Fall 2010 Magazine

Cover Story

Kitty City

By Nancy Marano

Take a horrendous, inhumane act, turn it into a positive experience for everyone and you have a miracle. The founding of Kitty City is such a miracle. It brought the right people together in the right place to take an incredibly awful hoarding situation and turn it into a happy, no-kill home for cats in Alamogordo, NM.

In September of 2008, Sunny Aris, the local radio host of 'Critter Connection' and a long-time animal activist, received a call from the Sheriff's department about a trailer on the Iris Farm in the Hondo Valley of southeastern New Mexico. Responding to calls from people in the community, the Sheriff found 135 cats in a trailer with no running water, sewer or electricity connection. There wasn't even one litter box in the trailer. The Sheriff told the owner he needed to provide litter boxes and give the cats rabies vaccinations. Since he was unable to comply with the order, the Sheriff was able to confiscate the cats.

Now there was another problem. None of the nearby shelters in Ruidoso or Alamogordo could take this many cats. Aris was given the choice of finding a place to put the cats or have them euthanized the following Monday. "I told him I would find a place for them because we're not going to let 135 lives be snuffed out in one morning," Aris said.

With help from Partnership for Animal Welfare (P.A.W.), a spay/neuter program, and Dr. Willard from the Ruidoso Animal Clinic , they began to assess the cats. "I wish I could send you the smell inside that trailer," Aris said. "It is something none of us will ever forget. We didn't know what we would find, whether the cats would be wild, dying or injured. It was horrific."

Since there were no litter boxes, the entire trailer was covered with cat feces and urine. Cats were everywhere. One cat was three-legged because he got his leg caught in the mattress spring. The man extricated him after three days and then waited another couple of days to see whether the leg would heal on its own. It didn't. He finally took the cat to Dr. Willard who removed the leg because gangrene had set in.

This whole situation started when the man brought a pregnant cat back from Colorado with him. She was a beautiful pastel colored calico, called Angel. He did not spay her after she had the litter, so the cats continued to breed. "The shades and markings on these cats were incredible. These were strikingly beautiful cats and they were going to be wiped out in one morning. That's what made us realize how dire the situation is for cats in New Mexico," Aris said.

The Sheriff managed to get the water turned on in the trailer so volunteers could clean and sterilize the surfaces. Then the marathon spay/neuter session started. "People wearing mitts on their hands caught and anesthetized cats. The cats were laid out on the carpet with a hypodermic syringe on each tummy waiting to be spayed or neutered. The whole operation took 12 hours," Aris continued.

Ruidoso Downs Racetrack offered to let them use a barn with four stalls for a recovery ward and Lincoln County Tours loaned them a tour van to transport the cats. As they woke up from their surgery, the cats were transported two to a carrier to the racetrack.

A triage system was used at the racetrack with those cats in the worst need being housed in the office. Aris slept in a tent with an egg timer set to go off every 30 minutes so she could give meds and hydration to the patients. Amazingly all but five cats survived.

Two months later Ed and Kathy Denton offered to foster 24 of the Hondo Valley cats on their property and Kitty City was born. Denton had already taken over the KATO Foundation, the only no-kill rescue for cats in Alamogordo, from Harold Bruckner. As the other cats from the trailer became socialized and ready for adoption they, too, were sent to Kitty City.

"I get a deep feeling of accomplishment knowing that these cats who are being adopted would simply not be alive if we had not taken over the KATO Foundation. We were the last hope for a no-kill shelter for cats. There are plenty of dog rescues but no one seems to want to step up and help our feline friends," Denton said.

Denton built two buildings in Kitty City and an artist painted a little town in one of them. Miss Kitty's House, the Bunkhouse and the Longwhiskers Saloon provide places for cats to visit. Cats sleep together in the bunkhouse but the cat doors swing both ways so they can go outside when they want to. The entire area is fenced in to keep the cats contained and safe. A second unit houses cats until they are spayed or neutered and receive their vaccinations. They've added a large outdoor play area and the Kitten Corral. "This truly is a Disneyland for cats!" Aris said.

The no-kill environment provides potential adopters a way of visiting with the cats in a natural setting. A person sees first-hand what the cat is like and Kitty City volunteers can talk about a cat from the first-hand knowledge gained by watching him interact with other cats. It makes adopters smile to walk in and be mobbed by cats wanting to know them. Also, it removes the guilt a person feels at leaving a cat in a cage at the animal shelter. These cats were happy before the person came and will be happy when they leave.

