Ritzy Retirement Home for Cats

Dozens of cats lounge on wooden sun decks and specially built jungle gyms, or patrol acres and acres of fenced-in fields and woods. Inside the house, anything from large orange tabby cats to purebred Persians stretch out on comfy sofas and easy chairs. The exposed beams of the barn-like rooms are perfect for climbing and scratching. Skylights and bay windows abound.

Welcome to The Last Post Sanctuary of Falls Village, Ct., an unusual retirement home for cats whose owners have either died or are no longer able to care for them. The thoughtful pet owners will their cats to the Last Post, along with a minimum $5,000 trust fund, which covers a lifetime of room, board, and vet check-ups. In turn, the Post houses and feeds all the cats and makes sure that they are properly cared for.

Free to Roam the Five Acres

The sanctuary consists of five buildings sprawled across 37 acres of wildlife refuge on the Housatonic River in the northwest corner of the state. The Last Post's eight-person staff feeds and maintains the buildings and grounds and works with veterinarians at local hospitals. Cats are caged only for short times, usually upon arrival until they are checked out and get acclimated to their surroundings. After that, they are free to roam within the fenced-in 5 acres. "We are considered by many zoologists to be the world's most luxurious retirement home for cats," says Jeanne Toomey, executive director of The Last Post Sanctuary. Peter Terranova, Toomey's son and assistant manager, says, "Bringing their pets here gives many owners peace of mind. We get so many calls from people asking what will become of their cats when they die."

Whenever possible, the Post attempts to find homes for their wards since even the best retirement homes pale to a warm loving family. When someone adopts one of the Post cats, they also receive the remainder of the trust fund that was originally left to the Post for the cat.

Sometimes people who are still alive are forced to entrust their pets to The Post, either because they are entering nursing homes or are moving and can't take their cats along. However, in this case, owners are always kept up-to-date on their kitties' comings and goings. "We establish a personal tie with the owners. We send them birthday and Christmas cards from their cats along with photos and updates of their activities," she says. They even have a cottage on the premises where owners can stay when visiting their pets. "Owners know that when they turn in their pets to us, they haven't lost them."

Post Founded by Radio Personality

The Post was founded in 1982 by the late Pegeen Fitzgerald, a well-known New York radio personality. At the time, she was president of the Vivisection Investigation League, which is against the use of animals for scientific experimentation. The League now owns the property and cat shelter.

Toomey, a journalist and author who now fights for animal rights, met Pegeen and Ed Fitzgerald, the famous radio breakfast team in 1952, aboard the maiden voyage of the S.S. United States during a stint as a young ship reporter for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "As the three most dedicated animal people on the vessel, it was perhaps inevitable that we should meet in the ship's kennel, in the middle of the Atlantic," Toomey says. "Soon after our meeting, they asked me to join their talk show, which I did for awhile. Eventually, I went back to newspapers." The Fitzgeralds managed the Last Post Sanctuary from 1982 until Pegeen's death in 1989 and after that, Toomey took over.

But Toomey has found a new source of inspiration for her writing since coming on board at the Post. "There is no end to my cat stories," says Toomey, who publishes them in the Last Post newsletter. "We had the oldest cat in Connecticut, Miss Frannie, who won many blue ribbons for living to be over 29 years old. With this stress-free country lifestyle, our cats get to live long, healthy lives."

For more information on the Last Post Sanctuary, call 860-824-0831, or write c/o Box 259, Falls Village, Ct. 06031.