By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Laura Norris has always had a love for cats and would rescue one, get it healthy and then find it a home.
She began rescuing cats on a larger scale quite by accident.
A woman had posted on Facebook that she had rescued nine cats from a shelter and was looking for people to take some of them.
No one had responded to her plea, Norris said, so she reached out. The next thing she knew, the woman brought her all nine cats.
“I had just bought this building in Running Springs,” Norris said, “so I thought, ‘Let’s put them there.’”
She reached out to the community and was amazed at the response. Folks brought her dog crates, litter, food.
Then she reached out to the county, telling them she had these rescued cats. Their response was they had never seen a rescue operation in a commercial building; however, they did issue Norris the necessary permit.
That building – located at 31624 Hilltop Boulevard, just outside downtown Running Springs – is now The Catty Shack.
“This is the cats’ house,” Norris said. She picks up used furniture at thrift stores and gets some donated. That way she doesn’t worry about the cats scratching at it. Throughout the rooms that make up The Catty Shack, there are couches, chairs and cat trees, all of which have felines curled up on them. Some of the cats are solitary creatures but more often visitors will see two or more cats nestled together.
“All the cats get along,” Norris said.
When a new cat is brought in, she isolates it until she is certain of the animal’s health and disposition.
Recently, three litters of five kittens each were brought in with their mothers. They are in separate large crates where the mothers can care for their offspring. Soon Norris plans to have a room dedicated to kittens so they will have more space as they grow.
“Kittens are adopted quickly,” Norris said. Her fiercest wish is that some of her older cats will also find their forever homes.
She and the nonprofit’s manager, Tiffany Koelliker-Beckhorn, are in the process of making some improvements to the building. They will be painting the walls and have an artist who will create some murals.
Norris had suggested she turn the building into a cat café but the county balked at that. However, since LuluBelle’s Coffee House and Bakery is right across the street, Norris foresees folks grabbing a coffee or tea and a pastry and then coming over to visit with the cats. She would welcome donations of small tables and chairs so those visitors can relax while they enjoy their treats.
The majority of the cats at The Catty Shack have been feral. “They won’t hurt you,” Norris said. “They just want to be left alone.”
The cats are being conditioned to accept human presence by Brianna Ochoa, the rehabilitator who comes at night and sits quietly with the cats. “She coaxes them out,” Norris said. “We need more low-energy people like her to interact with the cats.”
A woman who had been feeding a feral cat brought him to Norris when she was making the move to Arizona. “We got him fixed and Brianna was working with him,” Norris said. “When it was time to let him go, he looked at me as if to say, ‘I don’t want to leave.’” And so, he stayed. Ochoa can now pet him.
One woman in her 80s who had adopted a cat from The Catty Shack returned to visit. “She sat on the couch and all the cats went to her. I backed off so I wouldn’t interfere with their connection,” Norris said. “I told her we need her here.”
Most of the cats have been given names by Norris or the volunteers who have been helping. Molly is an alpha cat, Norris said. “She wants to be the center of attention.” Juliet is the last of the initial nine cats. Wanda had come in with her kittens, all of whom were adopted.
Visitors will also find Luke, Lucy, Danni and brothers Peter and Willy at The Catty Shack.
Hope was in a house fire in Crestline. Her owners could not be contacted so Norris took in the deaf cat. “She was so dehydrated that her skin was ripping,” Norris said. “Now she’s living her best life.” That was evidenced by her being curled up with two feline friends.
Another cat living his best life is Monkey. He had been adopted from The Catty Shack but his new owners lost their jobs and their home.
“Once a cat is a Catty Shack cat, it’s always a Catty Shack cat,” Norris said. She will always take them back at no fee.
Monkey returned to the rescue operation but soon found a new home – at a retirement home in San Diego. “One of our neighbors knew of this home where the people are so loving,” Norris said. “Now Monkey has his own vet and gets to love on all these people. He is living his best life now!”
That family found new jobs and a new home and were able to take back the other cat they had had to give up for a couple of months.
“I tell them that, if the cat is still here, they can always reclaim it,” Norris said.
Currently there are 18 cats at The Catty Shack. Some will never leave as the rescue home has become their home.
For the others, Norris said, “it will take special people to adopt them. They have to be patient, loving and let the cats come to them on their own terms. Some people want to just pick up a cat and put it on their laps. Each of these animals has its own personality.”
JAN, MEL…AND TOM
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people were adopting cats because they were lonely.
Jan and Mel Chapman of Cedar Glen were two of those people. “Last Thanksgiving,” Jan said, “we were both feeling a little lonely. It was the first time in our 40-year marriage that we did not have a pet.
“I found The Catty Shack online and made an appointment with Laura for the next Saturday.”
Jan said they found the place to be “spotless and full of very friendly cats.” A black kitten kept jumping up on Mel’s lap. “He said, ‘This is it – this is the one I want.’” Mel also wanted to name the kitten Tom – “not very original,” Jan said, “but it seems to suit him.”
When the couple took Tom home, he fit right in. “Absolutely no adjustment problems at all,” Jan said. “He was completely box trained and has never had a single accident. He is also such a little cuddle bug – we just love him.”
Just recently, Jan added, “Mel said he’s the best cat we’ve ever had and I have to agree with him!”
Norris is working on ideas for events to be held in the large outside area next to the building. She would love to have art and music events, to “help kids find their passion.” She hopes to hold movie nights out there and on April 24 will hold a “come meet the women of The Catty Shack” yard sale from 1 to 5 p.m. Donations for the sale are welcome. Hot dogs and chips will be available for a donation.
She is also working on grants and would welcome help with those applications.
“I love it up here,” the Running Springs resident said. “This is a great community. If we put it out that we need something, people drop it off anonymously.”
Visit The Catty Shack on Facebook, www.facebook.com/cattyshack.us.