The Cat House on the Kings

Photography & Production
Taner Tumkaya
Trudy Nelson
Sully Layo

Photographer Taner Tumkaya & stylist Trudy Nelson went down to the famous Cat House on the Kings and met Lynea who is the amazing lady that runs it and gives a home to hundreds of cats that she rescues. Taner & Trudy also shot a fashion story there and found out what it takes to run a cat sanctuary.

Slide 1 Left & Right – Sweater: The Elder Statesman, skirt: Sacai, boots: Hunter
Slide 2 Left – Shirt & vest: Opening Ceremony, Right – Top: Acne Studios, skirt: HYKE, pants: Opening Ceremony, boots: Hunter
Slide 3 Left – Shirt: Acne Studios, pants: MM6, boots: Hunter, Right – Sweater: The Elder Statesman
Slide 4 – Shirt & bag: Sacai
Slide 5 Left – Sweater: The Elder Statesman, pants: Acne Studios, Boots: Hunter, Left & Right – Tshirt: Opening Ceremony, skirt: Sacai, boots: Hunter
Slide 6 Left – See same credits for slide 5, Right – Shirt and bag: Sacai, pants: Acne Studios

Taner: Thanks for inviting us to your Cathouse, Lynea. Can you talk to us about how it all started?
Lynea: Twenty six plus years ago my dad asked me to find him two manx kittens and I went to different shelters but I did not know at that time there was a kitten season. I thought the kittens were all the time and always plenty. I found out that there were no kittens except those that were newborns and abandoned. And so what I volunteered to do was bottle-feed abandoned kittens. That’s how I started.
Taner: So what’s your first memory of a cat?
Lynea: First memory would be when I was about 5 years old and there was a little stray kitten, called “blue”, solid gray kitten that came up to our house. I mean I always wanted a cat, I  always asked my mom “I wanna cat”, for Christmas, for birthday, for anything and she said “No”. Well, I found this one came to us so I was going to keep it no matter what she said. And then we went on a vacation to Santa Cruz and my neighborhs watched the kitten for me when I was gone and her father ran over it. And I cried for three years so that was traumatic, if you asked.
Taner: That sounds very sad. Were you interested in all animals or something specific that pulled you to cats?
Lynea: I always loved cats and always wanted a cat. And I was always interested in helping animals and taking care of them, saving animals, feeling their pain. It’s just ingrained, it’s just the way I am. I used to save the fish in the river when the water would go down, you know. That’s fruitless but I would go out there with a fishing net taking them out of the puddle because I figured every one I saved was a win.
Taner: What do you like about the cats the most?
Lynea: One of the things that I like is their independence. Dogs are needy. Cats, you know, you can pet them a few times and they will walk off to do something else, whereas a dog is going to sit there bugging you. I do have some cats that bug me, I have to admit it. My two cats…
Taner: Two?
Lynea: Yes, I only have two cats [laughter breaks in the room]. And both of them would get on the kitchen counter and say “pet me, pet me” and they wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Some cats are super needy. You’ll see them, they’ll be on you, they will come to you and say “pick me up, hold me”. Some cats are just like “hey, how ya doing?”, and you can pet them on the head a few times and that’s all they want. They’re all individuals, each one has their own personality. Some people say “females are better than males”. That’s not true. Some people say “Siamese are better than the others”. That’s not true. Some people say “this color is better than that color”. Some people say that Tortoiseshells or Calicos are all bad cats, you know. Everybody has their experiences from when they were younger and they call that over and think that all cats fall in to that same distinct rule. There are good Calicos and there are bad Calicos.
Trudy: It’s funny you say that. We have two tortoiseshells at home, they look identical but with completely different personalities.
Lynea: Yes, and many people don’t like that color. They say that they don’t like black. I don’t know if you saw them but we have a lot of black kittens and those are the hardest ones to adopt.
Taner: Strange superstition. Do you know how it came about?
Lynea: It’s way back from the middle-ages. Witches and black cats, that became a superstition. “The black cats are evil, the black cats are whatever.”
Trudy: Is this the house that you grew up in?
Lynea: I’m actually from Medera and I moved to Fresno. [The two dogs have a scuffle, Lynea calls them out, “children!”] This one (pointing out to Toto) has some issues. I call him the drama queen [he barks]. Well, after I graduated I was in college and moved to Fresno and then I lived in Fresno for eighteen years. I got married, divorced. Wanted to live by the water and bought this house. Single, no kids and except for 4200 square foot 5 bedroom home on 6 acres. I don’t know what I was thinking. I call it a gross error in judgement. After I moved I thought “Now look what you have. You got this and you have to take care of this”. There was a dance floor, a wet bar, a swimming pool, all the things that a nice single 37 year-old would love. Then in March of 1992 is when I started rescue. Since then it’s about 34 thousand rescues in nearly 26 years.
Taner: These are all rescued cats and no breeders?
Lynea: Yes, we try to send our cats out. We trade with other organizations from San Diego to Canada. Two days ago we sent probably twenty to Canada. So for every unadoptable cat they bring us, which could be like that one with the injured eyes, they would take about 5 adults or 25 kittens. So we do a service to other adoption groups because they don’t have a sanctuary and they aren’t no-kill so you know, rather than to kill them or to foster them forever, they bring them to me and I give them the adoptables.
