Cat Sanctuary Founder Ruth Rawls

Some of my biggest heroes are people who work in animal rescue. Those who provide sanctuaries or care of cat colonies might be my favorites. Ruth Rawls, who I met years ago when we were both blog posting regularly about genealogy, founded and operates a sanctuary for cats in Georgia. I think you might want to hear about it, so I interviewed Ruth to find out what it’s like taking care of the cats. Listen to how Ruth did what a lot of people say they would like to do if “only” . . . .

Ruth, can you describe the environment and lives of the cats on your property?

The environment is lovely. It’s an acre and a half of mature trees. There are climbing platforms and shelters and feeding stations. The cats spend their days lounging and waiting on the next meal.

The Butter, Basil Cowper, and Sue

What do you know about the backgrounds of the cats?

Originally, I released two cats there in 2007 to start the colony. Those two cats came from a McDonald’s restaurant about 13 miles away, and they and other cats were depending on food from the dumpster. A friend of mine who is also an animal rescuer/rehabilitator delivered newspapers, so she was always out in the wee hours of the night and would stop for coffee. She noticed the cats, called me, she set traps, I transported to the spay/neuter clinic, and then released at the new colony. I named them Catkin and Catnip. They were truly wild, and I rarely saw them again. At the time I also had another cat that I had trapped and named Sylvia because she was going to be sylvan, even though I trapped her at a convenience store. Sylvia was semi-feral, in that you could pet her, but when she was finished with pats, she would grab your arm with all claws extended and hold on, never breaking the skin. Sylvia was heavily pregnant when I trapped her, and after her kittens were old enough, I vetted them and found homes.

Other cats have come and gone in the almost 15 years of the colony, which I named Catcatcher Corner.

There are 8 cats living there now, and the group dynamics have changed from a feral colony to a more domesticated group.

Currently, the oldest cat and oldest resident is Georgia, who came from upstate New York when her owners moved to South Carolina in 2008. They were cat lovers whose income didn’t match their desire to help cats. They moved south with approximately 12 cats, and most of them weren’t spayed or neutered. I took 4 of her female cats, had them vetted, and found homes for the two kittens and kept Georgia and her sister Cali. I estimate Georgia is about 15 years old.

Next we have Jersey and Joey, littermates who came from a litter of six that were left in a cardboard box on a local walking trail in 2012. They were so newly born that their umbilical cords were still attached.

Sue’s mother brought her litter here about 8 years ago. There were 6 in that group. I had to trap them all with the exception of Richard Parker, who seemed to be the runt of the group and could be scooped up. Richard Parker and several of the kittens were rehomed. Sue is the remaining member of that group.

Pop-Up was a stray at a friend’s house. He’s probably about 4 years old.He was friendly but was having trouble integrating with that group, so we brought him here. He is super-friendly, but has issues with social cues, and he offends the other cats by ignoring the social greetings and being over-friendly. He currently lives in an outdoor condo with Tortie, a long-haired tortoiseshell, probably about 3 years old, who came from my place of work. She showed up there about two years ago, very semi-feral, but the vet discovered that she was already spayed. She and Pop get along really well. She’s still semi-feral, so the outdoor condo is the best for her with that long coat. She needs regular brushing, and there’s no way I could keep the mats at bay unless she’s confined.

The last two are The Butter and Basil Cowper. The Butter, maybe 6 years old, showed up at the same friend’s house about 2 years before Pop-Up. Butter also has issues with social greetings. He has a head-tilt and a concentrated state, and, although he’s friendly, he doesn’t send that message to other cats. Basil came to live here in the woods about the same time as Pop-Up. I set the trap for two years before he finally went in. I can’t know how old he is, but he seems to be geriatric. My friend named Butterscotch but called him The Butter. I named Basil Cowper for a historical figure during the revolution who actually owned property about 20 minutes away, but it was confiscated after the revolution because he was a British subject. He was from Scotland, so let’s guess he was a redhead, and Basil the Cat is also a ginger.


How did you come to provide this space for the cats?

In 2002, I started working part-time for a luxury boarding kennel. I worked all the positions, including the front desk. I met so many people who would moan that they loved animals so much, and they wanted to have a farm or a bit of land in the country where the animals could run and play. So I would reply, “Then you should do that.” They would respond with something like, “Oh I can’t”, or “My husband is allergic”, or “I’d have to sell my house”. So I’d pop off back to them something like “Why not?” or “Your husband can take allergy shots” or “So sell the house if that’s your dream to help animals.” You can imagine that this didn’t sit well with some people.

