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The cat's meow: Snow Hill woman provides home for felines

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Barbara Sugg, a former correctional officer, now dedicates her time to the Kitty Cottage, a rescue for kittens and cats. She cares for 40 cats at a time in her facility, often hand-feeding kittens until they are ready to transition to solid food.

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The Standard Laconic

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

SNOW HILL — Finding something meaningful to do after leaving the workforce can be a challenge. But one Snow Hill woman has found the purrfect way to stay busy.

Barbara Sugg, a former correctional officer, had to leave her job a few years ago after experiencing some health problems. 

She quickly became bored and looked for a way to be useful within her limitations.

“Nobody was doing anything for the stray cats in Greene County at the time,” Sugg said. “I went to the animal shelter and offered to take all the babies and feed them. Then I got to where I didn’t have the heart to take them back. So I started building pens.

“That was two years ago,’ she said. “The more I took, the more pens I’d build.

“I had to stop at 40. I’d take 80 if I could,” she said.

Sugg now operates the licensed nonprofit kitten rescue — Kitty Cottage — at her home on Greenridge Road in Snow Hill.

Sugg said her inspiration for the undertaking came because she knew the Greene County Animal Shelter was overwhelmed.

“Nobody can take care of the baby kittens, the ones that are six weeks old or younger,” Sugg said. “They are usually euthanized because they have to be bottle-fed every hour. It’s a job until they get to be about four or five weeks old.”

Some kittens that come into the county animal shelter are in poor health.

“It’s heart-breaking at times,” Sugg said. “Greene County has a lot of cats with FIP (feline infectious peritonitis). It’s a horrendous virus. I see a lot of that in the kittens I get in this county. They have to be put to sleep.”

Overbreeding is a serious problem in Greene County, she said. One unspayed female cat can potentially produce an average litter of four kittens every four months. In four years, she and her offspring will produce more than 20,000 cats.

Feral cat colonies are a nuisance to the community, Sugg noted. They kill birds and spread disease, such as feline leukemia, for which there is no cure. Feral cats are difficult if not impossible to tame, and therefore euthanized.

“I work with the county animal shelter and take all the babies six weeks and younger,” Sugg said, adding that in the breeding season, she rescues 20 at a time.

Sugg’s husband, Tim, has constructed four spacious kennels. The kennels are approximately 8-foot square and 8-12 feet tall with a tin roof and open sides of welded wire. During the winter, she drapes tarps to the sides and operates a heat lamp. In summer, fans are placed in the pens.

Inside each kennel are several small houses sold at pet stores. Others are homemade from large plastic storage containers with doors cut into the ends. Each pen contains litter boxes and food and water bowls, various toys and carpeted catwalks.

Paving tiles covered in indoor-outdoor carpet line the floor of each pen.

“I have seats in all my kennels,” Sugg said. “I like for people to go in and sit down and let the cats react to them. A lot of times, a cat will choose an owner.”

Sugg hand feeds and cares for the kittens in her home until they reach 14 weeks old. Sick cats from the kennels come inside for quarantine and medical care before returning outdoors.

Kitty Cottage is a licensed rescue facility and required to adhere to the state’s animal welfare law. Her facility is inspected annually.

According to law, no more than 12 cats can occupy a single enclosure, no matter its size.

The Kitty Cottage is at capacity.

“I’m licensed for 40 cats to raise for adoption,” Sugg said. “I turn down 20-30 cats a week. Greene County really needs to spay and neuter.”

Sugg also cares for some cats that are feral If she gets them young enough, she tries to tame them. Those she cannot tame — about 20 now — roam free on her 13 acres of property. She feeds them and provides shelter for them in winter. And they all have been sterilized.

The 40 adoptable cats also have all been sterilized, as well as vaccinated and feline leukemia tested.

“I adopt them for $100, but I have way more than that invested in them. That’s a deal on a cat,” she said, adding that the majority of her adoptions are out of the county.

Kitty Cottage is on Facebook, where Sugg posts photos to promote adoptions.

She also takes cats and kittens to PetSmart for adoption events.

She groups her cats in the kennels by ages and personalities and knows every one by name, age and temperament.

There is Bogart and Winston, Oliver and Penny, Blondie, Isabella, Smokey, Rebel and many, many more.

“All of these I have raised since they were little; most of them I get at a week or two old,” she said. “I spend a lot of time with my cats. They are my babies.”

While 90 percent of cats came from the county animal shelter, some are found helpless and abandoned, rescued from abuse or given up by the owner.

One kennel houses cats a few years old, that are more laid back and don’t like a lot of commotion.

“People think that older cats don’t bond and they do,” Sugg said. “They will bond with an owner just as well as a kitten. In fact, they are more laid back, more settled and their personality is more developed.

“Kittens are a full-time job, and it is expensive,” she said. “They get respiratory problems and eye infections. You don’t really know their personality until they are about 2 or 3 months old.”

For the most part, the Suggs pay out of their own pocket for the upkeep of the facility, food, litter and vet expenses.

BBQ for Paws, a nonprofit charitable organization originally founded to support the county shelter, has reached out to help the local rescue facilities with veterinary expenses.

“That has been a life saver — literally,” Sugg said.

Sugg is happy to see Beare Garden Plantation animal rescue opening in Snow Hill.

“I was the only one rescuing cats,” she said.

The Kitty Cottage welcomes volunteer help and donations of food and litter.

“They go through a big bag of cat food daily,” Sugg said.

She prefers to feed her cats Purina Complete cat and kitten chow. She also uses canned Purina and Friskies paté for the small kittens. When it comes to litter for 40 cats, she was spending $200 a week until she changed to livestock bedding pellets, which are cheaper, lighter and lasts longer.

Kitty Cottage is located at 1540 Greenridge Road, Snow Hill. To learn more, call Sugg at 253-0697 or search “Kitty Cottage” on Facebook.