Taner: So this is a no-kill facility.
Lynea: We are a no-kill and Fresno County is high high kill. The city kills at the highest rate in the country and the county doesn’t even take them. So none of the little towns around here take cats, they just leave them on the streets. We are a third world country when it comes to how we treat them.
Trudy: Do you think that the new cats when they come here really sense that this is like heaven for them?
Lynea: When the new cats come there are some that are very timid and those take a long time to adjust. There are some that are outgoing or gregarious, they want out and let’s party. And then there are those that have to adjust to the number of others and they have to learn. We’ve had cats that fought, we’ve had new cats got chased and run all the way to the river. This one from Saudi Arabia, we had one that came from Oman that was three-legged, that would see him and I don’t know why, they are both Middle-Eastern, and would go after to fight this one. This one would run and the other one only had three legs so… [laughter in the room].
Trudy: They must have been speaking the same language. How is it that there are so many international cats ending up in here?
Lynea: Especially the ones from the Middle-East, some of them, they pay us to take them. The ones from United Arab Emirates, the ones from Saudi Arabia, and Sri Lanka. But the ones from Oman and Kuwait, there were American expatriates working there and they saved them. Then they had to leave their countries and I brokered deals for them to send me other rescues. That was the same with the ones from Kuwait, they came from a fish market. We are doing the same right now for Egypt.
Taner: Do you receive any support or funds from the government? Is this all self-financed?
Lynea: The first seven years that was all out of my own pocket, that was my retirement expense. Because I wasn’t a non-profit, I didn’t collect money. I went to work for a vet to learn how to do it for three years so I could get a discount. After that I started getting publicity, they tried to close me down because I didn’t have a permit. The county said “you can have pigs, horses, goats or ducks but no cats”. So they tried to shut me and there was such a public uproar that they said “Okay, how many do you want?”. And I said “I want 500”, thinking I could never have 500 cats, well now I have over a 1000. How could they complain? They are not bothering the neighbors at all. They are spayed and neutered. The county doesn’t take them, they leave them on the streets to die.
Taner: I’m really glad that this is running on its own already so you don’t need them.
Lynea: Yes, too much bureaucracy and not enough compassion. I tried to put in solar panels and they said “you can’t because you didn’t have your corrugated metal roofing engineered”. What is wrong with this picture? It’s ludicrous, it’s ridiculous. It’s almost obscene that they have that power to tell me that I can’t put in solar but they can leave the cats on the streets, in the garbage dumpsters and let them die. I’m doing good and I want to help the environment by putting in solar and you tell me that I can’t do that because I didn’t engineer my corrugated metal roof and get permit.
Taner: What could the county do the least but it would be really helpful to you?
Lynea: Many times they tried to pass the legislation to make it mandatory to spay and neuter your pets. And every time there were people -like breeders- who would go up there en masse and protest “you can’t tell me what to do” until they take it off the ballot. You can breed, you just have to have a permit and you have to do certain things which are what a breeder should do anyway. So they’re still trying to pass laws.
Ellie: Did you just start taking cats or did you plan on making this big a project before you started?
Lynea: I just started. I took in fifteen first and by the end of that first year I had taken in ninety six. I had space and I thought to myself “piece of cake, I can do this”. Next year I had thirty five left over and it just kept going up and up. All the people said “if you don’t take them, they’re all going to be killed, they don’t have anywhere to go” so I turned this house to take care of them. There were all cages here all around and it didn’t look as it looks now. Then there was this lady that died and left us her estate. She has never even been here. She and her sister were trading for Christmas and donate to children’s charity. Her family didn’t need money, so she died and left me a condominium in Redondo Beach and a car. That was when the market was going up, the condo sold for over three hundred thousand, we bought the property next door and fenced it up. Whenever you need things they just come. We live positive and we’ve all just find what we need when we need it. We just always have enough money. If you believe it, you visualize it, you get it.
Taner: Indeed. So then what is your vision for the next ten years?
Lynea: There’s two pieces of property, one next door that’s empty and then there’s a house up above so I want to buy that just to have it for expansion in the future. Because once those two pieces are taken there are no other pieces on the whole area. Also, I would like to do probably more dogs. We’ve done like over five thousand dogs but we specialize in cats and some dogs don’t get along with them so we have to be very careful with the kind of dogs we take in. I would like to also have a spay and neuter clinic on site. I have a veterinarian that would do for little cost or no money. If you have a sick animal there’s no place to take them, you know, because all the vets charge so much. So those are things that we want to do and they take money. Right now we only have enough money to continue the way we’re going and then do some improvements.
