Two-Legged Cats Lend Helping Paw : Actors Aid Shelter Promoting Companion Pets for Elderly

February 24, 1986|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

Some elegant cats came out to meet some alley cats the other day to help them get permanent homes.

In an effort to promote cat adoptions at Cat Care Shelter in West Los Angeles, the elegant cats, people who play cat characters in the hit musical "Cats," appeared at the shelter in costume and met the real felines, about 200 of them that are overflowing the compound at 2240 Barry Avenue.

"We asked them to help us because our adoptions are way down," said Hettie Kram, resident director of Cat Care Shelter since 1970.

"You could say adoptions are at a standstill now, and they were all holiday season. We can't take in any more animals right now because we aren't adopting out any. And we don't destroy any of them."

Kram also wants to promote cats as companion pets for the elderly, many of whom must live alone in their later years.

"There have been lots of studies and experiments done about how comforting it is for people, especially the elderly, to have a pet to share their lives with," she said.

Won't Allow Pets

"But try telling the landlords that. More and more of them won't let people have pets."

On Wednesday, Kram and officials from other humane groups plan to attend a Los Angeles City Animal Regulations Commission meeting at 7 p.m. in City Hall East to lobby for a proposal that would "prohibit discrimination against tenants with companion animals."

As Kram spoke, three members of the "Cats" cast walked through the open-air part of the shelter, followed by clusters of cats that seemed quite curious about these two-legged costumed creatures.

The real cats milled about the cat characters--Leigh Webster, who plays the Siamese cat, Cassandra; Jamie Torcellini, the black-and-white Mistoffelees; and Adrea Muldoon, the tabby Tantomile.

Last May, "Cats" actors Mark Morales and Sally Spencer appeared at the SPCA headquarters on West Jefferson Avenue to promote cat adoptions. Local publicists for the musical, which recently celebrated its first anniversary in Los Angeles, are working out details for an upcoming appearance by some cast members at another animal shelter this spring.

Muldoon knelt and soon had two cats in her arms and five sitting at her feet.

"I'd adopt them all if I could," she said, stroking the head of a large yellow cat who resembled Nine-Lives' famous Morris. "But I've got a cat and two dogs already."

Kram said the shelter used to adopt out 15 to 20 cats a week, but lately she and volunteer workers are lucky to find a home for one or two weekly. The shelter is run by Cat Care Inc., a humane organization founded 34 years ago to care for homeless and mistreated cats and kittens.

"We always take in more than we send out," volunteer Sheila Forbes said. "And if we don't find homes for them, we keep them."

Some Have Stayed Years

All the cats have names, and some have lived at the shelter for many years.

"Hettie had one cat, Grandma, who was 17 years old. She died with a dish of liver in front of her that Hettie had prepared especially for her. There's another one, Lady, who has been here since 1969, and she was full grown when she came."

Most of the cats at the shelter are younger animals, though, and adoptable, Kram said.

"But there's a lot of discrimination by landlords toward people having animals," she said. "They have dogs and cats in some retirement homes now, and the elderly people relate to them. They don't get so depressed being alone."

The shelter, with a yearly budget of about $80,000, is totally supported by private donations. Veterinarian William Carlsen donates his services each week.

'Coyotes Get Them'

Cat Care charges a small fee for spaying or neutering of the cats that are adopted, and Kram refuses to let any of her cats be adopted by people who live in remote hillside areas where coyotes would threaten them.

"There's quite a turnover of cats up in the hills because the coyotes get them," Kram said. "I don't want to give them up to coyote country."

Owners Can't Keep Their Pets

Kram said 75% of her feline charges at Cat Care "come from people who can no longer keep them. They have to move into smaller apartments, and landlords won't let them have pets."

Officials at other humane organizations agree with Kram's assessment of the situation.

"We have customers leaving them (cats and dogs) here to be put to sleep because they have to move and can't take the animals," said Peggy Morris, manager of Pet Haven in Gardena.

No Place for Their Pets

"People who have to move because of their health or because they are elderly and can't take care of homes, so they move to apartments. Then there is no place for their pets. A lot of people are in the same predicament."

For the Wednesday meeting, Art Margolis, vice president and one of five commissioners of the city's Board of Animal Regulations, has drafted a proposed ordinance dealing with landlord discrimination against tenants with pets and will ask for a discussion of his proposal.

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