Cuddle Cats was licensed in November 2017 and began adoptions in April

Unassuming from the outside, a home on Pioneer Trail in Hannibal has a cute secret inside: cats — some playing with toys, other docilely perched on seat, and some kittens adorably mewing.

This is Cuddle Cat Rescue, a new, fully-licensed cat behavior and adoption center committed to improving Hannibal's stray cat issues.

Zachariah Atteberry and Janet Matson started the 501(c)3 organization when they noticed plenty of stray cats roaming Hannibal, colonizing abandoned buildings and reproducing. Both cat lovers, they originally started a Facebook group in hopes of educating the community about cats, including spay and neuter practices.

From there, a full-fledged cat rescue developed, licensed by the Department of Agriculture in November 2017 and inspected by the state in April. Since the inspection, Atteberry estimated the rescue has helped around 25 cats find new homes.

While the organization does not take in cats off the street, it takes in cats from the Northeast Missouri Humane Society that need extra medical attention and care. It also takes cats surrendered from owners who can no longer care for the cat. Atteberry brings experience including working for years at the Humane Society.

“Working at the shelter, I saw first-hand the amount of cats who needed medical treatment. And not only medical treatment, but around-the-clock care. The Humane Society does a great job, but as a business, someone can't be there 24/7 like a rescue can,” Atteberry said. “That provides us with an opportunity to do a lot more.”

Atteberry and Matson emphasized that Cuddle Cats is not in competition with the Humane Society, and that the two organizations work hand-in-hand to get ill cats the specialized treatment they need.

Cuddle Cats works with a local veterinarian to get medicine. Atteberry and Matson worked on a 35-page protocol guides for providing limited medical care for cats, including de-worming and flea removal. They have also set guidelines for when cats need veterinary care.

So far, the community has been supportive of the Cuddle Cats mission, Atteberry said.

A good example is the case of Autumn, a kitten whose eye was so badly damaged, it needed removal. Once Autumn's story reached social media, Matson, who cuddled the mewing kitten closely, said individuals donated towards medical expenses.

“I think there's always going to be a need for rescue. Like when a cat comes in like this,” she said about the cuddly Autumn, “they (Humane Society) have to watch their money.”

The organization brings in money through adoption fees and donations. Atteberry is working on grants to help provide emergency medical care.

Atteberry is also a cat behaviorist, meaning he helps cats cope with various behaviors, including aggression, shyness, or more unusual traits.

For example, one cat would only use the litter box if a night light was on near it. Atteberry worked with the cat to discover why it behaved that way, and sought to change its habit.

Matson and Atteberry say the most difficult thing so far has been finding enough people to foster the cats until they can be permanently adopted.

“We're limited. We can only have seven to ten cats at a time — a few more if they're kittens — but we could do a hundred cats if we had the homes to foster,” Matson said.

In the cat room, clean cages lined the walls while cats roamed about. Jade, a beautiful calico cat, was particularly interested in a rainbow-colored ribbon Atteberry dangled near her. Atop a cat tower, Blossom sat peacefully, enjoying pets from Matson.

The pair agreed that nationally, more attention is given to dog health and care. They hope Cuddle Cats brings more awareness to cat care in the area.

“I think spay and neuter is the most important thing people need to understand. They need to get it done. People say 'I'm going to do it later.' But cats can get pregnant as early as four months and have up to 12 kittens,” Atteberry said.

For more information on Cuddle Cats, visit www.cuddlecatsrescue.com .

Reach editor Eric Dundon at eric.dundon@courierpost.com .