By Tom Midlane @goldenlatrine
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Videographer / director: Elie Khadra
Producer: Tom Midlane, Ruby Coote
Editor: Ethan Edwards
Lynea Lattanzio is the founder of the Cat House On The Kings, California’s largest no-cage, no-kill sanctuary for feral and abandoned cats and kittens.
After her marriage broke down in 1981, the 70-year-old settled on a parcel of land in Fresno County, which would become home to the sanctuary.
Lynea said: “When I was a child, my mum wouldn’t let me have a cat, I think that is what began my obsession.
“Marriage was a big mistake and once I got divorced I said I would rather have 700 cats than another man.
“Now this is my life 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We currently have approximately 700 adults and 350 kittens here, plus another 50 or so in foster care.”
The facility’s vast feline population means that running Cat House On The Kings doesn’t come cheap – the cats eat 1,350lbs of dry food a month and monthly expenses come to around $100,000.
In 2002 the sanctuary achieved non-profit status and was able to begin soliciting donations, but initially the Cat House On The Kings depended heavily on Lynea to keep its gates open.
Lynea said: “For the first seven years, it was all out of my own pocket - not only did I spend my retirement funds, but I sold my Mercedes and my Cadillac, and my two-carat diamond wedding ring.
“I sold everything I could sell in order to keep it going. Plus I put in a couple of hundred thousand dollars in my own money.”
Lynea estimates that over the last 27 years the sanctuary has rescued around 38,000 cats, although the sheer volume of moggies has had a drastic impact on her living standards.
The septuagenarian has given up her spacious five-bedroom home to her cats, and now sleeps in a trailer on her twelve acre property.
She said: “About seven years ago, I still lived at the big house.
“It had a 12 foot walk-in closet, a six foot soaking tub, a built in fireplace, a back deck facing on to the river. But it ended up with so many cats there that there was no room for me.
“I would wake up in the middle of the night with blood on my face from the scratches but the last straw was one threw up in my ear. And that's when I moved.
“I thought, ‘I'll just make this trailer my cat free zone’ – although that only lasted about six months.”
The team starts feedings at the shelter at 4am and Lynra prides herself on taking in ‘unadoptable’ animals.
Lynea said: “We pick up mostly kittens and I'd say at least 50% of the kittens are sick when they come. If they are sick with the herpes virus, which these guys have, then it is for life, they're never going to get over it, they're always going to have a runny nose and runny eyes.
“And they're very difficult to adopt because nobody wants a kitten or cat that sneezes and leaves mucus all over your house.”
The centre also has a special area for seniors and gives medical attention to critically ill cats – even featuring its own feline leukemia ward.
Lynea said: “It has a four foot fence, kind of like a moat all the way around it ,and that is to make sure there is no interaction at all between these cats and those cats.
“Because leukemia can be passed by as little as a sneeze or sharing a food dish or something, we have to protect all the other cats from them.”
A passionate opponent of kill centers, Lynea says there is an alternative to euthanizing unwanted cats and kittens.
She said: “To me this is cat paradise. We often call our facility ‘cat heaven’.
We don't tell the cats where to live. They can run full speed, nobody's locking them up anymore and nobody's chasing them and trying to hurt them. And many of the cats here have come from that kind of environment where they've just been abused.
“To me killing all the unwanted animals makes us a third world country, we breed and kill domestic pets and to me that is unconscionable - there is always an alternative to killing them.
“If I stop now then I would feel that my job wasn't complete. I’ll never stop until this is a no-kill nation.”