By Andrea Camarena

There is a miniature cat town on the outskirts of Exeter and it's a lavish establishment from the hospital to the hotel to the playground. It seems that the cats are running the show at the home of Penny Putnam and she has absolutely no problem with that. Chow, 22, is the reigning king of the castle. The black mixed breed is the oldest resident of Putnam's animal rescue farm and the oddball of the group as well.

Putnam, who dedicates 6,4000 square feet of property to the cats is a former Abyssinian cat breeder. She gave up breeding and showing Abyssinians last summer and now is looking to find permanent homes for the dozens of purebred &#8220Abys” that she cares for at her large estate. She's also trying to save the 1/3 of her cat population that are mixed or strays.

Putnam's home and surrounding property cater to the cats. In the most lavish element of Putnam's property, she has four boarding rooms equipped with the amenities of a miniature Hilton hotel.

Each 10-by-10 foot room includes a television, lounge chair, cat trees, indoor plants, glass doors, a rug, a cat bed and a small dresser full of snacks, food and treats. Each air-conditioned room also has an equally large covered patio area for the outdoor enjoyment of the residing felines.

&#8220The TVs give them company and create a sense of time for them,” Putnam said. &#8220They watch it in Spanish because my workers are Spanish-speakers.”

This is where Putnam keeps her last two studs from her breeding days. The $20,000 cats are kept separate from the others although all of the other cats have been spayed or neutered by now.

Putnam's property also features a cat hospital, which was transformed from a carport. The hospital houses sick or injured cats that must be separated from the others for health and safety reasons. The large room also has a television, a heating and cooling system, kennels and lots of cat trees and toys.

&#8220I now do the cats' vaccinations myself and clip their nails and give them their medication,” Putnam said.

One of the hospital's longtime residents is a Mir Mix whose former owner attempted to drown it by throwing the kitten into the ocean off a dock in Santa Monica, Calif. After spending 10 months a veterinary hospital, a woman brought the cat to Putnam's residence and is now ready for adoption.

The third element of the property is a barn used for feral, stray and new cats. The barn is farthest away from the house and has all of the hospitable elements including a TV, cat trees and toys.

&#8220The feral area is also for scared cats,” Putnam said. &#8220They've gotten so friendly now that they're ready for adoption. They've gotten real friendly.”

The barn's best feature is the outdoor area. The large grassy area is a cat utopia with several safety precautions installed. The fence surrounding the yard is built on top of three feet of concrete to keep animals from digging in or out of the area. Putnam is currently installing wire over the top of the entire area to keep birds and other cats out of the yard. Crates, bowling balls, beds and trees are scattered throughout the yard for the recreation of the cats.

The yard also houses a pet cemetery with around 23 placards marking burial sites.

While the boarding rooms, hospital and feral barn house a large number of animals, many of the purebred Abys and their offspring are kept in Putnam's own house.

Her home has been upgraded for the benefit of the Egyptian-like cats. Ramps line the walls giving the Abys access to the upstairs rooms. Pet doors are installed on nearly every interior door. Putnam even has systems to keep the cats contained in certain portions of the house.

Often, the cats are free to roam through the house but have the option of an enclosed outdoor sanctuary. Formerly a pool area, Putnam transformed the area to keep her purebred Abys safe and comfortable.

&#8220It gives them lots of room and fun stuff to do,” Putnam said.

With so many cats and so many areas to maintain for them, Putnam has two employees that assist her daily in cleaning, feeding and playing with the cats.

Adoption

While Putnam first fell in love with Kittens at age 5 when she traded her Cocker Spaniel for a neighbor's cat, she didn't begin breeding until 1990. She started doing animal rescue in 1996.

Putnam's breeding and show days were a success across the country. She bred two national champions, two regional champions and 40 grand champions over 15 years.

The breeding came to a halt in May of 2005 when a neighborhood cat broke into the outdoor sanctuary and bred with all of the female cats inside. The cat transmitted felines leukemia to many of the female cats killing 12 and breeding infected and mixed kittens.

&#8220I retired from breeding. It caused too much heartache,” Putnam said of the incident.

Now, Putnam focuses solely on rescue and adoption.

Instead of selling purebred cats for upwards of $4,000, she now gives them away for a $100 adoption fee covering the cost of sterilizing and vaccinating the pets.

Putnam is willing to take in more animals but does not allow &#8220dumping.” People surrendering cats to her must be willing to pay for a full physical exam and spay and neutering fees.

Placing animals is also a tedious task for Putnam who requires interviews with adoption candidates.

&#8220I interview them, go to their home,” Putnam said. &#8220I want to know how many other animals and children they have.”

Putnam explains that many Abys think that they are people and must be kept indoors but should have an enclosed outdoor area as well.

&#8220I can show families how to make a safe outdoor area,” Putnam said. &#8220If I feel comfortable with the people and they are going to a wonderful home then it's not that hard to let them go because they're getting something better.”

For more information on adopting a cat, Putnam can be reached at her new shop, Heartland Treasures on Pine Street in Exeter, at 594-4872.

&#8220I'm trying to cut down on taking them in but I will always have cats and I'm certainly not going to throw anyone out. I'll be doing this for another 15 years at least.”

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