Even in Tough Times Life Can Be Purr-fect

Story by Jeannie Stone

Some cats scamper toward a new visitor; some run away. Some cats rub against a pant leg; some watch with guarded eyes from the comfort of their perches. Some cats purr when they are petted; some don’t like to be touched. That’s the thing about cats – each has his or her own individual personality.

To say that Pope County residents Doug and Kathy Jentsch understand cats is an understatement. The couple, who has rescued cats for 20 years, is as close to growing their own whiskers and fur as anyone on two legs.

Purr-fect Sanctuary is their world, and it is also inhabited by over 50 cats. As the name implies, many of the felines are too frail to adopt out. They are destined to live out their numbered days with their caregivers, the Jentsches.

“This is a professional shelter,” Doug said, though the size of the shelter, considered too small by national funding sources, exists primarily on his income as a car salesman for Valley Motors and Kathy’s income sewing polar-fleece kitty hammocks and pet blankets over the Internet.

“But this is what we chose to do,” he said. “We sacrifice vanity for the animals.”

The couple, originally from Minnesota, moved to the area four years ago to be closer to Kathy’s mother. They brought with them a small menagerie which has managed to grow some.

“The Minnesota Humane Society wouldn’t take Lucy here for nothing. She would have been euthanized because of behavioral problems,” Kathy said.

Lucy is one of those cats who runs away at the site of a stranger. She was traumatized as a kitten by a family who didn’t need a cat Kathy said. “Human contact actually frightens her.”

“These over here are our hawk kitties,” Kathy said as she picked up Tiggy, 14. “The vet actually had to do a facelift on her.” Tiggy is also blind in one eye as a result of being attacked by hawks.

In the wild, kittens out in the open are a free meal for birds of prey, so rescue operations not only save cats from irresponsible humans but from Mother Nature, as well.

“People don’t give too much thought to the costs of vet bills and food,” Doug said.”Pets are not toys or possessions, but should be part of a family. The public must accept responsibility of owning pets.”

Some folks seem to suffer from a lack of compassion, Doug said. It’s not uncommon to see four dogs in a front yard with no means of confinement.

“Of course, one will get hit by a car,” he said, “and the reaction is to just go out and get another.” Kathy agreed and reminded him of the man who used to shoot dogs down the road. “Now, thank God, it’s a felony,” Doug said.

“We could tell you horror stories,” Kathy said. “Anyone in the rescue business could.”

Take Nana, for instance. She is an abuse survivor and wears a protective boot over her left hind leg. She was dragged under a door as a kitten until her flesh tore off and only her bone remained. Lucky for Nana, she fell into the hands of the Jentsches.

“It took three months to heal Nana’s wounds,” Kathy said. The tabby has to keep the boot on at all times due to the shot nerves and scar tissue.

Kathy whipped up Nana’s boot on her sewing machine, adding it to her growing inventory. Her Internet business, Comfy Cat Habitats, is devoted to cat and dog accessories — such as the hammocks and blankets, and the sales are increasing.

“We even have raccoon owners who order the extra large hammocks,” Kathy said, “and we sent a bunch to Mississippi for the cats when Katrina hit.”

Black long-haired Pug is 22 years old. They can live a long and healthy life when they’re taken care of, Kathy said.

Taking care of the cats is an ongoing commitment. Kathy adheres to a detailed schedule everyday to keep up with and maintain the facility. To keep the homes smelling fresh, it is imperative to scoop out the litter boxes twice a day she said.

“Air circulation is very important, and don’t overcrowd,” she said.

Though the healthy cats remain in elaborate outdoor cage-houses, and cats testing positive for feline leukemia are quarantined in their own facility, ill and fragile cats are cared for at the main house.

“These are our CH kitties,” Kathy said of two wobbly cats sharing a kennel. They suffer from cerebellar hypoplasia, most likely a result of their mothers coming in contact with the distemper virus.

“Some people don’t like the idea that the cats are in kennels,” she said, “but my father once told me something that made a lot of sense to me. He told me that we go into our kennel when we go into the house, so their cage is their house just as my house was my cage.”

Even the feral cats return to their “cage” at night, she said. The cats she speaks of are, in fact, a feral cat community which resides outside the complex. Kathy and Doug extend their generosity with those cats as well, leaving food on the front porch for them and allowing them to use a wooden building as they wish.

They also neuter, spay and vaccinate the wild cats.

“And every month, every living thing on this property is Front-lined,” Kathy said. (Front Line is a popular flea and tick repellent.)

The cats don’t express their gratitude as vociferously as dogs, but if pet owners would take time to listen to their pets they would understand them, Kathy said.

“If you know what to look for it’s easy to see that a cat is content.”

The Jentsches receive frequent phone calls from concerned pet owners needing reassurance or information. One call was from a distraught woman concerned about her parents’ cat. The 13-year-old calico cat had been very attached to the caller’s father, and when he died, the cat experienced a personality change. Months later, the cat – who had been quite affectionate before — had bit the caller’s mother as she slept.

“This was scary for everyone,” Kathy said. “They contacted a vet for a consult and came up with a solution. The cat enjoyed spending a lot of time outdoors,” she said, “so our recommendation was that Cookie be allowed to stay outdoors.”

The cat was eventually granted indoor “supervised” visitation during the day, then given the run of the sun porch and spare bedroom inside at night. The solution kept the pet and owner together.

Cats are not without other unique beneficial attributes. Kathy firmly believes in their superior sense of perception. While living in Minnesota, she and her cats went for daily walks in the woods.

“They would be all excited when they saw me walking down to the kennel,” she said, “but for several days in a row, they wouldn’t cross the road. I didn’t know what to make of it. Then, an earthquake hit Minnesota.”

Kathy still marvels about it today. “When have you ever heard of Minnesota having an earthquake?” she asked. “Those cats had no past experiences that would warn them. It is an inherited sensitivity to their surroundings that humans don’t possess.”

Scientists are discovering fascinating things about cats all the time, she said.

“They recently found that cats have super paramagnetic particles fed through the whiskers to the brain which serve as honing devices.”

Besides the scientifically fascinating points of interest, the cats are just fun, she added.

“I’m sitting at my sewing machine and watching them cut up all the time. They tease, taunt and play with each other all the time. Animals know how to have fun.”

“There are thousands of Mom and Pop shelters around the country,” Doug said. “It’s sad that there are so many people who mistreat their pets. We’ve put a lot of things on hold because we’d rather be taking care of the cats.”

“I’ve had the whole 3,300 square foot house and done the changing wallpaper bit, but this is my paradise now,” Kathy said.

Times are a tough. The economic slump has siphoned their few donations, but they are confident the good deed-doers in the community will triumph.

“You learn what your wants and needs are when times are tough,” Kathy said.

“We see small acts of kindness all the time,” Doug said.

A visiting preschooler on a class field trip to the Purr-fect Sanctuary paid the Jentsches the ultimate compliment.

“She told me that she wanted to be a kitty and live with us,” Kathy said.

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