Ten years ago, Wrangell was crawling with feral cats. They roamed the streets, getting into trash and nesting in condemned buildings. Now, it’s hard to even find a cat downtown. That dramatic turnaround is due to the hard work of one woman who noticed the problem and decided to fix it. Dolores Klinke runs the St. Frances Animal Rescue, a non-profit that has saved hundreds of strays.
Dolores Klinke is in her late 60s. She has salt and pepper hair and a big smile. As a kid growing up in New Mexico she had all sorts of pets (as a child.) Now, she’s Wrangell’s most prominent cat lady.
Klinke operates St. Frances out of two shelter locations. One is a forested lot for feral cats and the other is for adoptable cats, housed in her own garage. The first thing you notice when you walk inside is that it’s spotlessly clean and doesn’t smell like cats. That’s surprising as it’s currently home to about 20 rescues that live in kennels and cardboard boxes lining the walls.
“This is Jack. That’s Benjie; that’s Iji, that black and white one; and that’s his brother, Lasty,” Klinke said, introducing some of the cats.
Some have been turned over by past owners. Many have been live trapped around town. She works patiently with the wild ones, like Kiki, to get them socialized.
“And at first she was very aggressive but she was scared, you know,” Klinke said. “She didn’t want to be any place else but her own home, but slowly she’s getting better and better.”
It’s this unflappable faith in these little animals that led Klinke to start St. Frances in 2008.
She says she was disturbed by all of the unwanted cats in Wrangell.
At first, she picked up one or two strays at a time. Then she started rescuing entire stray cat colonies. She never predicted it would turn into a full-blown animal rescue.
“I think I stopped counting at 600 cats that we’ve, you know, handled through the rescue program so, that’s a lot of cats,” Klinke said. “And that was what, a year and a half ago that I stopped counting?
“I just don’t have the time…just too busy.”
Once she brings a stray in, she cares for it indefinitely.
Every rescue gets a full lineup of shots and any other medical attention it needs. She’s adamant that each one gets spayed or neutered, preventing accidental pregnancies and litters of stray kittens. Fixing the cats is fixing the problem.
“It seems like it’s been a little over a year that I haven’t had any kittens come in at all,” Klinke said. “That tells me something – there are no kittens to be found in Wrangell I guess.”
It takes a lot of money to care for all of the rescues. Klinke says she goes through countless bags of kitty litter and cans of wet food. She gets enormous community support. The city chips in $5,000 a year. And in 2013, Klinke raised another $14,000 through rummage and bake sales and private donations. But she says it’s still not enough.
“Every 28 days we go through six bags of cat food,” Klinke said. “We have the other shelter that we have cats that we have relocated. Over there we go through another maybe four bags a month.”
We drive out to the other shelter about five miles out of town.
This gated outdoor colony holds the feral cats that are not socialized enough to be adopted out. Klinke says the cats here often hunt for their own food.
Cats appear left and right when they hear her walking around. She greets each of them by name. One cat, Clown, follows us around. Klinke says she was an especially difficult rescue.
“And the vet was coming into town so we got her ready to go in to get spayed, you know,” Klinke said. “And I grabbed her and that was the wrong thing to do. Boy, she tore my hands all up and bit. We got her though and took her in, got her fixed and I headed for the emergency room.”
But that antisocial behavior doesn’t keep her from pampering them.
Dolores Klinke truly loves her rescues.
“They’re appreciative. That’s my favorite part of the job, I guess you’d call it. But I love doing it. It’s unconditional love,” Klinke said. “They don’t ask for anything, you know. They really don’t. They just want food and somebody to love them.”
And that’s why she puts in the countless hours and money, and doesn’t really mind those trips to the emergency room—to give these cats a place to call home.