After a difficult divorce in 1981, Lynea Lattanzio, our founder, wanted to move to the quiet afforded by a place on a river. She settled on this 6 acre parcel in 1983. She often mused, “What was I thinking, single woman with no children living in a big house on 6 acres?” Nine years later, Lynea’s father asked for her help to replace his 2 Manx cats who had died of old age. In her quest to locate Manx kittens, Lynea visited a local animal shelter, and carried home a box of 15 abandoned kittens (none of them Manx!). By the end of the year, she had rescued and placed 96 homeless cats. Lynea had found her calling, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, more than 700 cats and kittens and several dogs enjoy life at The Cat House on the Kings, a no-cage, no-kill shelter!
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I’m so honored today because we have a home town hero with us, a real home town hero. She’s Lynea Lattanzio. She’s the founder and executive director of the Cathouse on the Kings. Welcome to the Impact podcast, Lynea.
Lynea Lattanzio: Thank you for having me.
John: Lynea, you are a local Legend and international Superstar, and I never even had the wonderful chance of meeting you until just today. I just heard about you recently and you are literally an International treasure and a local hero. So, I’m so glad I was able to get you today and to do this interview. Can you share a little bit of your journey. How you even got here before we get talking about the Cathouse on the Kings. How did you even get to this position? I know it started somewhere back in 1981. Can you talk a little bit about what happened?
Lynea: 1981, my divorce was final and it was a terrible marriage. After that, I didn’t want to date. I didn’t want to have any relationships with men after that. It was that bad and then I wanted to live on the river. So, without looking at the piece of property itself up close it was a pouring down rain and we turn the corner on the street, and I just saw this big beautiful river and I said I’ll take it. And I had not been in the house. So, here it is. It’s six acres. It’s a 4200 square foot five, bedroom home and I’m single with no kids. What was I thinking?
John: Wow! And what is your profession? Will you want to stay home wife went before this or did you already have a profession?
Lynea: I had several. My husband and I built apartment units. We were Developers. Most of the apartments over 1000 units ones by Fresno State, most of those by Fresno State.
John: Got it. Understood.
Lynea: And then I owned a karate school for a while and I did stuff.
John: Right. You were busy. So, now you have this house, beautiful home on 6 acres, five bedrooms. No children. No husband. What was the going through your head? What was the tipping point that made you get into this amazing and important line of work?
Lynea: Well, I realized that I don’t know why I bought it. There was just no rhyme or reason to owning all of this property in this big house. And then in 1992, my dad asked me to find him to maines[?] kittens and it was March. And I thought kittens. They’re everywhere all the time. No, biggie. So I went looking around and there were no kittens and I thought, well, that’s odd. They must all be getting homes, how bizarre. And then I went to a local singer[?] which is right just North of us to their kill[?] shelter and they were starting to get in these little tiny three week old that needed bottle feeding. And they says this is all we have right now. Can you take these home and bottle feed him. So I took home, I think five and then they called me a couple days later. I ended up with 15 and they got sick and then I take this pitiful box of sick kittens from vet to vet to vet going to get a help. And after by the end of the year, I had done 96 cats and kittens. So I thought this is easy. I can do this. Next year I had 35 left over and that was the end of my life.
John: Wow! So wait a second. So now you started this and when did you decide that this was going to become much bigger than you ever could have imagined?
Lynea: I never thought that, I never ever thought that, I’ve been doing this 30 years and have rescued 40,000 cats.
John: Oh my gosh! Off the air you were sharing with me some fascinating stats, you’re a very humble person. I know you’re sort of a very private person. You don’t look for the spotlight, but the spotlights found you, because your work is tremendously important and impactful Lynea to talk a little bit about what you told me off the air, who’s done television stations from around the world shares some of the International stories that have been done on you in recent times.
Lynea: Well, we’ve been on Australian TV three times, in fact, Dr. Chris came to the Cathouse and filmed once and he’s a Bondi[?] vets, that’s their show. And then we were on Korean TV twice. We were on Japanese TV three times. We’ve been on Great Britain TV, French TV. We just did a Yugoslavian[?] Country. I don’t remember the name of it. I didn’t [inaudible] and then we’ve been on Canadians and then we’ve been on Natgeo[?] Wild. We’ve been on Animal Planet. We’ve been on a lot of other programs.
Interviewer: National Geographic. I saw you on. They did a big story on you.
Lynea: We also got about 20 videos on YouTube of all the different people that have come out and done stories on us.
John: Unbelievable and for our listeners and viewers to find Lynea’s amazing place. It’s wwwcathouseonthekings.com Cathouse. No fancy spelling, cathouseonthekings.com. Lynea, I got your website up here in front of me. And as you said since the time you started this amazing shelter, you’ve saved over 40,000 cats. Over 40,000?
Lynea: Yes. And over 3000 dogs.
