Smile Politely

New Rantoul animal shelter opening this summer

An animal rescue organization that seeks to reduce pet overpopulation and provide low-cost veterinary services to Champaign County will be opening another facility later in the summer.

Catsnap, a 501c3 non-profit, was established in 2005 by veterinary student Susan Norris. It offers a limited adoption program for cats and some dogs and other animals (including this amazing turtle, currently featured on their website) as well as low-cost spaying/neutering and other vet services. Ten years in, Catsnap facilitates roughly 200 adoptions per year and collaborates with other animal care organizations to provide care for animals that might not be adopted.

Jessica Sempek, a Catsnap board member, told me that one of Catsnap’s main goals is to reduce the feral cat population in Central Illinois. “Feral cats are wild animals,” she said, “who haven’t been socialized to be around humans. We TNR, which means Trap, Neuter/vaccinate, and then Return to the wild. It’s a humane way to address the overpopulation of cats.”

In 2015, Sempek developed a new program at Catsnap called Hospice Hearts, which provides care for terminally ill pet owners. “It’s a program for pets whose owners are dying or have died. People at the ends of their lives frequently have pets who are older or have special needs, and those pets aren’t a good fit for traditional shelter environments. Hospice Hearts seeks to provide older and special needs pets with a place where they can comfortably live out their years.”

I talked with Sempek about Catsnap’s new Rantoul facility.


Smile Politely: What services will the Rantoul facility offer?

Sempek: We recently purchased a building in Rantoul, and one level will house a low-cost vet clinic where pets can receive routine treatments and sterilization services. Susan Norris, the president of Catsnap, will work there. On another level we will offer a few community cat rooms to house animals in our Hospice Hearts program. Community cat rooms are cage-free rooms that can house around eight cats in a home environment as opposed to a cage. It’s like a retirement home for cats who might not get adopted but still need a place to live.

SP: The services you will provide at the Rantoul facility will be low cost?

Sempek: Yes, we will offer vaccinations and other services at lower costs than veterinarians. At our clinic, we always assess how often an animal has seen a vet. Often for a spay or neuter, it’s the first time the animal has seen the vet in their lives. That’s because vet services can be quite costly. We want to make those services more available for low-income populations. We know that vet services can be very expensive. For lots of people, just feeding their animals is a struggle. Catsnap sometimes get requests for food or litter. We want to alleviate some of that stress for people.

SP: How would you characterize the animal care world in Champaign-Urbana?

Sempek: Champaign-Urbana has an excellent animal care community. The Humane Society is amazing. The U of I’s Shelter Medicine Program provides lots of low-cost services. We have a wonderful animal control officer. One of the great things about Champaign County is how well different organizations work together. For example, we have eight organizations participating in a program called Country Cats, which takes cats that would otherwise be euthanized for old age or behavioral issues out of animal shelters and places them in barn homes. That program has saved close to a hundred cats to date that would otherwise have been euthanized.

At Catsnap, we want to continue that work. We’re focused on providing good services to the surrounding community, like the smaller towns in Champaign and Vermillion counties. Danville is a good example of an area that has very limited resources. There are no low-cost vet services there. We feel that our new location in Rantoul will be perfect because we can draw people from a variety of different communities.

SP: What is your background? How did you get involved in animal care?

Sempek: I moved out to the country and had feral cats show up at my door, and I didn’t know what to do, so I started trapping them. Eventually, I met Susan and became involved in Catsnap. I work in healthcare full time, and I’m also a passionate animal lover. Now, I am very involved in the animal rescue world and want to see an end to needless suffering. My background is in human development, so I’m really intrigued by the bonds between humans and animals. I think having animals makes families better. In a lot of the situations I’ve seen, if you provide someone resources for their pet, it can be a springboard for much more.

SP: How can people support Catsnap’s work?

Sempek: We are currently remodeling the Rantoul facility through volunteers and fundraising. It’s been a long process. Animal lovers are great people, but many of us are not wealthy. We really need volunteers, especially volunteers who can provide foster homes for our animals. In terms of remodeling the facility, we would love any licensed tradespeople to donate time to help out with the building. We also need building materials. We appreciate anything people can do to help us.


Catsnap is a a 501c3 charity, so donations via their website are tax deductible. On Saturday, May 9, Catsnap will host a Whiskers and Wine benefit at Sleep Creek Winery. Catsnap’s new Rantoul facility will be located at 318 S. Garrard St.

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