There is a special place up along Cliff Drive shaded by avocado trees where dozens of stray and abandoned cats live lives of ease. Young mothers nurse rowdy litters among bright toys and feathery blankets while street-tough intakes slowly acclimate to human touch. Those that play well together have the run of a big open area furnished with rows of carpeted kitty condos; others enjoy their solitude inside roomy stalls with perches that connect via covered “cat trails” to outdoor enclosures.
Jeffyne Telson is the matriarch of ResQcats, a nonprofit adoption organization she founded in 1997 on her Hope Ranch property. The red-painted shelter grew out of a large converted greenhouse that Telson’s husband, Mitch, painstakingly put together over the years. Every cat they take in receives medical care before they’re spayed or neutered and microchipped. The animals come from all over ― Craigslist, Inland Empire high-kill shelters ― and in its 21 years, ResQcats has placed nearly 3,000 in new homes. Said Telson: “If I have space and can save a life, I will.”
We met on a recent Thursday just as her team volunteers had finished their morning shift and Telson was wrapping up a phone conversation with a veterinarian. She leaned on a hatchback parked in the driveway with a “My Cat Is a Democrat” bumper sticker and ran her hand through her short hair. In a tie-dye ResQcats shirt, kitty-embroidered shoes, and rainbow paw print forearm tattoo, she was a splash of feline color. “Thank god for hair dye,” she smiled. “Otherwise I’d look like a gray tabby instead of a calico.”
Telson grew up in Dallas and worked in graphic design before she moved west and decided to change careers. “I just wanted to do something to make a difference in the world,” she said. She has helped countless cats improve innumerable people’s lives and remembered a particularly happy example. A 28-year-old woman fighting breast cancer recently adopted two kittens. Months later, Telson received a letter in the mail with a picture of the woman smiling and holding two floppy cats. She credited the pair for her remission. “These kitties do some remarkable things,” said Telson. “Theirs is the purest kind of love.”
At the gentle but persistent urging of friends, Telson has written a book about the story of ResQcats, recounting the individual animals she’s saved and lost and cherishing the life lessons each one provided. With hundreds of copies sold, Cat Tails has already drawn the attention of major animal rescue and literary names. Former Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle called the book “a delightful and detailed history of a wonderful rescue organization.” Author Sue Grafton said Telson’s devotion to abandoned strays, “sometimes ill, sometimes injured, is a testimony to the healing process that accompanies any caring and mutually dependent relationship where humans are so often rewarded in ways far greater than they anticipate.”
Writing Cat Tails was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, Telson said, second only to hiking the Grand Canyon in a day and “getting Mitch to marry me.” He was an invaluable help in the editing process, she said, and has always provided steady support, especially when the going felt too tough. As Telson describes in one of her chapters, she came dangerously close years ago to burning out from compassion fatigue, a condition many caregivers of both animals and people face.
“As a rescue person, you need to learn when to say no,” she said. “It can be hard, but otherwise you slowly take on too much.” Telson said she never blames other shelters for putting cats down. “They only have so much space. That’s why public education [about spaying and neutering] is so important.” Still, ResQcats has chosen to never administer euthanasia, Telson said. Any animals that come to them too old, sick, or feral to be adopted live out their days at the sanctuary. On our tour I met permanent resident Precious, 19 years old and still meowing strong.
ResQcats is supported by donations and grants, and 100 percent of the book’s revenue will go back to the organization, Telson said. Each cat costs around $400 to treat and house, so every dollar helps. On Thursday, July 12, at 7 p.m., Telson will hold a signing at Chaucer’s Books (3321 State St.). She’s excited about the event and for the future of ResQcats. “I’ll be doing this right up until the day I can’t do it anymore,” she said.