The residents of one New Jersey retirement home seem to have the perfect life. They spend their days in sun-drenched suites with ramps that allow easy access to several outdoor solariums. There are dozens of other residents with whom they can interact, but if they feel like being with fewer neighbors, they can spend time alone. There's excellent medical attention, doting staff and more than 200 volunteers who visit regularly.
Welcome to Tabby's Place, a sanctuary for cats in Ringoes, New Jersey. The facility is home to about 120 felines and some are part of the Guardian Angel Program, where pets come to live when their family members pass away.
"The Guardian Angel Program specifically was inspired by the number of heartbreaking calls we received in our early years, from grieving families faced with the need to find a haven for their late loved ones' cats," Angela Elizabeth Hartley, Tabby's Place development director, tells MNN.
"Sadly, it can be difficult for cats — especially seniors — to find adoptive homes. We encourage folks to keep a cat in his/her family, with people who already know and love her, but we understand this isn't always possible. Families rightly worry that public shelters may not offer the best outcome, especially for an older kitty. We're glad to step into the gap for such cats."
At Tabby's Place, the fee is $15,000 for the cat's lifetime. It covers all expenses, including housing and medical needs, in the completely cage-free facility. The sanctuary tries to find the right match for the cat to be adopted. If the perfect home doesn't come along, the cat lives at Tabby's Place for the rest of its life.
Having the run of the place
Cats aren't the only ones roaming freely at the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Fourteen cats and 13 dogs call the center home, but more than 640 animals (300 of which are cats) are enrolled to move in when their owners can no longer care for them.
The animals are not caged and most have the run of the 11,000-square-foot facility. In addition to staff members who work there daily, four veterinary students live in the center and offer the animal residents care and companionship. There are couches and chairs to make the facility as home-like as possible. The cats can mingle with the dogs if they feel like it, but can get away through upper windows in the doors. The dogs don't have access to the cat-only rooms.
"The idea for the Stevenson Center was Dr. Ned Ellett’s when he was head of the Small Animal Clinic here at the College of Veterinary Medicine nearly 30 years ago," center director, Dr. Sonny Presnal, D.V.M., tells MNN. "He told me that numerous owners voiced their concerns about the care of their pet in the event they could not care for them. This was his motivation to create the center."
The average cost of care for a pet in the program is about $5,400 per year. All animals are kept at the facility for the rest of their lives.
'Nobody wants them'
At the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats in Laguna Beach, California, 50 cats live in two cottages on the sprawling sanctuary grounds. They can wander through outdoor enclosed patios and watch hummingbirds, butterflies and bees in the adjacent gardens, drink fresh water from a huge, bubbling fountain, and interact with volunteers who stop by to brush, pet and play with them. There are kitty bunk beds, plenty of toys and lots of places to perch.
All the residents are at least 12 years old and came to the facility because their owners could no longer care for them. Many owners were going into assisted living, were in precarious health situations or passed away and had no family members interested in finding homes for their pets. There's a one-time fee of $7,500 that covers the lifetime of the cat.
"What we’re finding with older cats is nobody really wants them," Blue Bell board chair Susan Hamil tells MNN.
The sanctuary was started by cat lover Bertha Yergat, who originally had a feline boarding facility. She had accumulated quite a few cats (about 200 of them!) over the years and realized that when she died, her pets would have no place to go. She established the foundation to take care of her own cats when she died and said the sanctuary would also be open to other senior people who needed a place for their senior cats to go.
Unless the owner requests otherwise, cats that come into Blue Bell may be made available for adoption. Usually it's a volunteer at the facility who falls in love with one of the feline residents and wants to take them home, Hamil says.
"Otherwise, the cat is going to be happy and is going to be here for the rest of its life."