Kelly Shutter shares her Lebanon home with her husband, her son and her 122 cats.
Shutter’s home, dubbed the 809th Armpurred Cattalion, is a sanctuary for cats that otherwise would have been euthanized, such as special needs cats and those on death row in shelters.
Shutter never intended to care for so many cats. People started bringing the animals to her once word got out that she would take in otherwise unwanted felines.
“Next thing I know, every day I’m getting calls,” Shutter recalled. “If I say yes, they live; if I say no, they die. So, I just kept saying yes, and next thing I know, we were up to 220 cats. I was just completely overwhelmed.”
That’s because Shutter does not rely on donations or volunteers to run her sanctuary. Instead, she cares for the cats herself, including seven with special needs and around 30 that are feral.
She doesn’t blame the shelters, though.
“I understand if you have 20 cats come in one day and you have five cages, you can’t pick a cat [with a disability] like this,” Shutter said. “You have to pick and choose. I would never ever want to be in that position where you have to choose who lives and who dies.”
One Big Family
Shutter has always loved cats. She grew up playing outside with about 40 cats on her childhood farm, so it became normal for her to have a multitude of cats around.
“People just don’t realize, saying, ‘There’s just no way you can take care of them all,’” Shutter said. “But they don’t know me. Every moment is spent taking care of them. You just have to use your time wisely.”
Despite rescuing so many cats, Shutter remembers every cat’s name, condition and where they are from. She receives cats from all over the United States, including from New York, North Carolina and Florida.
“You see a big pile of cats but there’s no fighting [here],” Shutter said. “It’s just one big colony, one big family. They’re family.”
The cats arrive to Shutter’s home through a nationwide volunteer pet transportation system. Volunteers drive for a short time with a rescued animal before passing the pet off to another person, who will pass it off again until it arrives at its new home.
Shutter has made many sacrifices to care for her furry family. Her living room no longer has a couch nor items on the shelves. Instead, there is only a TV playing soft music for the cats.
Finances can also be tough. She spends about $400 every two weeks for food, as the cats eat about 32 pounds of food and drink about 10 gallons of water a day. She also has 20 litter boxes. Still, Shutter is sometimes criticized for caring for so many cats.
“It makes me sad because people don’t know how hard I work and what I sacrifice,” Shutter said. “We can’t just go away for a weekend. Nobody could take care of them. That’s our sacrifice. And it’s $1,000 a month just for food and litter. But we made a commitment, and they’re alive because of us.”
Beyond rescuing cats in need, Shutter has a greater mission to educate the public on pets with disabilities. She does this by taking some of her special needs cats to local events. One such cat, internet-sensation Freddy, had cerebellar hypoplasia, the feline form of cerebral palsy.
Freddy rode around in a stroller, donned in outfits fit for the occasion. When Shutter started her Facebook page for the cats, Freddy quickly became an online celebrity. However, he started simply as Shutter’s emotional support pet.
The two became inseparable. Before, Shutter would not leave the house for two weeks at a time, but Freddy wanted to go outside and explore.
When he suddenly passed away from feline infectious peritonitis in January, a disease that causes a high fever and sometimes fluid in the chest and abdomen, Shutter was flooded with words of support and donations from strangers all over the world.
“I had no idea the impact he had on people. I mean, a little black cat in clothes, and he brought the world to its knees when he got sick.”
Now, Mariah takes Freddy’s place in educating the public on special needs cats. Mariah, sent to Shutter from Florida, cannot walk, so she rides around in Freddy’s old stroller. Although the neurologists are not sure why she is paralyzed, Mariah is a spunky, healthy cat, often wearing baby clothes when she goes out with Shutter. Like Freddy, she is known worldwide. She even had a fan in Singapore pay for some of her medical expenses.
Shutter says that she will continue Freddy’s mission through Mariah.
“People aren’t aware that cats can get cerebral palsy,” Shutter said. “A lot of times these cats are just kept away. We just want to bring them out and show people that cats have disorders. They deserve the right to live just as humans with disorders do. They’re just as special and just as loving.”
Shutter said that, although it can be challenging to have so many cats, it’s worth it.
“I always had a dream to open a cat sanctuary, and then it just happened,” Shutter said. “How often do your dreams come true without even trying?”
See the cats on Shutter’s Facebook Page @809th Armpurred Cattalion.