Hartsfield is a cat’s best friend

Photo of Michelle Hartsfield courtesy: Hartsfield

Michelle Hartsfield may be a teacher by day, but in her spare time she’s taking care of her other children — her cats. Over the years, Hartsfield has volunteered to help animal rescues in Leon and Wakulla counties. 

“Throughout my life, I’ve always loved animals and would do a little rescue here and there,” Hartsfield said. 

Born and raised in Tallahassee, Hartsfield has worked as an art teacher in Leon County for over 25 years. Hartsfield currently teaches computer graphics. 

The passion Hartsfield has for animals isn’t unheard of. Many people care about helping animals who need new homes. Hartsfield said she started to focus on cat rescue after a conversation she had years ago. 

“I can remember this specific incident where one lady said that the cats really need more help. People are really into dog rescue, not a lot of people are into cat rescue, and I said OK I can switch gears,” Hartsfield said. 

While working with rescues in the area and volunteering where she could, Hartsfield had an idea for a cat cafe, a place where people can visit and meet with the adoptable cats and grab a quick snack at the same time. 

“It was very minimal at first, but we opened Fat Cat Cafe in August of 2017, right before the school year started,” Hartsfield said. 

In 2019, Hartsfield realized that her rescue work could be incorporated into a non-profit organization, so she created one, Feline Advocates of Leon County (FALC). Hartsfield serves as the president and founder of FALC. 

“At this point, we were able to fundraise and receive donations and all these things like grants, and so since then, it’s just blossomed and boomed, and it’s been amazing,” Hartsfield said.

With the opening of the non-profit, Hartsfield and her team still run Fat Cat Cafe. They work with other rescues in the area, like Companion Animal Rescue Endeavor (CARE) and Extended Circle Animal Haven (ECAH), to bring cats into their cafe so visitors can adopt them. Hartsfield said there’s still more work to be done in other communities.

“One thing that I’ve grown to realize and that I believe is that we can rescue cats all day long, and if we run out of cats in Tallahassee, we can always go to the rural communities and cities all around us,” Hartsfield said. 

Hartsfield said they use a technique called trap, neuter and return to help the number of homeless cats on the street. 

“There are cats suffering daily on the streets and in shelters and rural communities all around us, and the solution really is trap and neuter and spay and neuter. We’ve really grown and developed our trap neuter vaccinate return program within FALC,” Hartsfield said. “Our mission is to end suffering with all animals and we believe spay and neuter is the key to that.” 

The Fat Cafe isn’t the only spot to meet the cats. Fat Cat Books is a bookstore and rescue center. The bookstore is an adoption center for the older, senior cats that FALC and its rescue partners have in their care.

“Yes, I love that we have a safe haven for the older kitties and just that we have a second adoption facility. It shows how much growth we’ve had,” Hartsfield said. 

All of the books the bookstore receives are donated, so profits from selling the books contribute to the cats’ medical care and needs. 

“So, when people donate books, other people come in and buy them, all that money turns around to pay all of our overhead and medical bills that we incur,” Hartsfield said. 

Melissa Blake, one of the directors on the FALC board, said that working alongside Hartsfield is inspirational. 

“It’s very motivating to be around her, and you know, every time I’m around her in a rescue perspective, I feel like I learn so much. Her selflessness, you know, for the cats, she would drive to the other side of town if she had to just to see about a cat,” Blake said. 

Another member of FALC’s team is Gisele Poitras. Poitras serves on the FALC team as the foster coordinator, board member, adoption coordinator and secretary. Poitras said that working with Hartsfield is incredible. 

“It’s hard to put into words how incredible she is and how great she is at steering our ship. We call her our ‘ship director, our captain.’ Our whole board jokes about that because she keeps us all on track. We’re a relatively big group of volunteers, and she manages it all with ease,” Poitras said. 

Adopting a cat from Fat Cat Cafe or Fat Cat Books is easy. Visit a rescue center to meet the available kitties, or check online for available cats. Then, fill out an application on the website or inside one of the rescue locations. 

“Once we approve an application and they adopt, we have an amazing follow-up process,” Hartsfield said. This follow-up process ensures that the cats are checked up on to see how they’re adjusting to their new homes. 

“It gives us an opportunity to continue to educate and make sure that everything is going well medically. If we need to step in, we can help for the first few weeks and then just know that it’s all working out. Our adopters always know that we’re there for them. It’s just a real feel-good process,” Hartsfield said.  

Hartsfield’s work for the community and felines doesn’t go unnoticed. Hartsfield and her team of dedicated volunteers save over 300 cats yearly, and she plans to increase the number of cats saved as Fat Cat Cafe, Fat Cat Books and FALC grow. 

Fat Cat Cafe is located at 2901 East Park Ave., and Fat Cat Books is located at 615 Railroad Square, Unit 5.