In 2006, my father died, and I got a little inheritance. I thought I should put my money where my mouth was, and buy a bit of property with that money. I didn’t want to spend that money on bills or a vacation because that money was the result of a lifetime of my dad’s work. I wanted to honor him and that money. I looked for a bit of property for months, not a house lot in a subdivision, with specific wants, like trees, few neighbors, in the country, with room to start small and develop if possible. I found 1.52 acres facing south, all wooded, in a rectangular shape with road frontage on east, south, and west. The south and west frontage is a dead-end road about a mile long with maybe 7 little houses. The east frontage is also a two-lane with a little more traffic but not much.

Another concern in this area is hurricane evacuation. The money went towards the down-payment on the property, five-foot-high chain-link fencing for the eastern ½ acre, septic tank, well, electric connection, and a 25-year-old RV to use for evacuations if needed. I also had a large, house-like 12’x18’ shed built for storage.

What is their routine like?

They live their best life. They are fed twice a day. Early on, I fed them dry like Friskies or Nine-Lives, and wet like canned Friskies pate. As they got older, I was able to upgrade their food to ProPlan, both canned and dry, but occasionally I use Merrick or another mid-range food.

They do cat stuff, like lounge around and wait for meals. The cat condo with Pop and Tortie have lots of climbing shelves so they have vertical space, plus outdoor furniture.

Georgia, Sue, Joey, and Jersey eat at the picnic table inside the fence. There’s a mid-size dog crate there with the food bowl inside to protect the food from the elements. The picnic table is near the well and water connection, so I wash their dishes there and store them in a dish drainer.

The Butter and Basil basically live at The Treehouse, which is a platform with a roof over it between two mature pine trees outside the fence. Their platform has water and food bowls, and a smallish dog house with hay. They can climb up to the roof, which is nothing more than a sheet of metal roofing, and lounge up there.

The Butter loves to relax on the roof

Who else lives on the property and how did that happen?

Right now, only the cats and any wild animals like raccoons, opossums, and birds live there. There was a flock of chickens that moved through here almost every day, eating all the food in The Treehouse. They couldn’t be touched, and I don’t know where they came from, but we started buying chicken scratch and chicken feed to put out. They are voracious feeders, and the cats stay out of their way.

Also, randomly, a lone black hen moved in inside the fence last year. I named her Robirda. She started laying eggs, and we learned a lot about hens and egg production.

Last year, I was diagnosed with DCIS, a form of breast cancer, and I moved in with a friend to help take care of me. After a lot of treatment, I’ve just had my first annual post-op checkup, and things look fine. The cats have managed really well, doing what cats do best, and I’m planning on staying with my friend.

Robirda and Georgia (orange) at the picnic table
Georgia tends to push into the condo when I go in just to make sure they don’t have better food than she has. She’s totally self-indulgent.

What is the funniest thing the animals have done?

The Butter and Basil are the funniest without even trying. Their platform is like a little stage where they have “conversations”. Admittedly, the conversations are created in my head based on photos that I take of them. Sometimes, The Butter lies on the platform and hangs his head over the side like he’s recovering from too much catnip. One time The Butter and Basil were on the roof of The Treehouse looking over the edge, like they were getting ready to water-balloon the chicken gang.

What is the most surprising?

The most surprising and interesting thing is how they separate themselves into groups. The Butter and Basil took over The Treehouse, which was started as just a safe place for cats to go if they ventured outside the fence. Pop-Up and Tortie live in the condo because that’s where they need to be for their own safety. The last four, Georgia, Sue, Joey, and Jersey, live in the general area of the picnic table. There are multiple places for them to sleep, inside and outside the fence. We made what I call the Dormitory outside the fence in the woods about 15 years ago. Sometimes the wild animals sleep there, but the kids here now don’t use it any more.

I take those large Rubbermaid totes, cut a hole in the end, and stuff them with hay or straw for sleeping quarters, so of course they like to lounge on the tops of those. There’s also nesting boxes in the shed, and they have access to the old RV.

