Where Portland Cats Are Living Their Best Assisted Living Lives

Jessica Mummaw is a cat person–she wears cat-adorned clothing, drives a car with kitty bumper stickers, and travels to volunteer at House of Dreams, a free-roam, no-kill, volunteer-run cat shelter filled with a couple dozen cats, and just a couple cat people. The shelter operates as a non-profit and is one of Portland’s only shelters with facilities for geriatric and feline leukemia positive cats.

This past Saturday–or, Caturday, as the cat people call it–I put my pet preferences aside for the sake of my human friendship with Jessica and went with her to the eighth annual House of Dreams Spring Plant & Vegan Bake Sale. I expected goodies, maybe some succulents, and at least one cat-on-a-leash sighting at this fundraiser. My findings were humble, in comparison, but for good reason.

By the time I set foot on the scene, the plants had been picked-over and inventory nearly cleared out–a credit to cat people being early risers. The set-up for the fundraiser was simple and inviting. Held at a volunteer’s house, there was a sandwich sign on the sidewalk, a tented canopy in the front yard for illusive vegan baked goods, and a wild and green side-yard path that led to a lush backyard where plants and House of Dreams merchandise could be purchased.

It was easy to forget where I was, except every five minutes I would overhear another “I love your sweater” in reference to Jessica’s chosen cat attire of the day, and then it was easy to remember that I was in a backyard filled with cat people.

Cat non-lovers are not welcome

Deborah Morse, an organizer for the event and a 12th-year-running House of Dreams volunteer and board member, spoke with me about the fundraiser’s early morning rush.

“We had plants waiting in the wings,” Morse said, gesturing toward the empty backyard patio that was once overflowing with donated plants and decorative pots mere hours prior. “It was like locusts coming in; everything got scarfed up.”

I pictured Buster, the black-and-white foster cat I once had, scarfing up his food and then barfing it up just as quickly. Thankfully, there was no mess here. I asked Morse where the plants came from and she informed me that all items were donated. Portland Nursery supplied flats of herbs and perennials, though most everything else was donated by individual supporters of the shelter.

House of Dreams is run entirely by a loyal volunteer base. Dan Wheeler is Vice President of the board, has a weekly “feeder-medicator” shift at the shelter, and manages the shelter’s social media presence. When I found him, he was at the helm of the fundraiser’s point-of-sale unit. I spoke with him about the shelter’s origin story, which takes places 19 years ago, and I learned that not all tenants in Portland are people.

“House of Dreams came into existence when another shelter was sort of in collapse, and there was an urgent need for 96 cats to find a new home,” Wheeler said. “There was a core group of three people who were like, ‘We don’t care how it happens–we need to give these cats a new home!’ and that was the inspiration for founding House of Dreams.”

Ever since then, the shelter has been a sanctuary for senior and special needs cats.

The line to get into the “Caturday” Spring Plant & Vegan Bake Sale

“Fully half of our shelter is dedicated to cats that have tested positive for feline leukemia,” said Wheeler, and kept separately from the feline leukemia positive cats are the seniors. “We are a safe place for the cats to live out the rest of their lives,” he said. If someone were to look through a window, said Wheeler, they would see “safe, happy, warm, and well-fed cats.”

For the record, House of Dreams is actually a house. “If you were walking by it on the street,” said Wheeler, “you’d just think human beings live in there. But, no, no, no–a couple dozen cats live in there.”

The house was purchased, refurbished, and then furnished with cat trees, toys, and other cat accoutrements. “We put lots of shelves right by the windows so [the cats] can be looking out,” said Wheeler. “It’s a free-roam shelter, so all day they are doing whatever they want to do, sleeping wherever they want to sleep.”

Truly, a house of dreams.

Volunteers come to the shelter to clean the facilities, feed the cats, and to administer medication on a daily basis. When Wheeler is there, he is a guest in their home, and his volunteer shift requires more than just the knowledge of which medicine goes with which cat. “I need to have a relationship with each one of the cats,” said Wheeler. He explained: “Delilah doesn’t like it when I scruff the back of her neck, but Monique is really good–all you have to do is tip her head.”

While the shelter cats at House of Dreams seem to be living their best lives as they live out the rest of their lives, interested parties of cat people are still welcome to adopt a shelter cat into their forever home, “if we find that sort of magical, one-in-a-million heart connection,” said Wheeler.

No cats were sighted at the House of Dreams Spring Plant & Vegan Bake Sale, but two dogs stopped by. And as Jessica and I went on with our Caturday about town, I spotted more canines, and Jessica’s sweater received even more compliments.