An unusual amenity in her immaculate Kanawha City home reflects a passion that consumes her. It’s a “catio.” A small window opens to a chute that takes cats to a play area on her patio.
Other clues include a play tower for cats and cages here and there, one occupied by two gray kittens awaiting placement.
Obviously, an animal lover lives here. Animal activist might be a better word.
Drawn to animals of all description since childhood — a compassion she inherited from her grandmother — Janice Arthur devotes much of her life to locating and rescuing abandoned dogs and cats, getting them spayed and neutered, feeding them and finding homes for them.
After years of fund raising, she helped open the Fix’Em Clinic, a low-cost nonprofit spaying and neutering facility on Hillcrest Drive. Grants cover 30 to 40 surgeries a month.
She has two pets of her own — a dog, Sadie, and a cat, Celia — but dozens of furry guests have benefited from the TLC provided at her open-door halfway house for animals in transition.
Every Sunday, she transports a van filled with former pets to states that require spay and neutering.
The overwhelming need simply energizes her. She’s doing her part. It’s a start.
“We grew up on the West Side, my mom, brother, sister and I. My dad left when I was 2. He was a wonderful guy, but he was an alcoholic.
“Mom didn’t have an education so it was hard for her to take care of us. She worked menial jobs. My grandparents on both sides were big in helping us. We were happy as kids. We didn’t know the struggles Mom was enduring.
“My grandmother on my dad’s side had a love for the Lord and a love for animals, and she gave me both of those things. She nurtured that.
“My first pet was a cat, Mitzi, that my stepfather, Romes [Joseph], gave me.
“It was probably on Randolph Street when I started really thinking about getting close to animals. The Civic Center was just across the bridge. The Civic Center had horse shows and circuses. I offered to help anyone who would let me get near animals. I watered horses, walked them and groomed them, and I was just a child. When the circus was there, I was doing what I could to help out.
“I wanted to be a veterinarian. My sister was the smart one. My sister went on to college through grants and stuff and my brother was a talented musician and a good athlete. I didn’t care about studying or school. I was about involvement, just doing things. I couldn’t sit still. Now I know I had ADD. I can’t even drive over 30 minutes alone. I fall asleep because it’s too boring.
“Mom obliged anything I wanted to do. It was just the limited money. There was a feed store on Washington Street. I’d go there and bring home a chicken with a crooked beak that they couldn’t sell or a rabbit that wasn’t thriving. They gave me the food, too. I had bunnies in my bathroom. And I was always capturing things.
“When we lived in Littlepage Terrace when my dad was in the Army, I was taking boxes and strings and sticks and catching birds. I’d lure them into the hallway of the apartment building. Someone would give me a cage. I had sparrows and pigeons. I loved raising pigeons. Mom was a person who couldn’t say no.
“I got married immediately after high school. I told Butch I was all about critters. He said, ‘Well, if that’s what comes with you, I’m good with it.’ I told him right then I wanted a farm someday.
“We went from Cross Lanes to Winfield to Red House. Always there were animals. I got my first horse when I was 30. I started giving riding lessons.
“Rhino, my first horse, died at 38. There were 40 people at his funeral. We walked him down into his grave and put him to sleep. He had cancer. The last person who I gave lessons to on him wrote his epitaph. It was: ‘Rhino, Simply the Best.’ He was the best pony ever.
“I raised Morgan horses. When I was 8, I read a book, ‘Justin Morgan Had a Horse,’ by Marguerite Henry. It changed my life. I was all about horses then.
“My husband lost his job at Monsanto when they went under. He was 56, too young to retire. He just had a high school education. He was a chemical operator. He was in the safety department the last 10 years. That gave him something he knew something about besides chemicals. He got a job with the state as safety coordinator. That was at the Capitol, a long way from Red House hill.
“We had to leave. We couldn’t drive that distance and take care of the farm. Mom and Dad were getting older and needed us. So we sold our place. It was like selling your heart. Dream Away Farm was the highest point in Putnam County. From our swings, you could see Marietta, Ohio. It was heaven on earth.
“We were living in St. Albans. I was doing rehabilitation of unadoptable dogs. I had them at the house and a day care with six children. So that kept me busy after Butch lost his job.
