Tuesday Dec 08 2009
Abused felines find a friendly respite
By: Brad Smith Telegraph Correspondent
El Dorado Hills couple takes care of unwanted animals
With a careful, caring eye, Cindy Minghelli examines Fat Kitty City pet sanctuary’s latest resident, a large orange cat named Rocky. “He’s been with us for almost a week now,” Minghelli said. Since his arrival, Rocky has been spending a lot of time in the sanctuary’s small medical building. The reason, she explained, is that someone threw acid at Rocky’s face. “Understandably, Rocky was very frightened of being around people. This past week, however, he’s been warming up to people,” she said with a smile. Minghelli is the driving force behind the Agee Memorial Wildlife Fund and the Fat Kitty City pet sanctuary. Taking care of animals, especially unwanted pets, has been her lifelong passion. More than a decade ago, when Minghelli and her husband Ed lived in Las Vegas, she decided to establish a foundation promoting spay/neuter programs for feral cats. Her late parents, Richard and Betty Agee, both doctors and animal lovers, had left her some money — which she used to create the wildlife fund and its spay/neuter programs. “That was October 1999. That first year, we were able to spay or neuter more than 1,000 cats. That,” she said, “was a success for us.” Along with that program, Minghelli and fellow animal lovers started adoption programs for cats and dogs. Foster homes were set up, where families could take in abused or abandoned animals, help with rehabilitation and socializing, making them suitable for adoption. “Our goal is to find wonderful, loving homes for these animals. The alternative, in some cases,” she said with a grimace, “is having to put them down. I don’t want that to happen.” The Minghellis eventually relocated to El Dorado Hills. “Ed is from the area,” Minghelli said. In El Dorado Hills, they were able to create a large cat sanctuary. “Ed built our very first building — in fact, he’s built all of the sanctuary buildings,” Minghelli said. The sanctuary consists of a half-dozen buildings, including a barn and storage shed, all surrounded by wire fencing. Each building has power and can be properly heated or cooled. While the sanctuary serves as a home for many cats, it’s a place where many of them can be readied for possible adoption. At the sanctuary or at a volunteer foster home, Minghelli said that the animals have been evaluated, rehabilitated and socialized. The sanctuary is home to nearly 80 cats. Besides Rocky, there’s Mojo, who a few years ago lost one ear and his tail while sleeping in a car’s engine housing. Much better now, Mojo plays with volunteers and his feline compatriot, Cisco. “Ellie is one of our miracle stories,” Minghelli said. Ellie has meningitis, she explained, and the veterinarian said she’d only live a few months to live. A few years later, Ellie is still alive, despite having problems walking. She moves about as best as possible, purring happily while a volunteer pets her. One of the sanctuary’s oldest felines is “B.B. King,” Minghelli said. At 17 years old, he roams the sanctuary, now and then batting paws with Mojo. He got his name, Minghelli explained, because of the BB pellets still lodged in his body. “It’s sad. It makes me sad and angry,” she said. “What kind of person shoots at a defenseless animal with a pellet gun? Or, abuses a cat or dog?” When Minghelli and her volunteers come across abused felines and even dogs, they spend a lot of time working with the animals, getting them to socialize with humans. Lisa Rezac is one of many volunteers providing a foster home for cats. She recently took in a pair of young kittens, both victims of abuse. “Somebody shot at them with a pellet gun. In fact, one of them still has pellets embedded in his little head,” Rezac said. When the kittens first arrived at the Rezac home, the animals were very “skittish” and stayed clear of the family. “But, they’re much better now,” Rezac said. The kittens aren’t frightened of people and, she said, “are playful and very loving. Very different than what they were weeks ago.” Another volunteer is Tammy Fessler, who started out as a client. “I lost my home,” she said. “I had my cats, Morris and China, living with me, either in a motel room or my car. It was a bad situation.” Luckily, Fessler contacted Minghelli and the sanctuary took in Morris and China. “I felt better. I knew that my babies were safe and sound, well taken care of. And, I could visit them whenever possible.” Sadly, as time went by, Morris and China both got sick. The sanctuary made sure that the cats got medical treatment. However, it turned out to be cancer. “Cindy and the others did their very best to take care of them. At least, I was able to spend time with them, to say goodbye,” Fessler said. She still comes to visit and help Minghelli with the sanctuary. “This is a great place, for both people and pets. I wish more people would come here.” The Folsom PetSmart lets the group setup an “adoption center” every Friday and Sunday afternoon. “We’re very thorough with our adoption process,” Minghelli said. “We work hard to match the right pet with the right people.” Despite some economic troubles, Minghelli said helping the animals is very rewarding. “It’s hard, doing this. This takes time and money and there hasn’t been a lot of money lately,” she said. “When the economy picks up, I hope the donations will. But, no matter what, I’m determined to keep this operation running.” The support from her husband, the volunteers and especially the animals do help. As she checked the acid scars on Rocky’s head, the orange-furred cat rubbed his head against her hand, purring softly. “There, he’s doing better. This is when I know I’m doing the right thing.” Those interested in learning more about the sanctuary and its cats, visit fatkittycity.org.