Special Report: The Cat Lady

By Christian Jennings - bio | email

ALBANY,  GA (WALB) –  It's hard not to love kittens. They're cute and little, furry and sweet. But what about 20 of them? Even 100?

It sounds unmanageable and downright crazy to own that many cats but believe it or not some people do. They're often called animal hoarders and in many cases the secret obsession is kept a secret.

Their intentions are good, but sometimes people who take in strays, let the strays take over.

Beverly Foss doesn't mind being called the neighborhood cat woman. "There's worse things to be called," Foss said.

Tiny is the latest addition to her 26 member family. "They come in there and get on the bed.  I have a king size bed, so quite a few get on it."

Stray cats have quickly become her replacement children. She started taking in cats during the flood of '98, devoting her space and finances to cat food. $40  a week, at least.

And trips to the vet. "I have to get flea revolution. Frontline. All that is extra."

Not to mention hundreds of bags of cat litter. Does the smell become a problem?  "Sometimes yes. But I work on it."

She provides for her cats first, doing without anything fancy for herself.

Foss' nephew James Hudgins doesn't complain about his aunts crazy love for pets. He's a cat guy himself.

"The most I think we had was 32," he said.

Earlier this month, Foss' mobile home caught fire in the middle of the night. When I met them, it was the day after the blaze. Foss told me when she awoke to smoke, she had 26 faces on her mind.

What was going through her mind? "My cats!"

All the kitties are OK. But some people wonder if Foss is OK.

Has this become an obsession? "I feel like it has," she admitted.

But here at the Lee County Animal Shelter, they've seen far worse. A woman who has worked here for eight years can remember a couple who had 70 cats, and only four litter boxes.

"They lived in a really nice house, until you walked inside," said Jackie Grigg of the Lee County Animal Shelter. "When we flipped the couch over there was probably two feet of feces under the couch."

And the elderly couple Jackie Grigg is referring to was forking out serious cash, to keep their feline friends from starving. "They were spending probably $1,500 per month."

But how does someone let a love for animals transform into an obsession?

Marriage and Family Therapist Elaine Gurley says it often stems from a loss. "It's in the ballpark of hoarding," she said.

"One thing leads to another and I guess it fills loneliness, provides companionship, you feel needed," Gurley said.

Beverly Foss can relate. She's been divorced for 20 years and her children are all grown up.

"See my aunt, she lives by herself. And when you live by yourself you get lonely. And a cat or dog they're eat up with personality. Like little people," Hudgins said.

"I guess everybody just needs somebody to love. And they love me for feeding them," said Foss.

Foss knows people judge her. She also knows she could have a lot nicer things if she devoted the money she spends on kitten care to herself. But she doesn't care.

After all... it's hard to turn your back on your children. Once a cat lady, always a cat lady.

Beverly Foss on the phone. She's now staying in an apartment because the fire made her mobile home unlivable.

She wasn't able to bring the cats she cares for to her temporary new place, but says she's been going back everyday to check on them and feed them.

She hopes to find a new place where she CAN have cats.

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