By JOHN FLOWERS
NEW HAVEN — Almost three years ago Jeffrey New sustained a back injury that put him on long-term disability. Faced with the prospect of long, lonely days at home, he thought he’d get a cat to keep him company.
Let’s just say he now has more feline friendship than he and his wife, Alice, can handle.
The one animal has mushroomed into a veritable cat commune of 43 felines of various ages and sizes, all ensconced in the News’ home, ironically located on Dog Team Road.
“We haven’t had the heart to get rid of them,” Jeffrey New said on Monday as the cats played, lazed, sunned and perched themselves on any surface they could find in the couple’s home. “But we’re at a point now where we have to let some of them go.”
It all started off with one solitary cat, named Maggie, who they adopted from an acquaintance. The home’s pet population doubled a short time later, however, when the News agreed to look after Maggie’s sister, Misty. But Misty’s stay would become permanent.
“We talked (Misty’s owner) into letting us adopt her, too,” New recalled.
Little did they know, those original two were just a kitty starter kit.
News of the News’ love for cats spread throughout the area, to the point they would become a repository for unwanted and stray felines. People would drop off pregnant cats — kittens and adults — some with disabilities.
They just couldn’t say “no.”
And they have taken in the cats at great personal expense.
New estimates the couple spends upwards of $300 monthly for food, vet bills and kitty litter to regularly replenish the seven boxes maintained in the home.
The News stressed they have spayed and neutered every cat they have adopted. Colchester-based Green Mountain Animal Defenders has performed the surgeries — and inoculations — for $35 per animal, according to New.
“They’re all healthy,” New said of his furry friends.
Healthy, curious and fairly independent. The only time the couple sees anywhere near all 43 cats together at one time is when they hear the food bag shake. It’s a sound that sends them charging to their dishes, some of them sliding in for a landing on the tile floor. The News’ home is remarkably clean, given the number of cats that rule the roost. They trim the felines’ nails regularly to keep scratching to a minimum.
While most people would have some trouble even counting 43 cats, the News know all of their pets by name. Vickie, Suzie, Sassie, Sissy, Star, Buffy, Oscar, Fluffy and Mittens are just a few of the felines they’ve collected.
You won’t find any pure-breeds or “Aristocats” in the bunch.
“They are a mixed bunch of mutts,” New said, quickly adding “they are beautiful and lovable.”
Unfortunately, love won’t pay the bills.
With Jeffrey New unemployed and Alice New working part-time at a local supermarket, they just can’t afford to keep their felines in Friskies, which they have been purchasing at discount stores. The News want to place 30 of their cats with other families. Anyone interested should call them at 388-1410.
“Whoever takes them, all they have to do is love them,” Alice New said.
Of course, finding takers for a cornucopia of cats will be easier said than done.
The Addison County Human Society (ACHS) has had a lot of experience trying to match discarded cats with local families. And while the shelter successfully placed the vast majority of the 331 cats it took in last year, it still hosts more than 80 cats awaiting a home, according to ACHS Executive Director Jackie Rose. The shelter has a “no-kill” policy but can only host around 80 cats at one time. When it reaches that cap, the shelter asks people to hold onto the adoptive cat until space frees up.
Cats represent that largest category of animal the shelter must tend to during the course of a year.
“We are overrun with cats,” Rose said, “and we are coming into kitten season, which will make the problem that much worse.”
Rose explained that many people still don’t go to the trouble or expense of spaying or neutering their cats. As a result, the cat population in the county continues to grow. While families tend to gravitate toward cuddly kittens, those kittens lose their allure for some folks once they get to be around six months old. It is cats that age, and older, that are begging for homes.
“We have had cats here for a year, sometimes two years,” Rose said. “It’s sad; they’re great cats.”
Anyone seeking to adopt a pet from the ACHS should call 388-1100, or visit the organization’s Web site at www.addisonhumane.org.