Iris was the light of my mother’s final years. The 10-year-old Siamese was a gentle and loving companion, an emotional lifeline to a frail woman with dementia. Only when Mom went into a convalescent home did Iris finally come to live with us.
A cat’s elderly caretaker passing away or going to live in a retirement home is quite common. However, the cat’s fate is not always predictable. Sometimes a family member or friend takes the cat in. Sometimes the cat ends up at a shelter or with a rescue group. And sadly, once in a while, these cats get euthanized.
There’s another option for the Irises of the world, though: cat retirement communities.
1. The Last Post Retirement Home for Cats
It’s hard to estimate exactly how many of these communities are out there. The lists I came across are out-of-date and contain some inaccuracies. But Connecticut’s The Last Post Retirement Home for Cats is one of the older ones.
Founded in 1982 by radio personalities Pegeen and Edward Fitzgerald, the sanctuary is home to numerous felines whose humans can no longer care for them. Some get adopted out — but only at the original caretaker’s request. Those who stay have a sundeck, beds, climbing posts and a section of securely fenced-in fields and woodlands they can wander around.
The felines-in-residence have been described by one visitor as “very friendly. Most of them are very cute and cuddly and all appear pretty healthy, despite being fairly old.” The less sociable cats “are kept in different areas of the compound.”
2. Zimmer Feline Foundation
Surviving cat-care programs aren’t easy to sustain. The Zimmer Feline Foundation in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for instance, closed its program in 2005. “We brought the cats who were still home with us,” explains co-founder Kitty Zimmer. The foundation focuses now on “providing free spaying and neutering for pet cats to help them keep their homes.”
Zimmer draws upon her experience to raise some vital points. “The basic realization that we had is if you are going to give the care of your cat to an organization, you have to make sure that that organization is fully capable and able to provide chronic and terminal care — hospice care, essentially.”
With cats, there are 5 basic medical issues that start cropping up as they get older:
- Dental problems
- Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Kidney disease
And those things mean medications, sub-Q fluids, and special diets and treatments.
For those complaining about the cost, Zimmer has the following response: “If someone is charging a low entry fee, I would be concerned whether they were going to provide long-term care. It’s one case where more expensive may be a better option because it’s going to take a lot of money to provide the cat with veterinary care through the end of its life.”
3. Blue Bell Foundation for Cats
The Blue Bell Foundation for Cats in Laguna Beach, California, is another long-lived cat retirement community. Its founder, Bertha Gray Yergat, was a former schoolteacher “and really ahead of her time,” observes Susan Hamil, the foundation’s chairman.
Yergat started a cat-boarding facility there back in 1960s. She also took in strays and pets belonging to friends who could no longer care for them. As she grew older, Yergat wanted to ensure that her cats would never be in that position. So, in 1987, she created the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats, a nonprofit organization named for her beloved cat, Blue Bell.
The sanctuary includes Yergat’s cottage and a large artist’s studio — these were converted into living spaces for the 47 cats who now reside at the sanctuary. Some of them have come there via estate trusts; others are senior cats directly from the public if “we have space available,” Hamil says. “We always leave a buffer there in case someone passes and leaves behind cats who need placing.”
The number of residents never goes above 65. Blue Bell doesn’t adopt any cats out unless the original caretakers give the green light.
Learn about the Lincolnshire Trust for Cats retirement facility in England:
Do Your Homework
Ask questions when you’re checking out cat retirement communities. Here are some that Hamil suggests:
- “How long has the sanctuary been around?”
- “Is it a 501(c)(3)/nonprofit organization?”
- “Who’s on its board of directors?”
- “Is it licensed by the local animal control?”
- “Does it have a disaster plan/a long-range strategic plan?”
The majority of cat caregivers are, as Zimmer points out, looking for “someone who will care for the cat as they would.” Hamil agrees, adding, “This is kind of the highest level of assisted living for your cat.”