ST. PAULS, NORTH CAROLINA – Mickey was dumped in a Scotland County drop box, seemingly more dead than alive.
Rusty staggered out of the woods, caked in mud and ticks.
Each and every cat that has found its way to Alana Miller’s home and heart has a story to tell.
Thanks to her work as founder of Blind Cat Rescue & Sanctuary, the cats have something else in common: a forever home where their only concern is how to spend the day.
Way more than than 100 cats from around the world have found a “forever home” with Miller and a small core of volunteers in rural Robeson County, which is about three miles south of St. Pauls.
You might consider to be Miller the ultimate cat lady. Every house in her compound echoes with meows and purrs from nearly 100 cats currently living at the special sanctuary. Cat litter arrives in 50-pound bags and kibble by the pallet.
For the past 10 years, the shelter has kept off the radar, quietly healing and tending cats that no one else wanted.
“Some come out of the woods, just looking like hell warmed over,” Miller said. She’s sitting on the floor of one of the sanctuary buildings with Paul who is a huge orange tabby who’s looking for a snack.
Like most of the cats here, Paul wasn’t always blind.
“I’d say 90 to 95 percent of the cats who end up here lost their sight because of neglect,” Miller said. “A few were born blind, but most had an upper respiratory infection that spread.
“Just some antibiotics would have saved their eyesight. But some people can’t be bothered. So they take the cat to the shelter to let someone else take care of it.”
That’s where Miller was working in 2004 when she met her very first blind cat. She was a volunteer for The Haven. It wasn’t long before another sightless cat arrived.
In 2005, Miller opened the first sanctuary building. A second building was opened in 2011 to shelter cats who suffered from leukemia and immunodeficiency virus cats.
Soon cats began to show up from absolutely everywhere: Kuwait, New York City, Chicago. They arrived from a host of shelters, desperate to find these cats a home.
“We literally had a call from a shelter in South Carolina that had a cat shaved and getting ready to get the needle,” Miller said. “When we said we could take her you could hear them screaming, ‘Wait! Wait! Stop!’
“That’s how close it comes sometimes. We took that cat in and named her Miracle.”
It’s a home loaded with plenty of play toys, climbing trees and room to roam. A white 6-foot fence encircles the sanctuary, but to its occupants it could be a mile high for all the know.
“Since the cats can’t see how high the fence is, they don’t try to climb it,” she says. “Besides, they have everything they want here.”
That includes an occasional bird or bug that causes a sensation. Guided by their senses of hearing and smell, the cats follow every move.
“They’re no different than a seeing cat … except, of course, they can’t see,” she said. “A blind cat doesn’t know it’s blind. It just knows it’s a cat, and it acts like a cat.”
When new cats arrive, the first order is to get them into a healthy state and get them neutered or spayed. After that, they are kept in isolation to ensure health, then after that allowed to visit.
“They must play well with others,” Miller said. “We want everyone to be happy.”
The sanctuary has a small, but loyal group of people who volunteer. Miller would love to have more cats, but notes their location makes it tough to find people.
“It’s a great place, and once people come out here, they come back,” she said. “The trick is getting people out here.”
The sanctuary does not adopt out. Miller notes that there are great many of good cats looking for homes in shelters in the region.
“These guys will never have to worry about anything anymore,” she said. “This is their forever home.”
Life is good, but often brief, for these cats. Many arrive with life-threatening conditions, which leave them weak later on in life.
“We have a memorial garden for the cats that have gone on,” Miller said. “Each one is special, and we’re glad to have made their time here better.”
Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary, Inc. will hold an open house Nov. 14 from 1 to 4 p.m. During that time, the shelter will receive a special guest: Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell” host Jackson Galaxy will present a donation to the shelter.