Lynea Lattanzio sold her 1973 Mercedes and her two-karat diamond wedding ring to start a cat shelter at her California home in the early 1990s. Today, she lives with approximately 1,100 cats, employs 45 full-time volunteers, and has an annual upkeep bill in the millions.
“I’m gonna say that I’m at the top of the list of eccentric, crazy cat ladies,” Lynea told Barcroft TV. The shelter founder was 67 years old when she welcomed cameras into this special home in January of 2016 and has since showed no signs of slowing down. But life in Parlier, California, never used to be this hectic.
So how did all this begin?
Back in 1992, Lynea’s father asked for her help replacing his two Manx cats, as they had died due to old age, Metro reported. However, Lynea returned home from the cat shelter with 15 kittens. She had noticed that the caged cats in the shelter were shy and reclusive, but when allowed to roam free, they thrived.
Lynea went on to rescue and rehome 96 cats that same year. Thus, The Cat House on the Kings was born.
“When I first started this endeavor, it was out of my own pocket for seven years,” Lynea told Barcroft TV. However, in 2004, a generous donor left Lynea their estate; the profits from the sale of the home allowed Lynea to expand; she purchased the neighboring plot of land and increased the shelter space to a total of 12 acres.
Lynea installed cat-proof fencing around the perimeter of the property, allowing her cats to roam around freely, eradicating the need for cages for the healthy cats. But as the feline population expanded, Lynea’s living space did the opposite. Admitting defeat, Lynea moved out of her 4,200-square-foot, five-bedroom home and into a trailer on the property.
“You can take the woman out of the shelter, but you can’t take the shelter out of the woman,” Lynea joked, speaking to ABC’s 13Wham.
Today, approximately 800 cats and 300 kittens, all of which were feral or abandoned animals, enjoy life at The Cat House on the Kings. “It wasn’t my intention to have 1,000 plus cats,” Lynea admitted, “but it’s happened one step at a time!”
Lynea’s intake has come at a price; in January of 2016, the shelter’s food, cat litter, staffing, vet care, and general maintenance bills totaled US$1.6 million for the year.
Lynea’s huge, professional operation comprises a hospital, an ICU, and quarantines for both kittens and senior cats on site. The vet visits once a week. She also offers low-cost sterilization for cat owners in the area.
The shelter founder even trained as a vet technician herself in order to keep medical costs as low as possible.
Lynea’s house now consists of a feeding room, a cozy wood stove room, an inside “kitty garden” to help acclimate new arrivals, and a “condo” with beds and tribute benches for the cats to rest on.
Outside, Lynea maintains a “pasture project” comprising a fenced enclosure with two sheds, patios, a lawn, and shady trees for the cats to play and rest beneath. Some of her neighbors even volunteer on the weekends and approve of the way Lynea manages her land. “She keeps it clean and we don’t smell anything,” neighbor Kristen Hager, a science teacher, told the New York Post.
While Lynea has found her calling, the main aim of California’s largest cage-free, open-admission cat shelter is still to home as many cats as possible. Around half of The Cat House’s population are “friendly, ready-to-go” cats that are up for adoption.
California’s reigning cat lady and her cage-free abode have taken in and lived with 28,000 cats since the shelter began. “That’s probably a record,” said Lynea.