Suellen Duga, a compassionate 72-year-old woman, has transformed her home into a sanctuary for cats with disabilities. Among her 12 rescue cats, each with their own special needs, she cares for Julie, who has cerebral hyperplasia, Roo, a male calico cat unable to use his front legs, Buddy, a blind feline, and Cory, dealing with a dislocated hip. Two of the cats suffer from IBD, and many require regular medication and veterinary visits. Despite their challenges, all the cats have found a loving home under Suellen’s care.
Providing a nurturing environment for cats has been Suellen’s lifelong mission. In the 1970s, she discovered newborn kittens abandoned in the bushes near her apartment. Determined to help them survive, she fed them using a clean nasal spray bottle, even risking her job by sneaking them into her office during the day for feedings. Although everyone knew about the kittens, no one reported her to management.
Not only did the kittens thrive, but they also became permanent members of Suellen’s household, as she couldn’t bear to part with them when it came time for adoption. Her love for cats has been a lifelong passion, and she previously owned a local natural food store with her husband for two decades.
In 2007, Suellen sought a change and began volunteering with the Westfield Homeless Cat Project. This experience solidified her commitment to feline welfare, leading her to open her home to cats with disabilities. Her dedication and selflessness continue to provide a safe haven for these special feline friends in need.
Suellen’s story is a testament to the power of love, compassion, and the unwavering bond between humans and animals.
“There were cages piled on top of each other from the concrete floor up. For a 62-year-old woman to be on her hands and knees on a cold concrete floor was admittedly not the best way to do things, but I felt strongly about helping the cats.”
When newborn kittens came in needing to be bottle fed, she never hesitated to take them in.
“I knew the community had supported my store for over 20 years, and I felt the need to give back. Sounds corny, but that is the way I run my life.”
Suellen’s hard work and dedication eventually earned her the position as Adoption Coordinator for the shelter. She has facilitated countless cat adoptions, but she reserves a special place in her heart for the cats with special needs. She explained to iHeartcats that the shelter’s handicapped cats are often overlooked by adopters. And if they are adopted out, many are returned to the shelter.
“I just could not stand to see that happen over and over.”
Suellen started opening her home to special-needs fosters and says,
“I was well on my way in the Foster Failure Program!”
Many of the 12 cats that currently share Suellen’s home are “foster fails.” She goes above and beyond for her cats and has transformed her home to accommodate their needs. The “cat wall” is a place where her friends can go and “get away from it all.” Julie, who can’t walk without tipping over, has a special litter box made from a boot tray, and Roo’s litter box is equipped with a ramp. She also has a kitten cage on wheels that she takes from room to room.
Suellen uses a commercial steamer, a special floor cleaning machine, a Dyson stick vacuum, and her “old fashioned pail and mop” to keep her home clean and keep her cats healthy. When she’s not caring for her feline family at home, Suellen is working a second job at night to pay for the vet bills. She also has a $5,000 life insurance policy to ensure they are well taken care of in case she leaves before them. She said,
“I almost hope I do because their losses are so devastating to me—the worst thing ever. I love them all so much.”
Suellen has dedicated her life to the care and well-being of handicapped cats, and her story is an inspiration to cat lovers everywhere.