Her heart belongs to Tabby

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Jessica Weiss has devoted her life to helping Beaufort’s unloved cats

By Lanier Laney

California native Jessica Weiss is the director of operations at the Beaufort County Tabby House, located in the corner of Beaufort Town Center next to the Beaufort Book Store. If you go by there you can look in the window and see the “show” — 40 happy, well cared for cats walking around the floor of the building waiting to be adopted.

Jessica Weiss and Patches, her one-eyed cat.
Jessica Weiss and Patches, her one-eyed cat.

Says Jess, “We have an open floor cat adoption facility. This means cages are only used for medical isolation. Our cats roam free, like being in a home, everything is there for them.”

Jess handles day-to-day operations of the Tabby House adoption center. This includes a myriad of jobs from administrative duties to managing the Facebook page with volunteer help; keeping in constant contact with the Beaufort County Animal Shelter and many vets; assessing new cats to be brought in for adoption; overseeing all medical care of cats in their care (under vet instruction); establishing healthy protocols for the cats; and a lot of networking with local businesses, animal care facilities and other rescue groups. Not to mention being in charge of fundraising, too.

Says Jess, “No matter how long my days are, I go to bed happy and proud of the furry lives I helped that day. I know I can’t save them all but I can look back and be proud of the ones I did. This is the most satisfying, rewarding and emotional job I’ve ever had.”

Jessica has been taking care of special needs animals for the last few years through the Beaufort County Animal Shelter and with their help and assistance she’s fostered almost 200 since 2012, before Tabby House opened.  Many of these cats were injured or born with issues, feral, abused, or too young to survive on their own.  Says Jess, “My passion lies with cats and kittens that need extra assistance to get on with their lives. These include one-eyed cats (which I’ve had five), one no-eyed kitten who acts as if he can see, days old bottle fed, three-legged cats, cats in casts, ones with heart murmurs, cats that require subcutaneous fluids and medicine multiple times a day, post-op recovery, and feral kittens who just need the “hiss kissed out of them” to become wonderful companions.”

Jessica’s love of animals came early. She admits, “I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have pets. My mother worked for a vet when I was in high school and I grew up with amazing animal stories. The things animals have endured and not only lived through but thrived afterwards has always been amazing to me. I’ve learned many things from animals in my life, they still teach me daily, and their unconditional love and desire to be loved makes my life worthwhile.”

As busy as she is with her animals, she also makes time to be a loving mother. She has four great children: Zach Weiss and Megen Charboneau, who both attend Lady’s Island Middle School, and her eldest, Gene Weiss, who is a Marine, and eldest daughter Ashley Charboneau is her right hand at Tabby House and will be heading into the Army.

Jess came to Beaufort originally with her first husband, who was in the military. After they were divorced, she met her new husband, George Weiss, through a mutual friend online.

Says Jess, “After a year of communicating electronically, we finally met in person and haven’t been apart since. We just celebrated our seventh happy year of marriage.” George is an engineer under government contract at the air station.

Jessica loves Beaufort because of the history of the area and the big-hearted people here.

Says Jess, “The history that permeates this area is amazing. There isn’t any place that doesn’t have a story, or two. And there are wonderful people here that will take the time to tell you everything you want to know, even where some of the skeletons are buried. Most recently I’ve been amazed by the community spirit and outpouring when someone is in need.”

What’s her philosophy behind her work at Tabby House? “You get what you give,” she says. “This not only applies to the cats I work with but also to all the volunteers who make Tabby House work. I don’t like to be called the boss, I won’t ask anyone to do anything that I haven’t or won’t do myself. Listening to people and observing the cats and doing what is best for everyone is how I try to work.”

She adds, “I’m thankful for the existence of Tabby House, which would never have happened without so many wonderful people advocating and donating.  And the families that have opened their hearts and homes to the nearly 300 cats that have been adopted from here since Tabby House opened its doors 15 months ago, they are extremely important to us!”

She encourages everyone to visit the Tabby House Facebook page. “Pictures say so much more than words. You can see these on The Tabby House Facebook page. Every cat has their story and some are heartbreaking while still inspiring. The most impacting ones have been those that I lost but I know they had the best few months of their lives and I take comfort in knowing I did everything I could for them.”

The ongoing success of Tabby House is dependent totally on donations and volunteer help. Jess says, “Right now, Tabby House is looking for help with a couple of large projects that we are in serious need of completing. We need to raise more than $2,000 to have a washer and dryer hook up installed in our building (we already have the washer and dryer) and we need a 6×12 or 10×10 storage shed as we have no room to store extra supplies on site. We are open to suggestions from the community and ask that if anyone knows of local businesses that participate in community giveback programs or outreach, please let use know via Facebook messaging. It is only with the help and support of you that we can continue to find loving homes for these fabulous loving felines.”

As for the future, her dream is to create a feline “Safe Haven.”

Says Jess, “I have this dream where unwanted feral cats can have a home and where cats with disabilities will be safe and spoiled, as well as a special building just for FIV/FIP positive cats to live out their natural lives. This will be a multi-layered facility and I’m already connecting with like-minded people on the eastern seaboard who want to do the same in their states. This won’t be any time soon, but it will happen. If you are interested in helping that dream grow and become a reality, please contact me.”

ABOUT THE TABBY HOUSE

If you would like to visit and adopt a wonderful cat, Tabby House is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. At Tabby House they also sell T-shirts as well as artwork and crafts made by local artisans. Please call 843-255-5030 or 843-255-5031.

People can donate directly at Tabby House or ask their personal vet if they take donations. Another option is going to the Low Country Community Foundation’s website and clicking on Tabby House, those donations go into a fund to pay the building bills (rent, water, electrical). Money donated directly at Tabby House goes for food, littler, and medical needs.

Or you can mail donations to Tabby House, Suite 13, 2127 Boundary Street, Beaufort, SC, 29902.

They are always in need of volunteers. They  currently need people who can help on Sundays, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Facebook it’s “Tabby House” under places

At Tabby House they fully support the TNR (trap-neuter-return) program here in Beaufort County and will take information to pass along to local trapping groups. Although Tabby House cannot take your cat(s) directly (and they ask that you please not leave cats in front of the building) they will do everything possible to arrange to get your feline taken care of.  Just call and leave a message, or ask them on Facebook. Tabby House reminds you to please microchip your cats, even if they are intended to be inside, as they do sneak out and can get lost.  Please call Beaufort County Animal Shelter Office at 843-255-5010 about getting your cat chipped at a great price, it only takes a few minutes and there is no down time for your pet(s). The county shelter is at 23 Shelter Church Road (Between the Marine Corps Air Station and the Drive-In Movie Theater) off U.S. 21.