Cat camp

Local sanctuary gives forgotten felines a chance at happy lives

Instinct takes over as a pack of Belleglen’s cats watch fish swimming around in one of the sanctuary’s ponds.

Instinct takes over as a pack of Belleglen’s cats watch fish swimming around in one of the sanctuary’s ponds.

PHOTO Courtesy of belleglen sanctuary

Belleglen Sanctuary

To make a donation or inquire about an adoption call 896-1599, or visit or

Kneeling down to cat level in the middle of the “Main Room” at the Belleglen Sanctuary for cats, one could be forgiven for losing perspective on just how all these cats came to be here together. So many cats—gracefully jumping down from shelves and cat trees and flowing into the large air-conditioned garage through a just-opened window like someone turned on a giant cat-faucet—all streaming toward this wide-eyed reporter and climbing over one another for a chance at a little scratch behind the ears.

There were dozens and dozens of furry felines in that one room, and that wasn’t even the half of it. All told, there are 159 cats living on this ranch on the outskirts of Chico where Donna Kemp has been providing “sanctuary, always and forever, for rescued and special needs cats” since 1999. “That means that once they come in, if we can’t find them a good home, they can stay here until they finish their lives,” Kemp said when asked about the sanctuary’s mission.

Of course, despite how fun visiting a compound of friendly cats might be to a visitor, a much better situation would be one in which such measures weren’t necessary. “Most of the cats that come in have been abandoned,” Kemp explained.

Kemp—a professor of public administration at Chico State—said she started her ranch sanctuary simply because she saw the overwhelming need and because she “moved here and had the buildings.”

Sanctuary owner Donna Kemp is greeted by one of her 149 feline guests.

PHOTO by jason cassidy

The cats mostly come to Kemp via word of mouth or referrals from veterinarians or other agencies who know about the sanctuary. Some were sick and left to be put down at the vet, others came from large litters left to fend for themselves, and many are just left behind when their owners move away.

And though Kemp does not advertise her location for just this reason, sometimes cats are dumped by the side of the road in front of the sanctuary. On a recent occasion, a couple of kittens left out front never made it onto the grounds.

“Before we could even see them they were hit by a car and killed,” she said.

Currently, Belleglen is at capacity and not able to receive any new cats.

Kemp and her crew—daughter April, plus a couple of volunteers and one paid assistant—have created a very clean, safe and caring environment where these animals seem to live happily. As we toured the grounds, Kemp pointed out cats by name—Hemingway, Gracie, Sassy, a sweet munchkin named Pistachio—and told their particular stories. Gracie, for instance, came from a vet who was going to put her down for an owner who was upset over being bitten just once—she’s never bitten anyone since.

The bulk of the cats reside in the two big common areas—the Sanctuary Room for the older cats, and the Main Room for the younger and middle-aged cats. The spaces are laid out with one indoor climate-controlled room, and an enclosed outdoor area featuring both shaded and nonshaded areas, plus a small pond, and plenty of chairs, cushions, shelves and other structures on which to play or lounge. There’s also a garage attached to the main house for a dozen or so animals in failing health or who just don’t socialize well in the other common rooms. These animals are in large cages—one, two, or three in each—outfitted with individual scratching posts, litter boxes, beds, food and water.

The sanctuary depends entirely on donations for its funding. It takes roughly $3,000 per month to cover all the litter (1.5 tons per month), food (high-quality only—Science Diet, Pro Plan), vet and other miscellaneous costs. And, though it’s hard to believe given their overall friendliness, Kemp says that, due mostly to their age (85 percent are 7 or older; 36 percent are 12 and older), most of her cats are never adopted. But there are many people who offer help by sponsoring cats. For $25 a month, one cat’s costs are covered, and the sponsor receives a bio and a photo of his or her new furry friend.