Saving South Whidbey’s felines, one kitty at a time

Favini is all smiles as she shows off her trapping equipment.

Beth McPhee’s home garden is a colorful place filled with things that grow, from flowers of all varieties to succulent vegetables destined for the dinner plate.

Naturally, it’s a place where she spends a lot of her time and the few feral cats that lived nearby lightened her labors by keeping her company. But, when she heard an unfamiliar meow while tending her tulips one evening, and then another, she knew she had a problem that was multiplying and getting out of hand. She turned to Jean Favini, South Whidbey’s one-person rescue organization.

Favini operates Oasis for Animals, a non-profit organization based out of Langley that is dedicated to curbing pet overpopulation through spay and neuter surgeries. Favini began the organization in 2001 when she retired from her job at the Boeing union office. With a deep love for animals, a burning desire to offer a helping hand to those in need and an ever-present grin on her face, Favini clearly loves what she does. And she does it all, from climbing under decks to trap raccoons and coordinating cat rescue missions in trees to nurturing animals when they’re unable to feed themselves and housing them when they don’t have a place to stay.

“We catch any animal,” Favini said. “If an animal is injured or needs help, I’ll at least try to save it.”

Widely respected, Favini helps Whidbey Islanders trap the feral animals in order to transport them to nearby veterinary hospitals. In order to spay and neuter them, she makes the long trek in her animal-filled van to the Northwest Organization for Animal Help (NOAH) in Stanwood every single Tuesday. It’s reminiscent of a scene out of Noah’s Ark.

Veterinarian Lyn Jones of Creature Comfort Veterinary Housecalls, as well as other South Whidbey veterinarians, believe Favini’s work is important to the feral animal issue.

“Her work is great,” Jones said. “She has a good spirit for doing the right thing.”

After bringing the animals to be fixed, she nurtures them until they return to full health before releasing them back into the wild. If the feral animals stick around, Favini looks for housing solutions, either through adoption or finding people looking for barn cats. She even has a barn full of felines herself.

“It’s a really nice thing to do for animals as well as the people who aren’t able to care for these animals any longer,” Favini said. “It’s a service that is needed up here. There are huge amounts of feral animals that need to be spayed and neutered on the island.”

According to Favini, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is a large contributor to the feral animal issue due to the transient nature of base personnel. Once they move or are stationed elsewhere, animal owners are often unable to bring their animals with them. If any of the abandoned animals aren’t fixed, a problem arises that can quickly multiply and spread throughout the island.

“I love cats and dogs, they make my heart warm,” McPhee said. “No matter how much I love the animals, it’s hard to see them multiply, so I call Jean first. Her knowledge of animals and the care she offers make her the best.”

Over the years, Favini has set up a community task force of sorts on Whidbey to help monitor the feral animal issue. Although these helpers do what they can, she continues to be involved with nearly all rescues Oasis for Animals coordinates, but it’s telling that people often choose to go to her first.

“I like to consider her the alternative animal shelter,” Jones said.

Even when the going gets rough, as animal rescue work often does with the abandonment and possible mistreatment of animals, Favini still finds a way to find happiness in her work. Not only is she providing a service, but she also gets to work with what she loves — animals.

“When I’m feeling down about the job, I like to think of all the little ones I’ve saved,” Favini said. “I love them.”

As hard as it may be for Jean to see animals struggling for survival and incapable of caring for themselves due to injury, she says that the “after” pictures her past customers send her make it all worth it.

To see animals that arrived in rough shape transition to healthy cats, she says, maintains her love for the job.

“She is our hero to us,” McPhee said.