Taner: I was wondering if throughout the years, as you have seen thousands of cats, if you had any significant memories, be it esoteric, mysterious or spiritual with a cat.
Lynea: We’ve had a lot of “saves” of cats that should have died. We’ve had one, I just got photos of it now after three years, and it was found by our maintenance man on the side of the road that was skin and bones and full of maggots. It basically had another minute before it was dead. We saved it and it got adopted and it was the most beautiful cat I’ve ever seen. So that’s something that makes you believe in what you do. We have done a lot of those saves. We’ve had a kitten come in with three broken legs, we’ve had them come in with a crushed pelvis and they survived and then you say “well, that’s great, I did something, I’ve helped this one animal”.
Trudy: Are there any other memorable stories that stand out in your mind throughout the years?
Lynea: There’s one that wasn’t such a good story. A lady called me from San Diego and said “I have Maine Coon, he’s twenty five pounds. And I want to have children but I’m afraid because he’s so aggressive.” And I said, sure, I’ll take him. So she brings him and I take him to my house for overnight so just to see how he did. And he was fine, you know. Next morning, one of my cats that lived in my house in the hallway, and she’s little, were scared of him. So I stepped in between them and he flew for my throat. I pushed him off and he came again and again and again and I started running. I mean, twenty-five pounds and he was not stopping. So I kept running and flew into the bathroom, shut the door to the bathroom but the bathroom has two doors. I’m running through the kitchen and he’s coming at me through the door. I kept thinking myself “oh my god, this is going to be on the news, Associated Press: woman exsanguinated in her own kitchen! You know that’s how scary it was. And he’s still alive. We had to lock him in the dog run for a long time. He had hyperesthesia which meant that you can be petting him and petting him and all of a sudden something would click and he would change and grab you. One of my employees fell in love with him and she still has him and he has only attacked her twice.
Taner: Beth [the PR] told us that there has been only one cat all throughout the years that has been very territorial.
Lynea: Oh, the one from Oman. Oh yeah, I sent him to “Guantanamo Bay” [next door property]. He was mean. I named him “Isis”. I made him a feeding station at my neighbor’s property and I didn’t tell them. Two days later they come “Are you missing a cat?”. And I go “I’m so sorry, he is so awful”. And they said “we love him and we will keep him”. They built him a hut and a shed. He would find his way back on the property every month or so, he would come all the way around and people here let him in so we have the catfights. They named him “Brutus” because he beat up their dogs.
Taner: From cat to cat, they are completely in their individual universes, in their own zone and mental state.
Lynea: They are crepuscular. They are around dusk and dawn, that’s when they are active.  So if you want to see them, you come when sun goes down. I used to come over at night to do the fireplaces and I would see just eyeballs glowing, staring at me, hundreds and hundreds of them. So it’s a little bit eery in those times of the day. In the morning they eat so they are all here at 4 o’clock in the morning.
Taner: Feeding is right here in the mainhouse for all of the cats?                   
Lynea: They start here and the employees take trays to all the way down to the river. And I have three feeding stations at my house. And they start with the adoption team fix the kittens and the ICU feeds those cats. So there’s different people that are in charge of different areas. There’s forty paid employees.
Taner: You are not only helping animals, you also employ many people.
Trudy: Does the city appreciate what you do?
Lynea: Locally? No. They say “we’re not newsworthy”. And we take over a thousand a year  off the streets locally. Most of our supporters come from all over the world. We’ve been on the Australian TV, Japanese TV, Korean TV, Great Britain TV, French TV, Canadian. We’ve been on T.V. all over the world and locally we’ll have our open house and they don’t even put us on the news that says “Cathouse has their open house”. And we have so many people that come that we run out of parking.
Taner: Would you like to send a message to cat and animal lovers?
Lynea: Please get involved. There are so many ways to help animals giving back is now easier than ever to fit into your life. Whether it be by volunteering at your local cat rescue, spay it forward by paying for someone to get a cat spayed or neutered, donating supplies or sharing social media posts…get involved! The more we use our voices, work together and connect, the more lives we can save!
Taner: How come there are so many peacocks here?
Lynea: The peacocks are free roaming. They used to belong to somebody up river and they moved and didn’t take the peacocks. A couple years ago we noticed that the moms would lay their eggs on the buildings then they would hatch. The birds would come down and they became cat toys. So we started grabbing the babies and put them together with their moms until they grew bigger than a cat. But it takes a couple months. Since we started that we have grown exponentially. There’s a lot of beautiful males right now. I hope the neighbors don’t mind because they are very noisy [laughter in the room].

Models: Ellie Jane at Elite Models LA & Raf at Margaux
Production Coordinator: Beth Caffrey of Cathouse on the Kings
Endless Thanks to Lynea Lattanzio for her love and dedication