Blue Bell Foundation offers a sanctuary for senior cats during the golden years

Blue Bell Foundation offers a sanctuary for senior cats during the golden years
Jenna Mikula, Blue Bell’s assistant director, gives Jambo some love. The Bengal cat is one of the 40 big cats that reside in the cabin. Photo/Clara Beard

Housed in two quaint historic cabins set against Laguna Canyon, Blue Bell Foundation for Cats is designed for senior cats to live out the final chapter of their nine lives as feline royalty.

The idyllic sanctuary takes in senior cats after their owners pass away or are no longer able to care for them, with priority given to those who have arranged relocation with Blue Bell in advance.

“It’s important to plan for your animals after they die because you never know what’s going to happen to them,” said Jenna Mikula, Blue Bell’s assistant manager. “It’s not always possible for the family to take them, so whether it’s Blue Bell or something else, we always encourage people to have a plan. Otherwise, your animals are at the mercy of the county they came from and most shelters don’t have the capacity to deal with older cats.”

Suzy keeps a watchful eye on one of the special needs arcades at Bluebell. Photo/Clara Beard

Because some senior cats can live to be 20 years old, space limitations in the cabins require a minimum admission of 10 years. Right now, Blue Bell cares for 40 cats, each with their own needs and requirements, and the sanctuary is introducing new residents. slowly to ensure a successful coexistence.

“For the most part they get along because we work really hard to do that slow introduction with them,” Mikula said. “Cats are different from dogs in how they interact with a community. Most dogs are pretty good at being exposed to other dogs, and you don’t have to do too much. But with cats, you never know. They may be best friends instantly, or they may be fighting for six months. So yeah, that’s the fun with cats. They are so fascinating: the way they interact with each other and the dynamics of their entire social structure is not as obvious as a dog.”

The historic Blue Bell Upper House was the home of “O Pioneer” author Willa Cather. The cabin was later owned by cat lover Bertha Gray Yergat, who bequeathed the residence to her specifically for a cat sanctuary and established the foundation in 1986. Yergat’s own cats lived there after her death. John and Susan Hamil took over the management of Blue Bell and continue to serve on the board today. Susan is the executive director, while John is the interim treasurer and secretary.

Most of the cats live together in the Upper House, while those with special needs are housed separately but near the Anderson Wentzel House or Lower House. All animals live cage-free, with 24-hour medical care available from local veterinarians. Every resident receives a regular checkup and blood work at least once a year, along with immunizations, medications, surgery, and dental care.

Blue Bell had her own feline version of Laguna’s greeter in the 17-year-old Screamer, immortalized as a statue after coming to the foundation in 2010. Screamer was known for her loud meow and friendly presence in the building’s lobby. Photo/Clara Beard

“It’s really a big operation,” Mikula said. “Each of our 40 cats has their own medical history, and every day, we record all the medications they receive on a regular basis and any treatment they are receiving outside of that. Also, if we control their weight, if we cut their nails, if there is vomiting or diarrhea, we record all of that. That’s what allows us to have staff, really pay attention to detail and take care of it.”

This kind of care and attention requires five salaried workers, two janitors, and an army of 41 active volunteers ranging in age from 17 to 89. Collectively, they spend around 80 hours a week caring for the cats with flexible commitment levels.

As a non-profit organization, Blue Bell relies heavily on donations from the public to stay operational, and with rising pet food and veterinary costs, it is needed more than ever. Not only that, Founders Gardens, the Upper House, and the Anderson-Wentzel House require regular maintenance.

“Financing has become a bigger problem for us because of the increase in the cost of everything, really,” Mikula said. “In addition, we have plans for renovations, particularly here there are floors and ceilings to be renovated. There is always something to do here, and we could use all the help we can get from the community.”

For more information on how to volunteer or donate, cat lovers can visit bluebellcats.org or send an email [email protected] Tours are by appointment only and can be scheduled by contacting Blue Bell at (949) 494-1586 or [email protected].

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