NEW PORT RICHEY — Three weeks ago, RaeAnna Saks and her houseful of rescued cats had a problem.
Saks, 58, who runs the Little Cats Rescue out of her home on Abaco Court, was facing a $500 citation from county code enforcers, who told her that her 95 cats were 45 too many. The county had given her a special exception allowing her to keep 50 cats in her home, up from the normal limit of nine. She had a week to get her numbers down, county zoning administrator Deborah Zampetti told her.
Saks pulled it off, getting a few cats adopted and giving many to friends and volunteers for temporary shelter. When inspectors came to perform a head count June 24, she had 42 cats. She's had 12 cats adopted in the past three weeks.
But she knows it's only a matter of time before her foster caretakers run out of patience and resources, and before county authorities come back.
Zampetti says Saks' case is closed for a year, unless someone complains. Then her inspectors will perform another head count.
The foster homes aren't prepared to keep the cats for that long, Saks said.
"They can't stay in their foster homes forever, but they can't come back here," she said.
Saks' plans to beg her volunteers to keep the cats longer and hope that other cat shelters will take some of hers. A Pinellas shelter has taken five, but the others are either full — it's kitten season — or have a policy of euthanizing cats they can't adopt.
The Little Cat Rescue is a no-kill shelter, and Saks says she refuses to give any of her cats to shelters she knows might euthanize them.
"The only place that will take them is animal control, and they will put them down, and I won't allow it," Saks said. "They'll have to put me down first."
Meanwhile, her nonprofit organization pays the bills for feeding and treating the 42 cats who remain in her house. Saks, who lives off savings and the income from her job as the Little Cats Rescue's chief executive officer, said she doesn't even have the money to fix or replace her broken air-conditioning unit. She and her cats are living in the humid heat.
Saks is pleading for donations she says are needed to keep running the rescue shelter. But even those, like the foster homes, are just temporary stopgaps for a bigger problem: Too many cats, and not enough people willing to adopt them.
She said her cats would be more likely to be adopted if they had a homelike environment where they could meet potential adopters, rather than cages at PetSmart, where she currently holds adoption sessions. So Saks hopes someone will eventually give her a home zoned to hold as many cats as she can rescue.
But for the time being, Saks and her houseful of cats are stuck.
"It's gone from bad to worse," she said. "I just don't even know what to do."