John: And over 3000 dogs. So we don’t want to leave the dogs out either.
Lynea: Probably a couple 100 peacocks and assorted rodents and skunks and raccoons too.
Lynea: We have hundreds of peacocks.
John: Really? Are they indigenous to this area. I didn’t know anything.
Lynea: They were from upriver and when the people move, you don’t take your peacocks with you. You just leave them and then when they would lay their eggs on our property and then the eggs would hatch and the babies were cat toys. So we would grab all the babies and lock them up till they were bigger than a cat. So I think that’s why we have so many. We were a little overly conscientious about saving up.
John: So, in the 1990’s, you became a veterinary technician along the way during this journey?
Lynea: I had to learn what I was doing and so I went to work and I was a surgical tech and janitorial work, you clean the cages and stuff but I assisted in surgery and every paycheck I owed him money. So, he loved it, it was a win win because I would do all my spays and neuters and all my medical and all my medications. I’d have to buy it through him and so it he loved it. Free labor.
John: Oh my gosh. And so, if I was to ask you just straight away. Obviously, we know the great work you’re doing, you’re saving these beautiful animals, both cats dogs peacocks. And like you said, raccoons skunks and some other assorted animals, but in terms of [inaudible] Mission, explain to our audience, why you’re such a unique shelter and what your true mission is at the Cathouse on the Kings.
Lynea: What makes us unique in the world is that we are a 12 acre no cage. No kill sanctuary.
Lynea: We take in the unadoptable animals. We take in the ones with behavioral problems. We take in the seniors. We take in three legged blind. Those are the ones that we take and then we trade with other no kills that we approve and for everyone unadoptable cat they bring us. They have to take five of our adults or 25 of our kittens. So that’s how we get ours out, Fresno’s the highest kill rate in the United States.
Lynea: Yeah we have to get them out in order to save them or we have to get them out.
John: So wait a second. Just so I understand, you’re no kill shelter and no cages. So when cats come in and you nurture them and you work with them. So you have a constant adoption process going on. How do people find you and how if our listeners or viewers want to adopt from you. Some of your beautiful animals. How do they go about doing that?
Lynea: Do you hear that at the door? That’s a rottweiler and a pug that went out. Can you hold for a second?
John: Of course.
Lynea: They knocked.
John: They’re polite at least.
Lynea: Yes. Okay. Come back.
Lynea: Yeah, we are on Petfinder and we have all of our adoptable is listed on the website, but the kittens are all quarantine. There’s two buildings with kittens.
John: Oh my god!
Lynea: We have to ICU’s. We have a senior facility. That’s just beautiful. It’s got five buildings in it and the buildings have couches and lounge chairs and they have an individual heaters. So we tried to make it like a home because they’re senior cats and they came from a home, the owner died or went to a rest home and they couldn’t stay. And so we tried to make it the best we could for them but it has grass and trees and everything that they need and people there to hold them hug them and love them.
John: So on a weekly basis or a monthly basis Lynea, how many animals are adopted from your wonderful facility on a monthly basis, approximately?
Lynea: Well, we are Petco partner and there are very many of those, [inaudible] people that they give us a building inside their Petco. It’s a 1500 square foot adoption center. We have the key, we lock it. We take care of it inside Petco, and we do about at least 60 a month adoptions there and probably 30 a month adoptions here. And then, from this time of year until May will send out 300 or 400 animals to other rescues.
John: Wow! So about 100 a month are being adopted between your own facility and the Petco facilities.
John: You’re a non profit. Is that correct?
John: So talk a little bit about people like you that do such great work. Of course, it just doesn’t happen by accident, a you put a lot of thought and energy and hard work with your volunteers into what you do in your mission, but money had to help fund it. How did you fund all this work since the 1980s and get to the place that you’ve gotten with such massive success, and saving so many wonderful animals?
Lynea: Started it out spending my retirement, about $300,000 of my own money. I had a 450 SL I sold to build some kennels, my diamond ring I sold to build fencing. I thought I don’t need this anymore, minivan here I come. So basically I supported myself until we started getting a little bit of notoriety and then the County of Fresno tried to shut me down and I got my first publicity. They said I could have pigs or goats or chickens or ducks. But I could not have cats. And there was an uproar such an uproar that finally, at the end of the meeting they said, how many cats do you want? And I said, 500.
John: Oh my God!
Lynea: [coughing] I think I’d never have 500 and now I have 1000.
John: Wow! And so go back to something you said earlier Lynea, that’s so fast and never heard that statistic before. Why is Fresno have the highest kill rate in the country?
Lynea: It’s the way that they run the City shelter. Now, the County shelter, when they took over, they have turned the County shelter from an 86 percent kill to an 86 percent or 90 percent no kill. That’s the County. The problem is the County doesn’t take cats. The City of Fresno kills almost every cat that comes in and dog and they are statistically, I think it was at a best friend’s they had a convention and it said the kill rates in order and Fresno was the highest number one on that list of killed groups in the United States.
