Three Hundred Pampered Felines Retire in Style to the Best Little Cat House in Connecticut

updated 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Deep in the woods of northwest Connecticut, at the end of a winding dirt driveway, some privileged cats are living out the last of their nine lives in a final fulfillment of the American Dream. At a nursing home called the Last Post, more than 300 cats—most of them old, a few of them rich and all of them pampered—are spending their sleepy sunset days, safe from dogs, automobiles and hunger.

Residents booked into the Last Post by loving owners find a purr-feet setting: Couches and easy chairs are scattered around, all covered with linen throws and comforters that are laundered daily, and at least one ground-floor window in each building is kept open so the residents can come and go as they please. They catnap on the furniture or sunbathe on the open deck. Some spend their days stalking the grounds, while others stay indoors, soothed by music. An independent few have chosen to live in the woods.

"We're basically a retirement home," says Todd Boibeaux, 27, the manager and one of five full-time staff members at the Last Post, four buildings on the 37 acres of a former boys' camp. "I call them displaced cats," he says of his charges, whose average age is about 9 years (the oldest is a Methuselah-like 19).

Boibeaux and his assistants clean, feed and care for the cats and take pride in knowing each one's name—a noteworthy accomplishment given that there are some 40 black cats alone. "It's their personalities; you get to know each of them really well after a while," says Boibeaux.

The Last Post was founded in 1982 at the behest of Pegeen Fitzgerald, a New York radio talk show host and animal-rights advocate. Fitzgerald's New York City apartment had become a favorite drop-off point for cats whose owners had become too old or too ill to care for them. At first, Fitzgerald and her late husband (and co-host), Edward, kept the pets or found other homes for them. Eventually, though, as the number grew, she decided to set up a special place for them.

Fitzgerald persuaded the Millenium Guild, an animal-welfare group, to spend about $100,000 for the premises. Before she died this past January, Fitzgerald set up a foundation that contributes to the hospice; the rest of the $30,000-a-month upkeep comes from donations.

Boibeaux says that there are quite a few trust-fund kitties (one owner left a $2 million bequest to the home), but most are hardship cases. "The owners often can't even give us the $50 or so it costs to get them through the first couple of weeks here." Instead, he says, owners often donate furniture or bed linens.

The Last Post could accommodate far more than its maximum of 325 cats, but Fitzgerald was adamant that the surroundings be pleasant and homelike. "If you overcrowd them," says Boibeaux, "they get cranky and crabby, especially on rainy days when they can't go outside. Keeping the numbers down leaves them free to do what they want, and they really don't have anything to fight about. They're no different from people when it comes to this: It's hard for them to adjust to a rest home."

But adjust they have. "There's nothing keeping them here," says Boibeaux. "The door or window is usually left open at night so they can take off. But they don't. In my 4½ years here, we've had almost 1,900 cats, and there's only one I can't account for. He just disappeared. To this day, I think someone made off with him."

As at all retirement homes, death visits the Last Post regularly. "We all get very attached to the cats," says Boibeaux, whose original ambition was to be a veterinarian. "It's hard when one dies, not just on the owner if he or she is still alive, but on us. We lose one or two a month usually, but every now and then it will get bad. I had to take two weeks off last year; I was shell-shocked. We had lost too many cats in a row, and I had to get away." The cats that depart for the Happy Mouse-hunting Grounds (mostly from old age, but occasionally with the aid of a veterinarian) are given a brief service at a nearby pet cemetery and are cremated.

But there are welcome callers too. The grounds include accommodations for human visitors. And for owners who can't make the trip, Boibeaux has installed a speaker telephone so they at least can chat with their pets. "We bring the cat into the main office," says Roger Garner, 34, who was Pegeen's chauffeur and is now the maintenance man at the Last Post, "and hold the phone up to its head."

And there are other visitors too—the raccoons and opossums that come in from the woods late at night. "They wander in and eat the cats' food," reports Boibeaux. "The cats don't care. For them it's like having friends over for dinner."

—Michael Neill, S. Avery Brown in Falls Village, Conn.

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