“We moved to Nitro and had five acres there and a couple of horses. I took my farm to the city. People don’t like that. We cleared this property at the end of a subdivision. That was their four-wheeling territory. They would run four-wheelers on our property and shoot our horses with BB guns and throw firecrackers on the barn.
“So we sold that and moved here to Kanawha City. Mom is only six blocks away. I took care of Romes until he died. Mom had a heart attack, so I’m taking care of her and taking care of my godparents.
“Animals have always been a part of it. God gave me some kind of inner spirit to know how to handle animals to help them be the best animal and companion they can be. I want to get them to where someone will take them and care for them.
“I kept rescue dogs through New Hope Animal Rescue with the Putnam County Humane Society. For 20 or 25 years, every time I would get a dog or cat that needed a home, I would get it spayed or neutered at Help for Animals at Barboursville, a low cost spay-neuter clinic, all on my dime. Then I would take care of them until I could find a home for them.
“When we moved to town, Barboursville was a long way. My husband said I couldn’t keep driving to Barboursville every day with a load of cats and dogs. I thought there had to be some place in town that would do low-cost spay-and-neutering.
“If you don’t spay-neuter, you can’t stop overpopulation. There are animals on the street every day suffering.
“I would find the animals on the streets, and people would call me. I found 42 cats on Crescent Road, a lady who needed help. Her neighbor called me. She was taking care of two cats, and it got away from her because she didn’t get them spayed and neutered.
“I’ve got her down to four outside and five indoor. I got all those animals homed, spayed and neutered. I did it in two weeks.
“You can’t go to a vet without it costing $200 a critter. Mom would help me and my godparents would give me money, but it only went so far. I heard of a lady who was trying to build a low-cost spay-neuter center in Charleston. She found out about me and the trapping. I’ve probably trapped 100 cats in the last two months, and I get them spayed and neutered and keep them until they are well enough to leave.
“The shelter won’t take them. The shelter can’t euthanize anymore. They have to keep their numbers at a level they can handle, so they turn you away.
“So people leave them in an apartment or throw them in the river or on the road, and I’m the one who cleans up their messes because they won’t take them and get them spay-neutered.
“I hooked up with Lisa Mitchell who wanted to build a center. About five us raised funds for five years to get a low cost spay and neuter center. That’s who we are, the Fix’Em Clinic.
“We’ve been open three months on Hillcrest Drive. There are four of us doing volume partnership on grant money. It’s a 501©3. It’s all about getting the money.
“We have our veterinarian, two vet techs our office manager and me as a volunteer coordinator.
“Dutch Miller donated a transport van where we can pick up, spay or neuter and return. People have helped us build this center.
“We do maybe 30 to 40 procedures a month, all through grant money. I trap them and bring them in and find homes for them.
“I’ve got a truck load of food and litter in my car to take to a lady in Hernshaw. People kept dropping off cats in her hollow. I’m feeding them, but they just keep multiplying. I will take care of them if I can get them spayed and neutered. They used to be somebody’s pet, but they’ve gone wild. She doesn’t have money for litter and food. These are the kind of people we have to help. They can’t stand to see them starve.
“I have a village of people who help me. I’m working on a connection in Massachusetts to take van loads of cats because they have spay-neuter laws. They don’t have overpopulations. We can take 50 to 60 to them at a time. Every single Sunday, I transport cats somewhere.
“I’ve thought about the verse in Romans: You can’t fix evil, but you can overcome evil with good. We can’t fix every dog and cat or fix every evil person, but we can do our little part with good.
“Neighbors foster animals for me. Two ladies donated a washer and dryer to the clinic. A lady last night gave me $20 for food and litter. Everybody can do something.
“To get involved, you need to find a stray cat and feed her. Feed a colony when you find one. Trap them and get them spayed and neutered. Return the cat to the habitat and provide food and shelter and water.
“You need to foster and adopt and not shop — don’t buy a pet anywhere; adopt.
“And of course, you need to donate to the Fix’Em Clinic. If you send $50 that will cover one spay or neuter and a rabies shot.”