Sometimes Jersey, Joey, Sue, and Georgia come outside the fence to visit The Treehouse, but that’s usually just at feeding time because I tend to feed The Treehouse first, and they try to snag a bite and encourage me to hurry to the picnic table to feed them. I have a car trunk full of dry and canned food, and other supplies.

The Butter, Basil, Joey, Jersey, and Sue (in order)

What about your background prepared you for all this?

I’ve always been interested in animals. When I was in 4th grade, I wanted to be a veterinarian. That was not to be in my future, but I have had vet tech training and worked for several vet practices.

Working at the luxury boarding kennel showed me that some animals get better treatment than others. I’m interested in group health and shelter environments and creating a place where animals can exist.

I have a degree in business management, and I hope to create a non-profit status in order to help more cats/dogs/people.

Pop-Up photobombing Tortie

Ruth will stop by here in case you have any comments or questions for her. I’ll be here, too. Right now I have eight cats in the house, but it’s just temporary because I’m babysitting the feline grandkids.


Filed under #poetswithcats, Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction

30 responses to “Cat Sanctuary Founder Ruth Rawls

  1. This is so cool, particularly how the cats have separated themselves into living groups. And that Ruth thought ahead to evacuation needs–close to our hearts down here in NOLA.

    • Yes, it’s such a relief about the evacuation. And so different from here. In Phoenix, we worry about coyotes and in particular the area I live in we have bobcats as well! Hard for a cat to get away from a bigger cat since they have the same skillsets, just one more proficient than the other.

    • During hurricane Michael a few years ago, which went very close by, I was sheltering in a house I own that was between renters, and I took about 6 of the cats there. The Butter couldn’t deal with being confined, even though he was with his friends in the master bedroom and bath. He did climb the walls. I had to take him back to the colony, and he somehow survived that hurricane along with several other cats that were truly wild.
      The RV was originally planned to use for my 4 dogs and Sylvia the cat. All of them have gone on to their great reward. I probably won’t get another dog, but can’t promise the same for a cat, especially when some of them just show up.

  2. Wow! That is an ambitious undertaking especially since you are not living there. Kudos to you!

  3. What a fascinating read! Thank you, Luanne, for interviewing Ruth. I’ve wondered about cat sanctuaries, but mainly as a place for my cats should they be orphaned. I’ve never thought to develop one although we’ve taken in of a lot of stray cats over the years. My question for Ruth is, what would happen to the colony if you could no longer take care of it? Not to be morbid, but is the colony in your will? Do you have friends that would step up and take over if need be? We have three indoor cats, and what scares me most is not death itself, but what would happen to them if I and my husband died. We have arrangements in our will for a friend to take them in, but … not really the best arrangement.

    • Yes, Ruth, I want to know too because this is something I think about with my own cats.

    • I do have a friend that helps enormously with the cats. He has built The Treehouse, the Dormitory, the Condo, and all the little climbing structures. He takes care of the cats if I need to go out of town. I don’t have a will yet. There are no perfect answers. I’m newly semi-retired, and would love to foster kittens. I suspect at some point this group will dwindle down to a smaller, more manageable number, which would be ideal in case I have to relocate them to a family member. I’m planning on being around for another 30ish years. 🙂

  4. Wow! It’s all quite amazing. I was also impressed that she thought of evacuation needs.

    • Yes, it’s such a good thing she did! She thought of everything, and I am often reading on Facebook how she carted so and so to the vet, etc.

  5. Posting for Amy Cohen: My wifi is down so I can’t comment on the blog. But I had one question. How does she keep the cats safe from cars and predators?

    • Oooh, predators and cars, two big worries for outside cats.
      I chose this property because it is very remote in a rural area. If you imagine the lot is situated like a sheet of printer paper turned horizontally, the east side would be the main road, which is a little two lane. The south and west is a dead-end road that has maybe 7 little houses on it. There’s really not a lot of traffic, plus these cats were always living outside, except Georgia who came from upstate New York when she was about 18 months old. They are street smart. The Butter and Basil Cowper sit on The Treehouse and watch the cars go by. Sometimes the Chewy delivery is left on The Treehouse. I’ve seen them go in to the culvert under the driveway if they were worried about something. Sometimes they go in the culvert to get cool because there is a nice draft there if the conditions are right.
      I have had issues with dogs perhaps 2 times in almost 15 years. The raccoons and opossums alike eat at the various feeding stations, so there’s no danger of attack. I see that some people worry about raccoons trying to kill cats, and I just don’t see that here. I had a wildlife camera set up for several years at a feeding station in the woods, and I saw some dogs climb the 3 feet fence to get into eat the food. We added another layer of fencing, this time 6 feet high, and that stopped that issue. I haven’t seen foxes or coyotes here, which doesn’t mean they aren’t in the area, just that I haven’t seen them.

