Alan Hensher: Cat Kingdom’s troubles painful, not hopeless

October 29, 2013 

The Oct. 19 article about the troubles of the Last Hope Cat Kingdom was a sad reminder that I lost five cats in the raid in late June. Perhaps I can offer some insight, as I was a volunteer at the sanctuary.

According to stories in the Sun-Star, Merced County officers and five veterinarians seized 300 cats and dogs, euthanized 200 sick animals and turned over others to outside rescue groups.

How did it come to this?

The population began to increase in early 2012, when the Cattery, as some volunteers called the Cat Kingdom, accepted several dozen cats and dogs from a private sanctuary that had closed. A crew of students from UC Merced expanded a shelter for the arriving animals.

Later that year, Renate Schmitz, co-founder of the Cat Kingdom, generously took in about 50 cats and dogs from death row at the Madera County animal shelter. Afterward, the dog kennels were enlarged.

By the spring of this year, however, one cat after another came down with upper respiratory infections. Even so, many such ailments are easy to treat, as I noticed when one of my cats received an antibiotic. Many, if not most, of the cats can recover.

What distinguishes the Last Hope Cat Kingdom from other shelters is its openness. For one thing, the buildings, which are fairly new, are spacious and airy; openings in the walls let cats enter and leave as they please. Only very ill cats and mothers with kittens are kept in cages, some of which contain nearly a cubic yard of living space.

The Cattery never closes, not even on holidays. I remember when my mother cat, Sweetie, came down with a fever and was vomiting one Sunday afternoon. Where to go on a Sunday? I took Sweetie to the Cattery, where Renate treated her and put her in a large, clean cage indoors. When I called Renate two days later, Sweetie had recovered, much to my relief – her kittens would still have their mother.

It is much to Renate’s credit that she takes in a wide variety of animals. I saw not only cats and dogs but also goats, pigs, horses, burros and even peacocks. These animals were meant to be adopted, but if they could not be adopted, they would always have a home at the Cat Kingdom.

One such cat was Amy. She was 18 or 19 years old, was missing some teeth and suffered from epilepsy. After a long nap, she could walk and even run (though somewhat wobbly). Because she couldn’t chew well, she had to eat wet food. Other cats would rush over and knock her to the ground, her legs flailing in the air. I would carry her to the restroom and close the door. Rejecting any help, she often would crawl along the floor to her bowl of food. If she could stand, I would prop her up against one of my shoes so that she wouldn’t fall. These scenes were painful to watch. Amy died in the summer of 2012.

Caring for these hundreds of lost or discarded animals required a dedicated corps of volunteers. The volunteers really toiled, sometimes every day of the week. From 6 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night, volunteers cleaned out and washed litter boxes, disinfected cages and sick rooms, laundered bedding – the washing machine and dryer sometimes ran 10 or more hours a day – kept the trays of food and bowls of water full, and vaccinated newly arrived cats and dogs. The animals would be taken to veterinarians for rabies shots.

I remember two volunteers who stayed past 1:30 in the morning, vaccinating cats and kittens. Where else could you find such hardworking people?

It is true that many animals became sick, but as I have noted, the diseases were not necessarily fatal and could be cured. Besides, the Cat Kingdom had taken a big load off the county animal shelter, which was, I believe, killing 85 percent of its cats. I wish the county could have offered the sanctuary some help, but I don’t suppose it would have been legal.

Though painful, the situation is not hopeless. A private fund could be established to care for injured or sick animals found by concerned citizens or brought in by indigent owners.

In the spring of 2012, such a fund was established at a veterinarian’s office in Turlock. A group of 55 veterinarians in San Francisco organized a network to provide low-cost treatment to animals that could be saved.

Programs like this could be established here. Despite the severe and lingering problems of Merced County, we are blessed with kind and generous people.

Hensher is a Merced resident.

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