Unsung Heroes: Cats Get a Chance at 10th Life

Berka and Jim Smock offer a haven for cats no one else wants, operating a shelter out of their home in Central California.

By Arden Moore | Posted: Tue May 1 00:00:00 PDT 2001

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Berka waves her hand, begging off further talk about the past or herself. "Come, let's go see our cats."

Most of the cats live inside spacious wired enclosures with covered ceilings to protect against rain. They enjoy amenities guaranteed to satisfy the most finicky feline: comfy cat beds, floor-to-ceiling scratching posts and lookout perches, cat toys, a radio tuned into Spanish language and Big Band music stations and a nonstop supply of fresh food, water and litterboxes. All of the cats have been spayed or neutered and wear identification tags.

They answer to names like Cooney, Worry Wart, One-Eyed Jack and Tripod. One rescue came in as Edmond but quickly became Edwina when the Smocks discovered he was a she.

A handful of cats requiring intensive care reside in what was the Smock's living room. In place of the customary sofa, chairs, tables, television and stereo are large cages, dangling IVs and baby cribs housing cats with diabetes or major brain trauma injuries that leave them unable to balance, groom or feed themselves.

"Ah, here's my Hercules," Berka coos, as she scoops up a cat inside a baby crib. The blind cat with a white and brown masked face suffers from a brain defect. Twice a day, Berka wraps him inside a towel and feeds him fortified food using an eyedropper.

"Hercules can't balance himself that's why I keep him inside this crib," Berka says. "But he wants to live. He's been here with us two years."

Jim Smock, a lanky North Dakota native, pokes his head inside. "Want to see a cat and a half?"

He guides a visitor over a Jezebel, a 16-pound, fluffy Maine Coon, in the midst of enjoying a bath courtesy of Quincy. "How's my Jezebel?" asks Jim as he gives him friendly scratches on his back. "You know, we've blown most of our money on these cats, but I don't regret a single minute."

Prudence, a bony patch of fur, approaches. Born with a severe bowel condition that prevents her from maintaining a healthy weight or properly grooming herself, she has defied the odds by living 11 years at the 10th Life haven. "Prudence takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'," says Berka, gently scooping her up into her arms. "This cat must have 20 lives. Come on, Prudence, you know the drill it's bath time."

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