Luxury feline home is the cat's meow Endowed Conn. estate cares for 446, both rich and poor

November 20, 1992|By New York Times News Service

FALLS VILLAGE, Conn. -- If you're allergic, you'd better hold this story a little farther away than usual. There's a lot of fur in this one.

Jeanne Toomey has 446 cats!

That means her household contains 1,784 paws, 446 elegant and eloquent tails, 892 pointed but fuzzy ears and enough feline nonchalance to float an ark. The word is also out in Litchfield County's mouse community: Visiting Belden Street can endanger your health.

But Ms. Toomey's place is more than a catnip salesman's idea of nirvana. It is, in fact, an endowed retirement home -- for cats. No kidding. More than half the cats come from owners who bequeathed funds to Ms. Toomey's home to underwrite their companion cats' care in perpetuity. (The other 200 are m-o-o-c-h-e-r-s, but we don't like to say that in front of them.)

The cat home, a non-profit organization called Last Post, is north of this town on 35 acres of northwest Connecticut's prime rural real estate that humans like Mia Farrow, the actress, and Henry Kissinger, the expert, pay a fortune to use as a part-time getaway. The cats live in these wooded hills full time free.

The Last Post was opened 10 years ago by Pegeen Fitzgerald, a soft-hearted New York City radio personality who talked about animals so much before her death in 1989 that some WOR listeners sent in their pets. One cat led to another, as cats seem to do. Now, in a kind of feline socialism, endowment income and donations support both affluent cats and moochers.

There's Chester, who became the grumpiest resident as soon as he won the monthly Friendliest Cat Award; he gets an entire chair to himself whenever he wants. There's Brenda, with her little pixie face, and Moe, with the bent left ear. There's Poopsie, who's 22 and half blind; and Patches, who's used up seven of his lives; Sidney, who thinks he's a king; and Scooter, who talks to himself.

Residents come and go through floor-level windows and have the run of five fenced acres of woods.

Newcomers stay briefly in a special room where Michael Cohen, Judy Warner and the Last Post's five other staff members and numerous volunteers hug and help new residents shed the emotional baggage of being lost or ease the adjustment from family to institutional living.

The other day, Nike was hesitantly starting to step from his cage, three weeks after his owner, Blanche Bond, died in Waynesville, Mo.

Last Post is also home to 20 dogs, two rabbits and a sheep.

A retired newspaper reporter, Ms. Toomey sees cats as the convenience pet of the 1990s and the country's favorite animal companion. In fact, come Jan. 20, Millie Bush relinquishes her last post as the nation's first pet to Socks Clinton.

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