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The Sunday News

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http://www.registerguard.com/web/living/lifestyles/29312504-57/cats-cat-diane-ron-feed.html.csp

 

Cat tales

A Santa Clara couple’s daily walk is their time to feed local felines

BY RANDI BJORNSTAD

The Register-Guard

Published: January 20, 2013 12:00AM,Today

 

It was one of Ron and Diane Schirmer’s neighbors in the Santa Clara area who passed along the word about the couple’s love for cats and how they express it.

The Schirmers — he’s 75, she’s 73 — “are out every day, sometimes two times, on a regular route,” Joeine Thomas said. “They feed the neighborhood cats. … They not only carry Friskies food, but also water and brushes for grooming. They have been doing this for years.”

Thomas, who regularly does a 3-mile walk with a friend through the neat-as-a-pin subdivision north of Lynnbrook Drive and west of River Road, said she can always tell if the Schirmers have made their daily rounds. “The kitties will be sitting and waiting — or happily eating.”

Wednesday was foggy and gloomy when the Schirmers set out on their morning trek. Diane wore a puffy quilted jacket with a hood and furry earmuffs offering a bit of extra warmth against the chill. Ron buzzed along on his mobility scooter, hands encased in heavy insulated gloves and two blankets keeping his legs warm, balancing a large zipper-locking bag of cat food on his lap.

“We usually leave home about 10 o’clock,” she said. The route can take an hour or even longer, depending on how many cats — 30 would not be an exaggeration — come out along the way, looking for petting and cooing at least as much as nutrition. It’s not until they return home that they have their own breakfast. “The cats come first,” Diane said.

Each feline has its own special story, but all of them seem to have begun with a fluffy female they call Bella.

“I do believe Bella was the start of all of these cats,” Diane said. For years, the unspayed female “had litter after litter, and then those kittens had litters of their own — I’m sure that’s why there are so many cats in this neighborhood.”

At one point, another neighbor “took about 40 cats to Portland and had them spayed and neutered and then found homes for all of them,” Diane said.

“I kept telling Bella’s owner that she needed to have that cat spayed, and finally she told me she’d had her fixed.”

Just a few blocks after starting their walk, they see their first furry friends.

Cats begin to appear, running down driveways or out from under the shrubbery, until seven are waiting for attention and food.

Every few blocks, the same thing happens, from one or two to several at a time.

“There’s Simon and Callie — they’re both from Bella,” Diane said, calling out to them with the special patois — some would say baby talk — commonly used by cat lovers to address the objects of their affections. “Simon and his brother Ringer have the cutest story.”

The two “were raised in a doghouse” with a dachshund that let them sleep inside, one on each side, she said.

“Every day when we came by to feed the cats, the dog would bark, and then Simon and Ringer would run through the yard and out a little space in the fence to be fed.”

Simon and Bella still hang out where they began, just a few blocks from the Schirmers’ house.

Ringer, a stately long-haired black-and-white tuxedo cat with a distinctive white ring around his otherwise black tail, somehow ended up quite a distance away, where he now shares a home with Shari Hetzke and her family.

“All of a sudden we weren’t seeing Ringer on our walks, and we were worried about what happened to him,” Diane said. “Then one day we were walking by a house, and we saw a tail — with a ring around it — hanging down from where a cat was sleeping, and we said, ‘That must be Ringer.’ And it was.”

They never figured out how Ringer got from Point A to Point B — whether he’d been chased out of his familiar habitat by a dog or just wandered across a busy street and never made it back, but by then the Hetzkes had become quite enamored of him.

“He’s kind of taken over our lives,” Hetzke admits.

“He used to sleep on our front porch, but then our son came home from New York and said, ‘Oh, come on, let him in.’ Now he sleeps inside, but he knows about what time (the Schirmers) come around, and he wants to go out and see them.”

All the way along their daily route, the Schirmers describe the people, dogs and cats they’ve encountered in the 18 years they’ve lived in the neighborhood.

Some of the cats they feed are feral, others abandoned but still socialized and affectionate.

The rest are cats with homes who just like the extra attention. Many of the cats — like Bella — are long-haired, and Diane uses her grooming comb to keep mats out of their fur.

She points to a house where people once moved away, leaving three cats behind.

“One of them had only three legs, one had a leg that seemed to be dislocated somehow, and the third had a tail that was partly missing — I’m afraid those people might have been abusive,” she said. “We started feeding them, and then eventually we didn’t see the three-legged one any more.”

At another house, a cat named Princess “rescued” a street cat and took him home with her. “Princess liked him so much, her owner said she had to keep him too,” Diane recalled.

The couple remember one cat that loved to jump up and ride with Ron on his scooter. “Even when that cat was old and sick and dying, it still wanted to get up and ride with Ron,” Diane said. “I would have to help it up and down.”

Once, a cat they call Spidey — “If they don’t have names, we give them names,” Ron said — followed them all the way home from their walk without them knowing it. When they realized it, Diane said, Ron turned the scooter around, scooped up the cat and gave it a ride all the way back to its familiar turf.

The Schirmers do have two cats of their own, purebred Persians named Sarah and Bear — “I’ve always been a Persian fan,” Diane said — who spend all their time indoors.

Even so, the couple occasionally take on cats they come across and try to find them permanent homes.

“There was one that we kept until Greenhill (Humane Society) could take him in, and we went back three or four days later and he already had found a home,” she said. “Right now, we have another one we call Peaches who showed up at our house, so we’re taking care of her.”

Despite Ron’s multiple sclerosis — diagnosed in the late 1980s and the reason for the scooter — and Diane’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, which can make breathing difficult, the Schirmers have been doing their good deed for more than six years.

“We started feeding the cats because when we began taking long daily walks, we soon found that there were cats that started following us,” she said. “So we thought of taking some food along to put down so they would stay there and eat while we went on, and that’s how the whole thing came about.”

Despite the cost of cat food — they go through a 16-pound bag of Friskies Surf & Turf each week — the Schirmers say they get as much benefit from their hobby as the cats do.

In addition to the satisfaction of caring for the animals, it’s also a great exercise program with a built-in incentive. “They depend on us — we do this seven days a week,” Diane said. “We would never consider not going out to feed them.”

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