This self-proclaimed “ultimate crazy cat lady” turned her life upside down, but there was a reason for her madness. For years she had remained an urban legend. Then, she opened her doors to an interview. But when the cameramen approached her property, they immediately realized that this cat lover had severely underestimated the situation.
The year was 1992, and Lynea Lattanzio’s dad needed her help to pick out some new cats to replace the two who had passed away. The California resident was so excited when she headed to the animal shelter. She wound up bringing home 15 kittens. Before the year was over, Lattanzio had rescued 96 cats. She realized she had reached the point of no return.
“I like cats because they are independent, they are beautiful, they are just graceful, and I enjoy watching them,” Lattanzio shared with Barcroft TV. It was obvious that limiting herself to a few furry friends wouldn’t cut it for her. “When I first started this endeavor, I was out my own pocket for 7 years. I spent my retirement, I sold my car, I sold my wedding ring,” she shared. But she didn’t realize that she was in way over her head.
To keep the felines’ medical costs down, Lattanzio became a veterinarian technician in 1993. This also taught her how to make her cats’ lives a little better. But the feline population in her home grew and soon she found herself overwhelmed. As the kitties overran her home, she decided she needed help.
As the years passed, her love for cats grew. She even entertained the notion of turning her property into a non-profit organization dedicated to helping cats find a safe home. Eventually, she managed to accomplish her goal. She created The Cat House on the Kings sanctuary. But Lattanzio still had other goals she desperately needed to meet.
The Cat House on the Kings is a six-acre sanctuary for homeless cats. It’s considered one of the largest no-cage, no-euthanasia refuges in California. 300 kittens, 800 adult cats, and a couple of peacocks call this sanctuary their home. All the animals roam free thanks to the cat proof perimeter fencing the shelter. But there’s just not enough space.
In 2004, Lattanzio was gifted an entire estate by a generous donor. This allowed her to make a profit from the sale, which helped her to buy the neighboring property. Soon, she managed to expand the grounds to 12 acres. And still, her love for cats pushed her to do more.
“I started taking in cats, but it wasn’t my intention to have 1,000 plus cats – but it’s happened one step at a time,” Lattanzio explained. But unfortunately, the more cats she brought in, the bigger the financial burden became. It wasn’t easy paying for food, litter, staffing, vet visits, and maintenance. The total cost of her expenses was about $1.6 million a year. This proved to be quite a challenge because she had no clue how she would keep the sanctuary running.
As a sanctuary staff member, Teresa Angel knew what to expect each day, which started at 4 am. They fed the cats, which took anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Fellow staff member Frank Lavers admitted he wasn’t a big fan of cats when he started working there. But that quickly changed for him as he grew more and more attached to the felines. “Every cat has different characteristics; you get to know them, they get to know you and kind of wait for you when you walk through the gate, it’s pretty cool,” Lavers explained.
Lattanzio eventually realized this was too much for her to handle. Both she and her team had given over 24,000 cats and 7,000 dogs a second chance. She even handled about 40,000 animals who were spayed and neutered. But she’s recently come to the conclusion that she’ll have to find new homes for her cats. They’ve already forced her to give up a comfortable life in order to ensure their well-being, and she simply can’t take it anymore.
The cat population grew so much that it pushed Lattanzio out of her home. “There wasn’t room for me anymore. I ended up with 60 some cats in my bedroom with dogs, and I just said that’s it, and I moved out,” she recalled. Shortly after that, she moved to a trailer home parked on her property. But the felines wanted to take over that space too. “When I moved to the trailer, I swore it would be a cat free zone, but I currently have 20 kittens and four puppies in there.”
“I went from a 4200-square foot, 5-bedroom home with a pool, a wet bar and a view to the river to a 1600-square foot, mobile home with a view of a rusty metal shed…” Lattanzio said. Her home was taken over by her cats. The cats are fed by the staff in the kitchen. There’s also a wood stove room for them to keep warm in. There’s even an indoor kitty garden to make it easier for cats who are used to indoor living. They have a condo room with food, water, benches and beds for the cats to nap on too.
The sanctuary offers amenities like an ICU, a hospital, and a kitten and a senior quarantine zone, where felines in critical condition stay. A vet checks up on them once a week to make sure all the animals are okay. The staff also takes each animal to the vet for daily checkups, and they have 7 vet techs on duty!
Lattanzio’s love and admiration for her cats has no bounds, unfortunately, her finances do have their limits. Maintaining the sanctuary is tough so she’s trying to find new homes for some of her kitties. In fact, she has more than 500 of them who are “friendly and ready to go” to a loving new family.