Blue Bell Foundation Offers Senior Cats Sanctuary During Golden Years

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Jenna Mikula, Blue Bell’s assistant director, gives Jambo some love. The Bengal cat is one of 40 senior felines who reside at the cottage. Photo/Clara Beard

Located in two quaint historic cottages nestled back against Laguna Canyon, the Blue Bell Foundation for Cats is designed for senior cats to live the final chapter of their nine lives like feline royalty.

 

The idyllic sanctuary takes in senior cats after their owners die or can no longer care for them, with precedence given to those who have arranged the transfer with Blue Bell prior.

 

“It’s important to plan for your animals after you pass because you never know what’s going happen to them,” Blue Bell’s Assistant Director Jenna Mikula said. “It’s not always possible for 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 whatever county you’re from and most shelters don’t have the capacity to deal with senior cats.”

 

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

Because some senior cats can live up to 20 years old, space constraints at the cottages require a minimum age intake of 10. Right now, Blue Bell is caring for 40 cats, each with their own needs and requirements, and the sanctuary introduces new residents slowly to ensure successful co-habitation.

 

“They mostly all get along because we work really hard on doing that slow introduction with them,” Mikula said. “Cats are different from dogs regarding how they interact with a community. Most dogs are pretty good if they’ve had exposure to other dogs, and you don’t have to do too much. But with cats, you never know. They can be best friends instantly, or they can be fighting for six months. So yeah, that’s the fun with cats. They’re just so fascinating – the way they interact with each other, and the dynamics of their entire social structure, it’s not as obvious as a dog.”

 

The historic Blue Bell Upper House was the home of “O Pioneer” author Willa Cather. The cottage was later owned by cat-lover Bertha Gray Yergat, who bequeathed her residence 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 management of Blue Bell and continue to be board members today. Susan is the executive director, while John is the acting treasurer and secretary. 

 

Most cats live together at Upper House, while ones with special needs are housed separately but close by at Anderson Wentzel House or Lower House. All animals live cage-free, with 24-hour health care available from local veterinarians. Every resident gets a regular check-up and blood work at least once a year, along with shots, medications, surgery and dental care. 

 

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

“It’s really quite an operation,” Mikula said. “Each of our 40 cats gets their own medical chart, and every day, we record all the medications they get regularly and any treatments they’re getting that are outside of that. Also, if we check their weight, if we trim their nails, if there is any vomiting or diarrhea, we record all of that. That’s what having staff enables us to do, really pay attention to detail and care for them.”

 

This kind of care and attention requires five paid staff, two janitors and an army of 41 active volunteers ranging from 17 to 89 years old. They collectively spend around 80 hours a week caring for the cats with flexible commitment levels. 

 

As a non-profit, Blue Bell heavily leans on donations from the public to stay operational, and because of rising vet and pet food costs, it’s needed more than ever. Not only that, the Founders Gardens, Upper House and Anderson-Wentzel House require regular maintenance.   

 

“Funding has become more of an issue for us due to the rise in the cost of everything, really,” Mikula said. “Also, we have plans for renovations, particularly out here are floors and roof to be redone. There’s always something to do here, and we could use all the help from the community we can get.” 

 

For more information on how to volunteer or donate, cat lovers can visit bluebellcats.org or 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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