Mostly staffed with volunteers, the SPA can always use a helping hand, whether it’s drivers, foster families, or office support.
This Open House weekend is a great opportunity to see first hand the amazing work the SPA does and meet the dynamic duo that runs Maison SPA de Nice. Between information, animation, crêpes, and some of the feline guest stars, you are bound to have a great time. Of course we hope you will also want to start a beautiful story with a precious minette or a deserving toutou. And may it be a long love story with a happy end! But if for whatever reason you cannot responsibly commit to one right now, please consider donating or volunteering for this wonderful organization, or become a foster family. Loud purrs and wagging tails will thank you.
Maison SPA de Nice
74, rue de France
Tel: +33 (0)4 93 71 77 63
Follow Maison SPA de Nice on Facebook
Portes Ouvertes, Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th October, 10am to 5pm
All images courtesy Maison SPA de Nice