721 Warren Street
Hudson, NY 12534 USA
a not for profit, unique pet boutique, where pampering your pet will save homeless animals!
All profits of the eccentric and tasteful pet items will benefit the homeless animals.
AristoPets will be
open Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from
11 AM - 4 PM.
Categorical help: Stylish pet boutique helps cat rescue group in Hudson
By C.J. LAIS JR., Staff writer First published: Saturday, August 16,
2003 in the Albany Times Union
Tucked away below street level in a nondescript building along Warren Street in Hudson sits AristoPets, a high-end pet boutique carrying a variety of ultra-stylish goods for cats and dogs. But the recently opened store is just a front, and everyone in town knows it.
The true cause behind the shop is found upstairs, away from the gilt-edged, crown-shaped food bowls, and luxe kitty fainting couches. There, multitudes of rescued, homeless cats have the run of an apartment littered with electric fans, food and water, kennels and beds.
It's a temporary residence, not a shelter, for feral felines waiting to be adopted by responsible individuals or returned to nature by the nonprofit organization, Animalkind Inc. http://www.animalkind.info
Both the shop and Animalkind are the brainchild of Katrin Hecker, a former pediatric nurse and leather clothes designer who came to Hudson by way of Germany and Manhattan.
So how exactly did a foreign-born, leather-wearing former nurse in New York City become the vegetarian "cat lady of Hudson?"
Hecker, whose blond good looks and alluring German-accented English smash preconceived notions of "cat ladies," sits cross-legged on an upholstered cat bed on the floor of her store and tells the story of "Lucky."
She first noticed Hudson's cat crisis eight years ago after buying a church in Hudson to convert to a painting studio.
"It's a cat crisis, not a cat problem. It's a human problem," she says.
Hundreds of wild cats were roaming the streets and alleyways of the town, sustained by "closet feeders" -- well-meaning locals -- or scavenging for themselves. One of those cats was Lucky.
"He was a three-legged feral cat with an infected eyeball hanging out of his head and worms, fleas and hepatitis," Hecker remembers.
She scooped up the black cat and brought him to a veterinarian to take care of all of his medical needs and to have him neutered. The bill was much more than she expected so she offered to pay the vet by designing him two shirts.
A new cause
Fortune was with Hecker -- and the cats -- that day. Animal rescue became her cause. And the seeds of a creative way to pay for it were planted.
Soon she was taking it upon herself to trap cats, have them spayed or neutered, and return them to the wild. People would often see her in nooks and crannies around town saving one cat at a time.
"Everyone here knows me. They walk by and say, 'Hey, it's the cat lady.' "
Cats brought her together with another Hudson woman, Madie Chapin, who was performing her own rescue missions in Hudson. It was only a matter of time before the two met. From their discussions and mutual interests, Animalkind was born.
The 4-year-old no-kill animal rescue organization has at its core the trap-neuter/spay-return (TNR) idea. It's a pro-active and sometimes rule-bending group, often carrying out commando-type rescues of cat colonies marked for euthanasia.
"We don't try to missionary anyone," says Hecker, standing next to an ornate canopied bed containing Little Mr. Sweet, a recent rescuee. "We give them the benefit of the doubt because they are just uneducated."
Adopting her own cats along the way, Hecker wanted them to have only the best toys and accessories. Trouble was, they weren't out there. "We only have Wal-Mart and the plastic things in Wal-Mart wouldn't fit in with my decor," she says, laughing.
Good fortune was on their side again. A benefactor and Animalkind board member provided a rent-free building for the store and apartment, and Katrin added retail management to her resume.
"This store definitely reflects Katrin's personal style," says Chapin, vice president at Animalkind.
Displayed along the exposed brick walls are wicker beds resembling the basket that carried baby Moses down the river, designer food dishes shaped like jester's caps and swanky backpack-style cat carriers in fur (fake, of course). She's excited about some soon-to-arrive items such as organic, custom-made scratching posts and edible pet greeting cards.
The idea: "pampering your pet will save homeless animals."
"It's hip to be compassionate. We've proved it works here," she says.
She and her staff have already started thinking in new ways. Hecker recently got a parking ticket in New York City and her immediate thought was: "That's a spay." Chapin looks at the plush, cushioned pet beds and says, "That's 15 to 20 cats helped."
The store has an all-volunteer staff and its profits go back to Animalkind and rescue and education efforts. Hecker and her crew hope that the store can provide a bit of a respite from the nonstop fund-raising. They will still hold their "Art for Animalkind" auction each June and have begun some grant-writing. And, of course, they always encourage donations and volunteers.
One of their biggest benefactors has been Hudson itself. The concept, she says, might not have worked somewhere else.
"This town is different," she says. "They're totally supporting this because they see the difference."
The feeling is mutual. Carmine Pierro, an aide to Hudson's mayor, Rich Scalera works closely with Hecker on humane ways to control the city's cat population. "There is a job to be done, and she is doing the job," he says. "Many people have said to us that she is helping them out."
The city has provided money to the organization and established a program to pay for the spaying and neutering of pets from low-income families.
Hecker, Chapin and their fellow activists think that's a great start, but they want more. One of their goals is to get a mandatory spaying and neutering law, although not one that would affect breeders.
Despite their enthusiasm and high ideals, though, they do recognize the limitations. "We cannot do magic," says Hecker. "We're going to stay here in Hudson, but we are open to help other communities."
A far loftier aim is to see the enacting of a "sentient rights" law, one that provides basic civil liberties to animals of all kinds, much like those already in place in Germany and New Zealand.
Animalkind's work would be eased, Hecker says, "if people realize it's a community effort. Cats are part of the community."
A Project of:
P. O. Box 902, Hudson, New York 12534
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Animalkind Inc.is a not-for-profit welfare, protection, rescue, rights organization dedicated to the compassionate care and humane population control of abandoned, feral and stray cats in Hudson, New York (Columbia County) and the surrounding area. We promote non-lethal prevention of an unwanted litter or litters of kittens through trap, spay, neuter, release (return), (tnr, TNR). An altered cat or kitten is released into a managed colony. Felines living in such colonies are assured kind daily care. Adoption to homes providing love and care for cats and kittens is encouraged. We also provide low or no cost spaying and neutering assistance to low income pet owners and help increase public awareness and education through the media, special events, and publications to promote compassion, respect, and kindness towards all animals. (d-22)
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