John: Oh my gosh!
Lynea: So it’s nothing to be proud of.
Lynea: But it’s the way that they run it and they choose to kill them as opposed to like we do, we send them to Canada for God’s sake. Wisconsin doesn’t have cats there get too cold for cats to breed around, like they do here. They could send them someplace, but they choose to immediately euthanize[?] on the way in the door they just kill them.
John: Oh my gosh, they don’t have a chance once the City [inaudible] on them.
Lynea: If they’re under two pounds they are killed immediately. Give it an owner surrender. Let’s say you couldn’t keep your cat. You were moving or whatever. You took your cat. They’re thinking it’s going to find a home. If it’s an owner surrender they can kill it immediately. And the only ones I have to keep for 72 hours are lost or found animals when they found and strays.
John: That’s tragic.
Lynea: [inaudible] we used to take 1300 a year out of there and then they wouldn’t let us take any. That’s how bad they are.
Lynea: Hello what’s wrong with them?
John: Right. That makes no sense. When you’re someone as wonderful as you. Have you served as a role model when people watch your story in Korea or Australia, and National Geographic, and all around the world. And like you said, there’s at least 20 videos of you up on YouTube. So anyone can watch it. It’s democratized information on what you’re doing. Have people come to you from all different parts of the world and said they want to model themselves after you. And what you’ve built with Cathouse on the Kings?
Lynea: All the time. Even Korea one of their film crews. When they come, they brought an entourage. Like four cars and 40 people. It was ridiculous. He wanted to open his own sanctuary in Japan. And they taped it in Japanese and did it in Japanese. And then they had a translator that would ask me a question and it was the babbling[?] the this and all of that, it was kind of cute.
Lynea: Yeah, he was asking questions about how to do it and I get those questions from all over. I just got a call from Puerto Rico today. We’ve taken them from Puerto Rico before we got them from China, Venezuela all over the Middle East, every country in the Middle East and a few other odd places around the world plus all over the United States they bring them to us.
Lynea: I’m famous, but locally they don’t know who I am.
John: Right. That’s some crazy! Lynea, how many volunteers do you have working for you by the way?
Lynea: We have 45 paid.
Lynea: Paid. You cannot have 700 cats and 300 kittens, 12 acres and rely on volunteers that doesn’t happened.
John: So you have a full staff underneath you.
Lynea: It’s hard enough getting paid employees to come to work these days.
Lynea: So yeah, we’ve got everybody’s paid. The volunteers come out and do open house or foster. We are always in need of people to foster little tiny kittens.
John: So Lynea if people want to donate to your great organization, Cathouse on the Kings. How does that work? How do you work with philanthropist and other people who love your mission and love what you’re doing? And how can they contribute if they feel motivated?
Lynea: Well, you can go to our website and there’s everything that you need there. Also. We have an Amazon wish list. And whenever you order anything on that, we get a cut a percentage so that adds up, and when we put in out of urgent need for say kitten food because when you have 300 kittens at all times between June and Christmas, you run through a lot of kitten food. And we just say we’re out of kitten food and then the trucks start coming in bringing as kitten food and look at like one Amazon thing had 23 boxes for us. So it’s very helpful when we don’t have to go out and start buying kitten food.
John: So, which days of the week or the public allowed to come in and adopt cats from your facilities, it’s open every day or just certain days?
Lynea: Well, we’re open at Petco and out here every day. But to adopt you have to fill out an application online. And it takes a couple days for an approval. And then they will tell you where that particular kitten or cat is because they’re either out here. They’re in foster care or they’re at pet coat. So you you can’t just come out here and expect to see the cat you saw online because might not be here. However, we’re open seven days a week for visitors and we have visitors from all over the world.
John: Wow! So Lynea, this sounds like an immersive mission that you’ve been on since the 1980s. Have you left it all? Do you ever leave and take a breather and go somewhere else in the United States around the world, or you just hyper focus on this amazing platform and amazing shelter that you built. And this is where you stay and you don’t move that far from it. What is your personal life like besides your professional life?
Lynea: There is no such thing as a personal life, but I do run away every once in a while. I took my Rottweiler and we drove all the way to Wyoming. I thought it was going to be nice weather, shorts and t-shirts. No, it’s no. Okay, my dog hated me for a week after that. She would not go near my van. She says, I am never going that van with you again.
John: She was done with your head fake. You had faked her thoughts we were going on a vacation.
Lynea: We’re going to have fun. We’re going to go see some moose.
Lynea: We saw one moose the whole thing.
John: Oh my gosh. That is too funny. You’ve done so much, 40,000 animals, you’ve saved over the years. When you go to bed at night and you don’t seem like the type of person Lynea that rests on her [inaudible] or her past accomplishments. What’s your goals for the future in the years to come?