  6. What a wonderful heartwarming story. Thank you for posting it. It’s so nice to read about the good things people are doing 🙂

    • Oh, I know. It makes me feel so good to know that people like Ruth are doing what they can to make the world a better place! Hope you are taking good care of yourself, Sharon. xo

  7. Thank God for people like Ruth, but reading this made me angry with all those irresponsible pet owners who obviously don’t care about their pets enough. The Ruth-people are always having to pick up after them, and they never have to take responsibility for their neglect of their pets. I will never understand how anyone can move to another home (unless it’s someone going into a care home) and leave their pets behind. It’s right up there beside abandoning a child.

    • I so agree with you. Because I belong to a lot of local rescue operation Facebook groups, I read all kinds of stuff about people doing just that: abandoning their animals. I don’t fault people for finding better accommodations, etc. What I hate is them acting like the animal family members are couches to leave behind. You can search for apartments online that accept animals, so why not start with that? There are people and groups in these FB groups that will provide fostering for animals for people who have temporarily lost their homes, etc. There are a lot of hard times out there, but there are also resources if you try.

    • And, yes, the shelter workers also feel that they are always trying to make up for the bad stuff that other humans do and for their irresponsibility.

  8. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful story and such fabulous pictures!
    You and Ruth are both Cat Saints
    I am nominating you for the Cat Saints Award!
    Bless both of your hearts for what you do – I wish Carport Kitty had found such a wonderful life.
    Hm. At least she has food and shelter.

    • That’s high praise, Sheila! Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Whenever I observe anxiety in the facial expression of my aging mother, a typical senior, I can also witness how that stress suddenly drains and is replaced with joyful adoration upon her adopted/furever cat entering the room: “Hi, sweetheart,” she’ll say.

      I know that countless other seniors with pets also experience the emotional benefits of their animals’ presence. (Of course, the animals’ qualities, especially an un-humanly innocence, makes losing that pet someday such a heartbreaking experience.)

      Many of us can appreciate the reciprocally healthy — perhaps even somewhat symbiotic — relationships that can exist between pet cats and their loving and appreciative human hosts, especially physically and/or mentally ill hosts. They have a beneficial influence over humanity that many people still cannot fathom; and this beautiful reality of their positive effect on their human hosts can also be beneficial to the animals themselves.

  9. That was a fascinating story.

  10. Wonderful story. I’m so thankful for people like this. It’s so nice to read this as opposed to the news. Thanks

  11. This was such a wonderful heartwarming story! I just love that treehouse for the cats. It is like a little wonderland for the cats!!! The pictures are beyond adorable. 🙂 So many people talk about creating some kind of sanctuary for animals; how marvelous that this is a dream come true for these cats, and not just some lofty idea about a ‘someday home’. The ‘someday home’ is a beautiful reality.

    • I love The Treehouse, too. It’s so simple, and made of scrap, really.
      Before The Treehouse came to my mind, I knew that I wanted some kind of elevated platform where a cat could escape if needed. Some of the cats preferred to stay in the area that I call “outside the fence”. These cats can climb a chain-link fence if needed, but I wanted an extra element of vertical safety.

  12. Paula A. Loftis

    Absolutely lovely refuge that Ruth has created for the cats, and without her support their lives would be sad and short. I can imagine Ruth’s father is glad she spent her inheritance to make a difference in the lives of animals. Thank you, Ruth!

    • Paula, that’s so kind! I was so surprised when I found out how many animal lovers there were that thought like I do. These cats don’t have TV and air-conditioning, but they have the breeze and the stars and the moon, and the change of the seasons, and sunrises and sunsets.

  13. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a cat sanctuary. Thanks for sharing Ruth’s story.

  14. Pingback: Cat Sanctuary Founder Ruth Rawls — Luanne Castle: Poetry and Other Words (and cats!) | By the Mighty Mumford

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