New digs for aging felines

A retirement home for cats in Laguna Canyon now has room for more felines thanks to a Laguna Woods resident's generous donation.

The Blue Bell Foundation for Cats, at 20982 Laguna Canyon Road, held a grand opening for the renovation of its lower building, called the Anderson-Wentzel house, on June 24. The house is named for Richard Anderson, who footed $90,000 of the $100,000 renovation cost, and his partner, Alex Wentzel, who died in 2011, according to foundation chairwoman Susan Hamil.

The lower house has 12 cats but can handle 35, and is reserved for special-needs animals, such as those with diabetes, failing kidneys, vision loss and hyperthyroidism, Hamil said.

That building was destroyed in a 2010 rainstorm, and renovation began on it in January 2012, according to the foundation's website.

The redone one-story, 800-square-foot facility has new heating and insulation systems, screen doors that replaced former partitions — which were made of wood and chicken wire — and double-pane windows, Hamil said.

Cats live in a well-ventilated environment with beds and blankets to sleep on and can roam around at their leisure, peering outside at the trees and vegetation.

Oldies and classic rock play on a radio inside the building, renovated with a new non-porous epoxy-like floor.

Blue Bell, which sits on two acres and also includes a nearly 100-year-old house that serves as living quarters for cats, is geared toward felines at least 10 years old, many of whom have outlived their owners.

In all, Blue Bell has 47 cats under its care, including the 12 special-needs cats in the lower house, Hamil said.

"Most cats are left in wills and trusts," said Hamil, who in 1989 became one of the founding board members.

A paid staff of five people, including husband and wife Santiago and Maria Holquin, daily care for the cats and facility, and are in tune with feeding schedules, medications, personalities and diets.

A group of 35 volunteers come sporadically throughout the week to play with the cats too.

The Holquins arrive at 6:30 a.m. each morning to feed cats, clean the floors and do laundry.

One challenge of cat care is dealing with picky eaters.

"If they aren't eating, we give them junk (cat) food," said assistant director Annie Pastorkovich, who started at Blue Bell four years ago after a career in residential real estate.

Pastorkovich has taken to cats during her time with the foundation.

"I thought I was a dog person, but now I like cats and dogs," Pastorkovich said. "I didn't know [cats] had personalities. They are more communicative than dogs. They let you know so many things by a look or touch of the paw."

As Pastorkovich spoke, Shelby, a 16-year-old female Maine Coon, latched briefly onto her arm.

"She's been here five months," Pastorkovich said of Shelby, a primarily brown and black cat with a white underbelly and white feet. "She had been with this guy who got sick, went into an assisted-living facility, and stayed with him until he passed away. She came to us and was sad for a few days. Then we overwhelmed her with love and treats."

Pastorkovich told another story of another cat who came to Blue Bell on the shy side, but has become more sociable and affectionate.

Star came to Blue Bell three years ago when Dorothy, the owner, went into an assisted-living facility, Pastorkovich said.

Dorothy, who had no children, had Star since she was a kitten. The cat used to hide under the bed, only coming out for 20 minutes a day to sit on her lap.

"Star had never seen another person, she did not know people," Pastorkovich said. "You could not go into a room without her trying to bite through tennis shoes. She was doing it because of fear."

Pastorkovich had to gradually introduce herself to Star to help break down some of that agression.

She pet Star using a stick made out of tied-up lawn toys. Pastorkovich then worked her way into Star's enclave, just sitting beside her.

Foundation staff evaluates each cat before it is accepted into Blue Bell, according to Hamil.

Staff meets with the owner's veterinarian and reviews lab work and medical history to ensure that every cat has the opportunity to enjoy a comfortable and long life, Hamil said.

"It's all about the cats, providing them with whatever they need," she said.

Requirements on the cat's part are fairly simple, Hamil added. "Can the cat get around, can they sleep in the sun and walk to their cat box for food? "That's a good sign," she said.

Blue Bell is named after one of founder Bertha Gray Yergat's cats who wore a blue bell around her neck, the foundation website said.

Yergat opened her home as a temporary boarding facility in the 1960s and began taking in cats of friends who could no longer care for them, the website said.

"She used to say cats were a lot better than people because they don't argue with you. They just ask for things like blankets, food, water and clean litter boxes," the website said.

The facility relies on donations. Some cats can cost $3,000 per year and some live for 20 years, Hamil said.

"It is our responsibility to assure that even if we took no other cats from today forward that we would have funding in place to guarantee that the current resident cats can be cared for until they pass," Hamil said.

For more information on Blue Bell, visit the foundation's website at

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