As the camera crew approached the cat house, they prepared themselves. The property had a reputation for huge numbers of felines on the grounds. Who knew what they would find inside? But when they entered, their jaws dropped. They couldn’t have predicted that it would be like this.
The Californian property is known as “The Cat House on the Kings” and its owner is a self-proclaimed “eccentric cat lady.” Lynea Lattanzio didn’t always keep such a large number of cats – though it wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, as a child her mother forbade her to have one as a pet.
But Lattanzio has been living out her dream since 1992, when her father encouraged her passion. He wanted some feline friends and asked for her help in finding some. You could say that Lattanzio didn’t disappoint. In fact, she went above and beyond in fulfilling his request.
When she went to the shelter, Lattanzio didn’t just rescue one or two cats – she adopted 15 kittens. However, that was just the start of her epic rescue mission, and it only grew from there. By the end of the year, she had rehomed many, many more.
To be precise, she had adopted a total of 96 cats. And it only increased her love for them. “I like cats because they’re independent, they’re beautiful, they are just graceful,” Lattanzio told Barcroft TV in January, 2016. “And I enjoy watching them.”
As a result, Lattanzio gave herself fully over to looking after stray and feral cats. And that lifestyle came at a cost. To begin with, she was paying for the upkeep of the cats herself. Indeed, she sacrificed a lot to make her furbabies happy.
“When I first started this endeavor, I was out of my own pocket for seven years,” Lattanzio recalled. “I spent my retirement, I sold my car, I sold my wedding ring.” But that wasn’t where her sacrifice ended in the pursuit of cat-keeping.
“Back then I was single, had no kids and bought this 4,200 square foot home,” she said. “[I] thought, ‘What am I thinking?’” the now-68-year-old Lattanzio told Barcroft TV. The cats seemed to have the same opinion, in fact, and they started to take over.
With over 60 animals in the house, including her dogs, there wasn’t enough room for Lattanzio. Luckily, there was another property on the grounds that she had previously rented out. That became her new accommodation as she gave her house over to her feline friends.
Despite the change in circumstances, Lattanzio remained good-natured about her situation. “I went from a 4,200 square foot, five bedroom home with a pool and a wet bar and a view of the river to a… mobile home with a view of a rusty metal shed,” she said. “I’ve come up in the world.”
She also dedicated her professional life to their care. Lattanzio finished training to become a veterinary technician in 1993. Although it reduced medical bills, the upkeep for her furry army was still astronomical. Fortunately, people love cats and Lattanzio’s amateur operation was able to turn pro.
Public donations have made the house the largest cat shelter in California that maintains a no-kill, no-cage policy. Consequently, Lattanzio was able to take on extra help and she brought together a team of workers and volunteers to help manage the shelter’s day-to-day routine.
They have their work cut out for them, too. In its entirety, the Cat House’s property now covers 12 acres and in 2016 it housed 1,100 cats – 300 of which were kittens. The residents are free to roam the grounds, which are surrounded by a cat-proof fence.
However, as Lattanzio’s Cat House grew, it became more than just a shelter. Over time a range of new facilities were introduced across the site. It had almost everything the cats could need, along with qualified staff to tend to its kitty inhabitants.
“We have a hospital, an ICU (Intensive Care Unit), a kitten quarantine [and] a senior quarantine,” Lattanzio explained. But that’s not all. “We have a vet that comes once a week to check our animals. We take animals in to him every day for checks and we have seven vet techs on-staff.”
So the cats get all their health and medical needs covered. They don’t go hungry, either. The Cat House provides two meals a day for its guests. With so many mouths to feed, however, it takes up to two hours for a team of six staff members to fill every food station.
Moreover, although caring for cats is the shelter’s main goal, it has taken in other strays, too. In 25 years, the Cat House has saved 7,000 dogs and also cares for other animals on its grounds such as a small number of peacocks. In addition, it has neutered and spayed at least 40,000 animals.
But animal rescue doesn’t come cheap. “Currently, for food, litter, maintenance, staffing, vet, medical – we’re at $1.6 million US dollars a year,” Lattanzio said. However, she doesn’t do it to keep the cats to herself. Indeed, her motivations are purely altruistic.
That’s because she wants to find furrever homes for as many of the cats as possible. “If you are interested in adopting, you would go to our website and fill out the adoption form,” she told Barcroft TV in 2016. “There’s 500 [cats] up for adoption that are friendly and ready to go.”
The Cat House on the Kings is a massive facility and Lattanzio seems justifiably proud of her achievements. “I’m going to say that I’m at the top of the list of the eccentric, crazy cat ladies,” she said. “I have taken in and lived with 28,000 cats. That’s probably a record.”