TAMPA — A svelte human might be able to squeeze up the spiral staircase between screened-in porches at 2215 S. Occident St. But good luck getting through the narrow door at the top.
This staircase and doorway were built for cats.
Seven Persian cats were supposed to live in the house, financed by a trust fund, until they died. Or at least that is what was stipulated in the will of their wealthy owner, Nancy Sauer. From when she died at 84 in November through May, the cats stayed, visited and fed by caretakers.
When a probate judge decided that was not in the best interest of the animals, the cats were put up for adoption in June. The Humane Society of Tampa Bay was overwhelmed with emails and calls when media from around the world followed the reporting of the Tampa Bay Times that each cat came with an inheritance.
Today, Sauer’s South Tampa residence is about to be sold, the cats have adjusted to new homes, and the Humane Society gets updates on the trust fund kitties, from one that lives on a farm to another that has its own Instagram page.
“The cats are perfectly happy,” said Sherry Silk, executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
The woman who loved them
Friends described Sauer as a collector, which was evident by the 50 Dale Tiffany floor and table lamps at an estate sale after she died.
“Shopping was her problem,” friend Yana Alban previously told the Times. “She couldn’t buy just one.”
Cats became her great loves after the death of her husband in 1986 and her son in 1999.
Wanting to ensure her cats — Cleopatra, Goldfinger, Leo, Midnight, Napoleon, Snowball and Squeaky — stayed together after she died, Sauer set up a trust fund with an undisclosed amount of money to pay for the house bills, food, grooming, veterinarian expenses and a caretaker. The house was not to go on sale until all the cats died.
But a Hillsborough County probate judge decided that, while the Persians could keep the inheritance, it was best if they found new homes with the help of the Humane Society.
An unpopular decision
Plenty of people are angry that Sauer’s final wish was not granted and that the Persians were not adopted as a group, Silk said.
But the facts support the decision, she said. The cats were not roaming the 4,000-square-foot mansion and living in luxury.
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“We were in the house the first week of May,” Silk said. “We were told by the caretakers that they had been in the crates for at least six or seven months prior to that. One of her veterinarians informed us that the cats did not like each other and often fought and presented with scabs and wounds from fighting.”
She believes the fighting is why the cats were in crates but does not know for certain. Once taken to the Humane Society, where they lived together in a room, they largely kept to themselves.
“They had little interaction,” said Humane Society volunteer Pam Bremmer, who adopted Napoleon. “They were very independent of each other … like they were never close.”
Who gets the cat nip?
When the story of the wealthy cats went international, Silk said people didn’t understand the situation. “Some misread how it worked. They thought that they would get an inheritance if they adopted the cats.”
The money is for the cats only and accepted expenses are for food, grooming, toys and veterinary bills. The Humane Society oversees the funds and their new owners submit receipts and are reimbursed within 30 days.
“Copies of these transactions are sent to the judge quarterly … to make sure that everyone is being reimbursed,” Silk said. “There is a lot of oversight.”
Finding purr-fect homes
More than 150 people initially reached out for information on adopting the cats.
“I had a lady from Spain who emailed me for over a week,” Silk said. “She offered to send a plane to pick them all up.”
About half that many filled out applications after Silk explained how the trust fund worked.
“A lot of people just wanted money,” Silk said. “We weeded them out.”
Silk preferred applicants who previously owned Persians or other long-haired cats because that meant they had grooming experience. And they favored those who owned a house.
“An apartment means they might be moving from place to place at a later time,” Silk said. “I wanted stability.”
Applications were cut down to around 25, and Silk then called each as part of a vetting process that included a veterinarian reference.
“They were thorough,” said Nicholas Shokes, who adopted Cleopatra. “It was like a job interview.”
How are the cats doing?
Sauer’s three-bedroom, two-bathroom South Tampa home with a 1,000-square-foot mother-in-law suite is under contract for $2.75 million and the sale should be closed “in a few weeks,” real estate agent Nick Buchanan said. Proceeds will be split between the University of Tampa and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
The cats are living all around Tampa Bay.
Four of the new owners spoke to the Times. Silk said the other three cats are fine. “We check in,” she said.
Goldfinger is living with Kam Hearing and nine other rescue cats.
“I’m the crazy cat lady,” joked Hearing, who began volunteering at the Humane Society after seeing the seven Persians there during a visit in May, before they were up for adoption. “I wanted to spend time with them because I fell in love with their smooshy faces.”
Cleopatra resides on Shokes’ farm along with goats and horses but stays inside, where she is becoming a bit of a model. Shokes’ 10-year-old daughter, Olivia, started an Instagram page for Cleopatra — @cleo_kitty_of_tampa_bay. It has over 80 pictures and more than 900 followers.
Napoleon enjoys spending time on Bremmer’s screened-in back porch with another adopted cat.
“There’s lots of birds and lizards and squirrels and he is fascinated by all that,” Bremmer said. “I have a bird feeder that he stares at endlessly and waits for birds to appear.”
Midnight moved in with Ashlin Spicer and her other Persian, Prince.
“Midnight is so sweet and just roams the house and sleeps next to Prince or cuddles with me in bed,” Spicer said. “He has my heart.”