True Friends of the Felines
Written by Laura Wiens, The Triplicate Newspaper November 16, 2013 04:28 pm
They come from all over the state, as far away as San Diego. One even arrived with a passport from the Netherlands.
They seem to know they’ve found a good home north of Crescent City, be it temporary or permanent. And it comes with dozens of playmates.
Since 1993, Chris and Hal McChesney have provided a sanctuary for abandoned, abused, handicapped, elderly and otherwise hard-to-adopt-out cats through their non-profit organization, For All Time (F.A.T.) Cat Haven, a retirement home and adoption center for cats from all walks of life.
Their efforts were recognized recently by being honored with a 2013 Top-Rated Nonprofit award, bestowed on them by GreatNonprofits, an online provider of user reviews about nonprofit organizations.
F.A.T. Cat Haven is the only true no-kill shelter in Del Norte County, according to Chris.
“There aren’t any facilities in town that offer lifetime care,” said Chris. “Old cats do not get adopted. They need a place to go.”
(photo caption- Hal McChesney points to some of about 150 pet graves in a memorial garden at the back of their property.) Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
The McChesneys are retired, he from Pelican Bay State Prison and she from the state of California. They’ve dedicated their lives to providing a “forever home” for cats to live in a safe, comfortable and loving environment.
They’ve housed as many as 130 cats, with the usual population being 60–85. Currently, 69 cats live in relative harmony with each other, lavished with love and care from the McChesneys, who don’t get away much.
The last vacation they took together was eight years ago, driving to Florida in their motor home, with four cats along for the ride.
They receive help from a few volunteers for the day-to-day maintenance such as the cleaning of cat litter boxes, feeding, grooming and distribution of medications. The McChesneys rely on donations to buy food and litter, and to pay vet bills.
They work closely with Dr. Mark Martello from Crescent Animal Medical Center when the cats need care. Many do, as they often arrive in bad shape after suffering malnourishment, disease or abuse.
All cats get check-ups regularly, including shots, dental care and spaying and neutering.
“He is very generous,” Chris said of Martello, who often provides medicines at wholesale costs. “He likes what we’re doing. He’s just an animal lover and they love him, too.”
(Photo caption-Chris McChesney at the cat "bunks.") Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant
Situated on four acres off Lake Earl Drive, the shelter is operated out of the couple’s 2,900 square-foot home. Surrounded by thick woods, a green lawn and dotted with well-tended flower gardens, the McChesneys run a tight ship when it comes to order and cleanliness. Their main living space is separate from the cats’ habitats.
Seven cats, considered permanent pets, share the main part of the house with the McChesneys, along with “Corky,” their long-haired Dachshund. He may be outnumbered, but he doesn’t show it.
“He loves the cats and they love him,” said Chris.
Rescued from the pound four years ago, Corky had been badly abused himself.
One room serves as a shelter for the indoor/outdoor cats, with a portal providing access to a large outdoor caged area with climbing equipment and toys. Another is dedicated to strictly indoor cats.
“They’re usually older and have never been outside,” said Chris. “You can tell the ones who would really like to go outside and hunt.”
“It keeps the gopher population down,” said Hal.
To accommodate the outdoor cats, the couple built an 8- by 32-foot stucture, complete with windows and heat, surrounded by a fenced-in acre for them to roam freely. Blanketed shelves lining the walls serve as “multi-layered bunk beds.”
“It’s the only legal cat house in Crescent City,” Chris laughs.
At the back of the property is a large memorial garden for about 150 former residents. Each grave is adorned with a personalized stepping stone, lovingly painted by Chris with the cat’s name and span of years.
After 20 years of housing cats, “we’ve seen all kinds of cancers, tumors, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and heart conditions” among the cats, said Chris. “We had a three-legged cat once that had been thrown out of a second-story window. We’ve seen it all here.”
Some of the current residents include Wizzy, their oldest at 21 1/2. Three years ago, Wizzy’s owners had to both go into a nursing home and they were worried about where the cat would go. All it took was one phone call to the McChesneys to ease their minds.
Toby is their newest charge from the Bay Area. Born in the Netherlands, she was brought to this country by owners who had to eventually give her up. “She’s 13 and a little sweetheart,” said Chris.
Ladybug was rescued from a ditch in Smith River four years ago, where the blind cat was discovered alongside the lifeless body of another. “She overgrooms herself and pulls her fur out, so she wears little newborn shirts,” said Chris.
(Photo Caption) One of the 69 current feline residents. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Jezebel had her own litter of kittens and then fostered three more litters of orphaned kittens, one right after the other.
“We’ve got a lot of oldsters,” said Chris. “We’ve got wonderful lap cats, all kinds of breeds.”
And almost all of them are available for adoption.
“Anybody who adopts a cat, they can bring it back,” said Chris. “We don’t care what the reason, we don’t want them dumped somewhere.
“These are my kids. I cry when they leave, but I’m glad when they get into their forever homes.”
For information on adopting cats, voluteering or making a donation, call the McChesneys at 464-4121 or visit their website at fatcathaven.org.