Lynea: Well, we just bought some acreage on the corner. And what I want to build there is a spay neuter clinic because the only way that we’re going to stop the overpopulation is to have free and mandatory spays and neuters. Some of the vets in Fresno will charge up to $300 for a spay, but people can’t afford that. And the people that get the free animals, when they get pregnant, they just throw them out and go get another free animal. So we’re never going to stop it until we make it the law that says you must fix your animal and make it free. So that the you don’t have an excuse.
John: Right, you mentioned that you have two ICU units on your facility, do veterinarians donate their time to come over and work at the ICU units, or do you have paid vets on on staff? How does that work?
Lynea: We have one that comes out and we pay her. We had one that volunteered but he moved to [inaudible] and we have seven vet techs or vet assistants and techs. So, they take care of the health of the animals, and then we work with the one vet [inaudible] does our spays and neuters and amputations, and then we work with San Joaquin vet in Fresno and they do any of our more involved surgeries and things like that. So, we have two vets that we work with all the time.
John: That’s wonderful. Lynea this is all about you and this is your show. We’re going into the Holidays, any words of advice for parents that are badgered by their children to get animals to get pets? Is it just smarter to come to a facility like yours or Petco and adopt rather than go to a breeder and buy new cats or dogs is that more intelligent for parents?
Lynea: What I’m finding out from a lot of my friends that do buy pedigrees is that they end up with health issues, heart problems kidney problems, all kinds of things and they don’t live their normal life span. They had by nine and they should live to be 16. And she’s had three, and she keeps going to the same breeder. And so they’re all going to die at nine. That’s it. But the fact is, when you get him from a rescue that saves them, saves their lives you’re helping out because it gives them room to take in more. And they’re already spayed and neutered. So you really getting a good deal and when you get a free to good home, they’re not free if you take care of them. So you really want to help the people. There’s several no kill adoption centers in Fresno. So you want to help them get their cats adopted so they can save more.
John: When another wonderful human beings reach out to you from around the world and say to you Lynea what’s the secret to your success? How did you do this? I’m trying to grow my my no kill facility, my shelter my sanctuary, I’m hitting a wall or I’m hitting roadblocks, when they come to you for your pearls of wisdom and you’re success model. What are some of the words of advice you share with others that want to mimic and copy this great kind of work you’re doing?
Lynea: One thing since the beginning was, I have positive imaging. I had a little bit of money and I envisioned it place at the river. So I built an enclosure down there with a building and then next one. Well, this is where I made my mistake with that. Next one was bigger, then it was bigger. And so, I do positive imaging and my saying is, don’t ever tell me what I can or cannot do. That was something that since I was married. Don’t tell me, I can’t do that. So I’m good. I just find a way and I do it.
John: And you did it and you’ve done it. What an amazing life over 40,000 animals. Lynea I got to tell you this, like I said, you’re a home town hero here in Fresno. You’re an International star. You’ve been all over the world in terms of the other videos on you and I’m sure there’s going to be even be a lot more coverage on you in the years to come. I’m going to come over and meet you one day in the near future. I’ll call in advance, of course, I only live 20 minutes away from you.
Lynea: I know, I’ll give you a private tour. We also have some hybrids, they’re savannas and one of them is 3/4 serval, you know the serval is that’s an African wildcat.
Lynea: Almost like a cheetah and we have four of those right now and the one that’s 3/4 serval is going to be going back to his owner in the next month, I think. So, if you want to see him, you got to come now and he is unbelievable. He’s a biggie to he’s about 30kg.
John: Whoa! What’s going to happened to the other three? What’s the plans for the other three?
Lynea: Well, one of them was in a cage 14 years breeding. We’re not going to adopt her out. She’s done time. They have a beautiful enclosure. It’s got a big waterfall. It’s got its own house it’s patios grass and trees and everything in it just to make it perfect. And then it’s where my swimming pool used to be, when I bought the house and had a dance floor. It had a wet bar and had a swimming pool. All that’s gone. I’m going to turn the swimming pool into a recirculating Koi pond.
Lynea: That’s more entertainment for.
John: Oh my gosh. I can’t wait to come out and meet you in person. I can’t wait to come see this wonderful Sanctuary you built. For our friends and our listeners, and our viewers all around the world, please to learn more about Lynea, her important work to donate or to adopt, or to just get involved and contribute to her great mission, please go to www.cathouseonthekings.com. Lynea, God bless you and thank you for all the impactful work you’ve made over the last 30 plus years, you’re doing great stuff. It’s just wonderful to have you as part of the Fresno community and as a home town hero, and we just wish you continued success and blessings in the months and years ahead.
Lynea: Thank you, and I’m looking forward to meeting you in person, too.
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