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Inside Tucson's high-demand cat shelter and sanctuary

Posted at 8:05 AM, Jun 19, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Cats may be the main attraction at the Hermitage No-Kill Cat Shelter and Sanctuary, but a team of loving Tucsonans are the foundation.

There are more than 230 cats at the shelter in Midtown, waiting to be adopted or comfortably living out the rest of their lives. It takes almost as many people to take care of them.

“This place is amazing. You come in, you see all the cats just enjoying life,” said Victoria Martel, who started visiting the shelter years ago before adopting a pair of cats. Last year, she started working at the shelter as its marketing coordinator.

“You get to see how [the cats] interact with each other, with people, in a much friendlier environment, in a lot of ways,” she said.

“All of our cats roam freely. They do not go in cages,” executive director Amber Nix explained. “We do have cats in kennels for illness and that’s the only reason… The place really speaks for itself.”

It’s a place that’s in high demand: the Hermitage has a year-long waiting list to accept new adult cats.

Last year, the non-profit took in 775 cats. For comparison, Pima Animal Care Center — an open admission shelter — took in more than 6,000 cats.

The staff says accepting fewer cats opens up space to care for those with health issues like feline leukemia (FeLV), which requires them to be separated.

“At least a quarter or at least a third of our cats are special needs,” said Nix. “We will never euthanize for space. Cats can live here their entire lives.”

That wouldn’t be possible without roughly 180 volunteers, cleaning, feeding and more.

Shelter leaders say those cat lovers working without pay saved the shelter more than $400,000 last year.

“I wanted to help the community and the cats in the community,” said volunteer Matthew Thraen, who has even ‘sponsored’ three cats — helping pay for their costs until they get adopted.

He says the Hermitage has helped him grow too.

“It’s a wonderful place and it’s helped me understand cats and animals,” he said. “And I’ve been helpful to them. And it also helps me get along with people.”

There’s an extensive background check process for adopters, which Nix says is for the benefit of the cats. She says fosters can also help cut down the wait list.

“Some of [the cats] can be very, very shy when they come in,” said Martel. “And then they come out here and they blossom into totally different animals. And it’s so amazing to see that.”

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.