A little more than five years ago, Marin Humane received a unique opportunity to change the way we cared — and found homes for — the many cats that come through our doors.

Mark M. Glickman, a former Marin resident who still maintains ties to the community, was inspired by a cat that came into his life that he named Joe Willie. Joe Willie had significant medical issues when Glickman adopted him more than 25 years ago but he made a huge impact on Glickman’s life. He knew there were other special needs cats that would benefit from higher levels of care and decided to honor Joe Willie by helping them.

Together, Glickman and Marin Humane created the Joe Willie Project, a unique program that supports medical, behavioral and placement help at unprecedented levels to promote the adoption of senior kitties, those with special needs or ones that are semi-feral. These cats would often languish in our shelter for months and were sometimes viewed as unadoptable by prospective adopters.

When he made his first investment in the Joe Willie Project, Glickman wrote, “Historically, cats have not been treated with the same level of respect, understanding or attention as other animals. But for decades, Marin Humane has been at the forefront of this issue, seeking to change those perceptions.”

Since its inception, the Joe Willie Project has funded more than 160 medical procedures performed by outside veterinarians, paid the adoption fees of more than 100 senior and special needs cats, and provided behavior assistance (both pre- and post-adoption) for more than 1,000 cats.

In the past, this higher level of care for shelter cats, and the additional dedicated behavior staff, was often not financially feasible. This greatly reduced the chances of cats that fell into those categories getting adopted.

Bob is one such cat. This big boy had been transferred to a couple of different shelters in search of a fresh start, but he wasn’t an easy “sell.” He was a hisser, growler and swatter — not the kind of cat that makes a good first impression. To complicate matters, he developed a hematoma in one of his ears, which required surgery. But with dedicated behavior and veterinary teams determined to find a home for Bob, he got the patience and creative behavior help he needed to de-stress and slowly evolve into a super affectionate, playful kitty that was eventually adopted by a lovely couple and their resident dog.

The fund also paid for state-of-the-art “kitty condos” specially designed to reduce anxiety in a sometimes-stressful shelter environment. These condos are especially helpful for cats that don’t do well with other cats, as opposed to the kitties in our community cat rooms. Studies have shown, time and again, that cats that are overly stressed tend to contract upper respiratory infections, which can spread quickly in shelters. With this low-stress housing, the cats aren’t just happier, but they’re healthier, too.

Finally, the Joe Willie Project has placed almost 700 “working cats” in safe, caring environments. These cats, sometimes referred to as “semi-feral,” aren’t happy as house cats yet are not independent enough to live on their own as true ferals. Working with Marin Humane partner Marin Friends of Ferals, these cats are placed with adopters who provide basic food, shelter and veterinary care for cats in barns, warehouses and other semi-protected areas.

“The Joe Willie Project represents a new, innovative way of giving where a dedicated animal lover works with us to solve a great need and honor a special animal who changed their life,” says Nancy McKenney, chief executive officer at Marin Humane. “Since Mark first approached us, these new approaches have been implemented at other shelters, ensuring Joe Willie’s legacy will live on.”