Shirley Fonda sits cross-legged on the floor in her Park Forest home and cradles Bob in her arms. Bob is about 8. He was born on a Bellefonte sidewalk. A boy brought him to Fonda soon after, still glistening. “So I’ve raised this one since birth, literally,” Fonda says. “He’s not doing well, unfortunately.” She tries to feed Bob, but he’s not receptive. After a while, she stops.
These days, she would like to quit entirely. As much as she loves cats, she wants out of the rescue business. Fonda has taken in and found homes for stray or deserted cats for 14 years through her nonprofit operation, Fonda’s Foundlings. She has adopted cats from displaced trailer park residents whose new residences wouldn’t allow them. Her success stories number almost 1,500. Cats still fill her house. They sleep on chairs, sofas and window sills, and dart to and fro. Rooms have become colonies with cages and cat trees. Seven cats belong to her, but the rest are waiting for new owners.
Fonda’s weary of waiting. “It would just be nice to have a house again,” she says. She’s 77 and tired. Tired of spending hours daily feeding her residents. Tired of kittens from pets not neutered or spayed. Tired of cats abandoned to their fates. At this stage in her life, she would like to travel again. She and her husband Tom have been all over the world, exotic places like Borneo, and they have shelves of art and other curios to prove it.
She has a doctorate in geology, a master’s degree in zoology and research on marine biology waiting for her to resume. A cellist and classical pianist, she wants to perform with a local symphony and accompany Penn State music students like she once did. “There’s just no time for me to do any of that,” she says. She was trying to retire. For the past two years, she had stopped accepting adult cats, just kittens that she can easily sell to help offset her expenses. Cats kept going to homes, and her menagerie shrank to 40.
But like Michael Corleone, just when she thought she was out, she got pulled back in. Last August, she learned of a State College property overrun by strays. A woman had been feeding the area’s cats, then moved, leaving at least 62 behind. Eleven, including two with litters, were found inside the empty home. Neighborhood residents called Fonda. As a child, she brought home injured animals. As a local wildlife rehabilitation specialist for 25 years, she routinely nursed creatures to health. She couldn’t turn her back on suffering. “They had been there for two weeks and they were starving,” she says. Her shelter population swelled, but because most of the new arrivals were young and friendly, Fonda felt confident she could find homes for them.
Centre County PAWS, the Hundred Cat Foundation and Metzger Animal Hospital assisted her with a clinic to spay, neuter and attend to medical needs. Many young ones still didn’t survive. Since then, about two dozen have been adopted. She’s down to 20 mouths from the summer batch. Retirement draws nearer, but to get there, she needs help. Vet bills, food and litter for last year’s influx have cost the Fondas about $4,000. Weekly non-medical expenses exceed $100. Donations cover only so much, and they always could use more.
Most of all, Shirley Fonda needs caring cat-lovers — like the priest who once showed up and asked for her least-desirable orphan — to take her playful, gentle wards off her hands. Only then will she see more lands, play more concertos or possibly publish her research — if she can resist her own tenderhearted impulses. Call her at 238-4758 or search on petfinder.com if you’re interested in one of the files in Fonda’s thick black notebook. She’s waiting.
We have been rescuing homeless cats and kittens in the central Pennsylvania region for 10 years and were involved in three major rescues in 2005. In January thirteen feral cats were trapped at the Toftrees Resort when management wanted the colony removed. In February 121 cats were rescued over a 6 week period from a home in Spring Mills and in May 59 cats were rescued from a home in only one week.
To date Fonda’s Foundlings have rescued 810 cats and kittens, most have been placed in loving homes. The kittens and cats that are available are quite friendly and ready to go to their forever home. All adults have been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, combo tested, and wormed. Fonda’s Foundlings will be at PETCO in State College, PA every SATURDAY afternoon and evening! Please stop by and show your support! If you can’t adopt, please donate!
No, they’re not little Nittany Lions… they’re Fonda’s foundlings!
Seventy-three-year old State College resident Shirley Fonda said her house is too full of cats for Penn State students to continue treating their pets poorly. Fonda spends her waking hours feeding and caring for the 75 abandoned and stray cats she houses in her Park Forest home — cats she said she’s taken in as a result of some students abandoning their pets during winter and summer breaks. “A good number of them are from students just dumping them off,” Fonda said. “I’d say I’ve reached my limits. I can’t afford it anymore. I paid over $9,000 in medical expenses [for the cats] last year.”
Cheryl Sharer, a full-time employee at the Pennsylvania SPCA Centre Hall Adoption Center, said the shelter has a constant problem with abandoned animals — especially after Penn State students head home for the holidays and leave their pets behind. “Part of the problem is from students,” Sharer said. “We always get very busy around Christmas time and the first month of summer.” Sharer said she blames the problem on all Centre County residents, but the shelter is busiest around the time when Penn State students are leaving the area.
Donna Herrmann, of the The Hundred Cat Foundation, Inc., said her facility spayed or neutered about 600 cats this year alone. They experience an increased number of calls every spring, when unspayed female cats are abandoned during winter break begin to give birth. “There is a huge feral cat population in State College, and some is definitely from students,” Herrmann said.
Fonda said she receives cats from people who can no longer take care of them and abandoned cats living in colonies. The cat colonies can contain upwards of 50 cats and center around student apartments and houses. “I’ve done rescues in Vairo Village, by the Toftrees Resort and Briarwood Apartments,” Fonda said. Briarwood Apartments is one of the few apartment complexes for students that allows pets, she said. Six rooms of Fonda’s house function as homes for her cats, which she is constantly trying to find owners for.
Penn State student Katie Fields lives in a Nittany Garden apartment on Waupelani Drive that allows pets and kept a cat earlier this year. But she said she quickly learned of how tough taking care of a pet can be. “I only had the cat for four or five days before I gave it back to the original owner,” Fields (senior-art education) said. “Financially, I couldn’t do it.” To students who do take on the responsibility of a cat, Fonda strongly recommends getting it spayed or neutered, and vaccinated. “Students don’t realize it, but shelters can help you with medical expenses,” she said. “If you get a pet, be responsible.”
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