Story by Charlotte West
Photos by Charlotte West and Justin Horton
The gray cloth wall of the camp tent rustles as furry paws bat at it. As Addie Jacques bends down to unzip the tent flap, small fluffy faces appear as several tiny kittens clamor to escape. “Here’s Hank,” Jacques says, while the wobbly kittens scurry around the edge of the tent’s exterior. “And here comes BonBon. These are the babies.”
A car pulls in the long dirt driveway, and the kittens are scooped up and counted.
Jacques and her husband “D” have been camping with their 40-plus rescue cats and a dog named Moo since their Boulder Creek home was evacuated due to the CZU Lighting Complex Fire in the San Lorenzo Valley more than two weeks ago.
“We got the notice that we should probably evacuate,” Jacques says. “We were getting ready to collect the cats and then they cut the power. And you can’t find cats in the dark; it’s just impossible.”
Their home wasn’t in immediate danger, so they waited until the next morning when they found their plans for relocation had fallen through. “We went into panic mode and we just started texting people, calling people, anyone we could think of that had someplace for us to go,” Jacques says.
Someone pointed her to a Facebook group where Santa Cruz resident Fae Gershenson had invited evacuees from the fire to stay on her property in Happy Valley.
Jacques said she didn’t know Gershenson at all prior to the evacuation: “I explained ‘We’re a rescue, we’re gonna have cats. But we’re in tents.’ She said, ‘Come on up.’”
When they evacuated, Jacques grabbed the two large gray tents she had purchased for the adoption fairs that her rescue operation, Kitten Cattitude, regularly held outside the Roadside Cafe in Boulder Creek prior to the pandemic.
“They were still brand new in the boxes,” Jacques says. “I hadn’t even set them up.”
She wasn’t sure that the tents would be suitable as temporary cat housing, but it has worked out. “We started to pack and we left with just what we had on,” Jacques says. “Our priority was the cats. We could buy clothes and stuff for ourselves. So we packed everybody in the cars, and got up here. The cats were very unhappy because they were in the car. We set up the tents, got everybody in. And we’ve been here ever since.”
They’ve moved a few cats who “were not as happy to camp” to secure foster homes, but most of the cats seem content to lounge on camping cots and take in the natural surroundings through the screen windows of the two tents. Some of the older cats get annoyed and hissing ensues when they are trampled by rambunctious kittens, but everyone generally gets along.
One of the tent occupants is a black and white kitty who is best friends with Moo the dog. “She just loves the dog,” Jacques says. “She’ll rub the dog, they’ll sleep together and they wrestle so we call her Cat Dog.”
Gershenson has also opened up their farm to other evacuees, including a family that had ducks and a chicken. She said that playing with the kittens before bed every night is the highlight of her daughter’s day.
Jacques and her husband have been fostering rescue cats for more than 12 years, and Kitten Cattitude has been a registered 501c3 non-profit for the last five years. They specialize in special needs cats and have an incubator for just-born kittens that need to be bottle fed. “We have a lot of one-eyed kids,” she says.
Jacques said that there are very few special needs cat rescues in California and those that do exist are often at capacity.
When they’re not evacuated, the cats have the run of the second floor of their 1,200 square foot Boulder Creek home. “Basically the whole upstairs is theirs,” Jacques says.
They do adopt out some of their cats, though adoptions are on hold for the moment due to the difficulty of doing home visits during the pandemic. Some special-needs kitties like orange tabby Spencer and tuxedo cat Tristan are in permanent sanctuary with Cattitude.
Jacques says it’s been strange having to be the ones asking for help. “It’s weird for us to be on the other end of it,” she says.
Jacques was at a laundromat washing the same pair of jeans for the fifth time when a woman overheard she was from Boulder Creek, went out to her car and brought in some clothes she thought might fit. “We’ve been very blessed,” she says.
Jacques doesn’t know how much longer it will be before they can return home to Boulder Creek, but they are content for the moment. “This is what we do,” she says. “We evacuate with cats.”
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