“We attract people who love cats, people who hate people, oddities, rarities, quirky, flaky, fruity, and some normal folk,” Auckland says with a laugh. Her voice is tinged with an inflection that gives away her British origin. “Some of us here fit into one or more of those categories.”
Cats rove in and out, jumping up to get some attention before moving on. Auckland barely notices; she is, obviously, used to this. She pauses at times to talk to the cats, each of which appears to listen.
Meanwhile, at the back of the shelter, Johnson must administer medications to all the cats with medical issues, which many of them have. She keeps track of who requires what on a large dry-erase board on which she’s written the names of the cats, the medications they need, and a space to check off whether or not they’ve received it.
In the medical room, a small space set up with a steel-topped table and bins of supplies, Johnson lines up a series of needleless syringes containing oral medications, some of which are for hyperthyroidism, others for upper respiratory issues.
In addition, Johnson must contend with a handful of diabetic cats, whose conditions range in severity.
“They’re very, very high maintenance and also very expensive,” Johnson says, filling a syringe with pink liquid. “The [glucose test] strips are a fortune. Strips are like a buck apiece. It’s crazy.”
With all the feeding, watering, and especially medical care that Friends of Cats provides in its facility, expenses add up. Friends of Cats pays for its overhead not only via adoption and lifetime care fees but through donations, monetary and otherwise. In addition to receiving funds, they have a squad of dedicated volunteers who donate time and labor, and they also participate in shelter-specific programs with pet-supply manufacturers. This allows them significant discounts — Science Diet’s program charges 25 cents a pound for dry food, for example. A local vet provides low-cost services when needed, which is often.
There have also been sizeable donations of a different origin; Friends of Cats has received some funds as the heir to several estates. The resulting sums have been varied, and oftentimes Friends of Cats is willed the deceased’s feline companions.
“People pass away and leave $10,000,” says Auckland. “People pass away and leave cats in their will a set fee of $5000 dollars per cat. People pass away and leave a house and no cats. I’ve seen a few people pass away who’ve left us a house. We sold. There have been two; one we got half of the funds, and one we got about two-thirds.”
Auckland, who has been the shelter’s manager for seven years, estimates that one of the houses brought in around $200,000 to the organization. The house contained, however, she says, approximately 40 cats, most of which were feral. Some were able to go to homes; many, though, remain in the Shy Cottage.
Cats, when their lifetime care is totaled up, make for expensive pets and, within the shelter system, expensive residents.
“When we divided [the inheritance] amongst all the cats we had also received, and their care over the years, I think it worked out to about three dollars a cat,” Auckland says.
While a number of older cats are placed in lifetime care, a program in which an owner pays or wills a set fee per cat to have it cared for over the duration of its life, most of the cats at Friends of Cats are given up by their owners and are not paid for. Auckland, with seven years of experience under her belt, cites myriad reasons why they might be and have been relinquished.
“People need to give up their cats because they’re moving, or their owner is allergic or has had a lifestyle change, “ she says. “[They’re] traveling, or somebody in the family died.”
A white Persian catapults onto the desk.
“This is Molly,” Auckland says, by way of introduction. “Molly is a lifetime-care kitty. She was given to us by an owner who was getting married, and new daddy was not a cat guy. Apparently Molly liked to pee on things, and new daddy wasn’t going to put up with that, so Molly’s mommy paid for us to care for Molly. She didn’t want her adopted out. She wanted to know that she would be here and be safe forever and ever.”
In addition to Molly, there are several other lifetime resident cats allowed free reign of the shelter. Some are lifetime-care cases; others are simply un-adoptable cats that have made their home at the shelter. Perhaps the most well known is Nefertiti, a small Tonkinese with startlingly blue eyes and a nasty upper respiratory disease, who serves as the shelter mascot. Unadoptable due to her medical condition, Nefertiti spends her days on top of the washing machine or climbing on staff members’ — and visitors’ — shoulders.
There’s also Tabitha, a 25-pound gray shorthair that was adopted from Friends of Cats as a kitten and subsequently found, years later, abandoned in a plastic tub in San Clemente. At the time, according to the vet who ended up with her, she was so large she was unable to escape. Back at Friends of Cats, as a lifetime resident Tabitha now has her own spot in the office, a towel-covered nest next to a filing cabinet, with a sign reading “Tubbitha the Diva” to mark the spot.
In addition, there are a bunch of others, each of whom has a unique personality and a set of medical or behavioral issues to match. Angel, a white Persian, has cancer. Ophelia, also a Persian, has asthma. Clorox, a white shorthair who was dumped off at the front gate one night, is deaf. Flaco, who hops up onto Auckland’s desk, is a multicolored, ill-tempered yet still loved “pee-er.” Leonardo, who joins him on the desk, is a lionlike Maine Coon mix that Auckland adopted but later relocated to Friends of Cats due to his frequent urination — “He basically thinks we moved here,” she jokes — to become part of the gang. Down the hall, in his “apartment,” is Houston, who, according to Auckland, has a form of “kitty dementia” that causes him to become disoriented.