With 12 rescue cats – all with disabilities – 72-year-old Suellen Duga’s home is a sanctuary for felines in need. There’s Julie, who has cerebral hyperplasia, a male calico cat named Roo who can’t walk on his front legs, Buddy, who is blind, and Cory with a dislocated hip. Two of the cats have IBD, and several require regular medication and vet visits. Each cat has an individualized special need, but they all have one thing in common: they’ve found a loving home, thanks to Suellen.
Giving cats a place to call home is something Suellen has been doing her entire life. In the 1970s, Suellen found newborn kittens left in the bushes outside her apartment building. With no mama cat in sight, she was determined to help. She fed the kittens from a clean nasal spray bottle and was dedicated to their survival. She smuggled them into her city office building during the day so she could feed them, and risked her job for their well-being. She told iHeartcats,
“I wasn’t fooling anyone actually, everybody knew they were there, but no one turned me into management.”
The kittens not only survived, they earned permanent places in Suellen’s home and heart.
“Of course when it came time to adopt them out, I couldn’t part with them.”
Suellen has loved cats her entire life, and she owned a local natural food store along with her husband for 20 years. In 2007, she was ready for a change and started volunteering with the Westfield Homeless Cat Project.
“There were cages piled on top of each other from the concrete floor up. For a 62-year-old woman to be on her hands and knees on a cold concrete floor was admittedly not the best way to do things, but I felt strongly about helping the cats.”
When newborn kittens came in needing to be bottle fed, she never hesitated to take them in.
“I knew the community had supported my store for over 20 years, and I felt the need to give back. Sounds corny, but that is the way I run my life.”
Suellen’s hard work and dedication eventually earned her the position as Adoption Coordinator for the shelter. She has facilitated countless cat adoptions, but she reserves a special place in her heart for the cats with special needs. She explained to iHeartcats that the shelter’s handicapped cats are often overlooked by adopters. And if they are adopted out, many are returned to the shelter.
“I just could not stand to see that happen over and over.”
Suellen started opening her home to special-needs fosters and says,
“I was well on my way in the Foster Failure Program!”
Many of the 12 cats that currently share Suellen’s home are “foster fails.” She goes above and beyond for her cats and has transformed her home to accommodate their needs. The “cat wall” is a place where her friends can go and “get away from it all.” Julie, who can’t walk without tipping over, has a special litter box made from a boot tray, and Roo’s litter box is equipped with a ramp. She also has a kitten cage on wheels that she takes from room to room.
Suellen uses a commercial steamer, a special floor cleaning machine, a Dyson stick vacuum, and her “old fashioned pail and mop” to keep her home clean and keep her cats healthy. When she’s not caring for her feline family at home, Suellen is working a second job at night to pay for the vet bills. She also has a $5,000 life insurance policy to ensure they are well taken care of in case she leaves before them. She said,
“I almost hope I do because their losses are so devastating to me—the worst thing ever. I love them all so much.”
Suellen has dedicated her life to the care and well-being of handicapped cats, and her story is an inspiration to cat lovers everywhere.
Featured Image Source: Suellen Duga