The Feline-alityT program, designed by the ASPCA to match a cat's personality with an adopter's personality, is used by Kitty City to give their cats the best chance of finding the right home.

Each cat adopted from Kitty City has been spayed or neutered, had all the necessary vaccinations, been tested for FIV, FeLV and other diseases, and wormed. "We try to remove every possible reason an adopter would have for bringing a cat back. We'll always take our cats back but we want them to stay in their homes," Aris said. "We ask a raft of questions of every adopter to match person to cat in the first place. After the adoption, we do home checks and telephone follow-ups."

PAW and Kitty City do a lot of overlapping work. Beside the low-cost spay/neuter program they also give bags of pet food to the food banks. "We supply pet food to Otero and Lincoln counties. We go from Alamogordo to Capitan picking up torn bags of food from retailers, re-bag it and put labels on the bags. People who get our pet food at the food bank bring in the label for a free spay or neuter. This service is financed from donations and through the retailers," Aris said.

Aris and Denton agree the most difficult aspect of rescuing cats is not being able to save them all. "Sometimes it seems no matter how hard we work; the number of unloved, abandoned cats never decreases. This is an education issue that needs to be addressed at the elementary school level. The kids need hands-on education with the cats, to hold them, listen to their heartbeats, and feel them purr. They need to be taught that cats make great friends," Denton said.

The lifesaving, life changing events that have occurred for the cats in the Alamogordo / Ruidoso area caught the attention of the producers at Animal Planet. They recently spent a day at Kitty City and will broadcast the segment shot there in January 2011 on the show "Must Love Cats." (Check your TV listings for the day and time of the show.)

The "Hoarded Cats of Hondo Valley," as they became known throughout New Mexico, also are featured in the book Treasure Cat Tails: From Trash Can to the Parlor by Debbie Decker and Linn Trochim.

The authors included the story of the "Hoarded Cats of Hondo Valley" and the founding of Kitty City because they wanted to applaud the rescuers' efforts in saving so many cats. "Usually shelter authorities euthanize all hoarded cats, deeming them too damaged to save," Decker said.

Decker and Trochim donate 20% from the sale of each book to rescue organizations that help cats. The book may be purchased at their website: www.TreasureCatTails.com. (For a full review of this book, see our book reviews section of our website.)

If you want to help Kitty City fulfill its mission of saving and finding loving indoor homes for as many cats as possible, you can donate directly at the website, www.kittycitynm.com. If you live in the Alamogordo area, you might consider volunteering your time to help with the Feline-alityT program, petting and socializing cats, cleaning or doing construction on more buildings and sidewalks.

"The most rewarding part of what we do is taking a cat who is scheduled to be killed at the shelter, and having her or him spayed or neutered, vaccinated and placed into a loving home. A cat who would be dead is now a cat with a wonderful life who has also changed people's lives for the better. What could be better than that?" Denton said.

Kitty City recently adopted out its 500th cat in less than two years. The miracle continues for the cats and their rescuers.


This is a research-based assessment of a cat's behavior and interests that matches adopter preferences with an animal's behavior, according to the ASPCA. The Feline-alityT program is part of the "Meet Your Match" Program also developed by the ASPCA. Shelters that use this program find that they have a 40-45% increase in adoptions and a 45-50% decrease in returns and euthanasia.

When you go to a shelter using this program, you will be given a one-page Cat Adopter Survey with 19 questions about your lifestyle and how you see a cat fitting into that lifestyle. Your answers tell the shelter whether you are a green, orange or purple person.
. Green adopters are most successful with cats who quickly adapt to new situations
. Purple adopters are perfect for kitties who need time and encouragement to adapt to their new surroundings
. Orange adopters are a good fit for the quintessential companion kitty

The cats have also gone through testing to determine whether they are green, orange or purple kitties. But you don't have to worry because you don't have to stay with your color-coded match.

Cats are judged on:
. enjoyment of being petted and held
. playfulness, "talkativeness" and activity level
. responses to new people and things

Green cats are savvy, unflappable and adventurous. They are further broken down into MVP, Party Animal and Leader of the Band.

Orange cats are good in "good company." They are further classified as the Executive, the Sidekick and the Personal Assistant.

Purple cats seek affection, are pretty quiet and tend to stay out of trouble. They are further classified as Private Investigator, Secret Admirer and Love Bug.

For further information see: www.aspca.org/adoption/meet-your-match/feline-ality-101.html

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by a cat named Sammy and a Westie named Maggie May. She is a member of the Cat Writer's Association and the Dog Writers Association of America.

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