315 Lives

Ellen tries to put Winston, who weighs 25 pounds, into his cage at the Chevy Chase Animal Clinic in Lexington, Ky. Ellen works part time there as a vet technician mostly working with cats doing things such as grooming. “The love from the cats makes me want to do everything I can for them," says Ellen, "It didn’t take me long to find out I had to go back to work to provide for them.”

Ellen Estill, 71, lives in a quaint home in the Mt. Sterling, Ky. city limits. With her 35 cats.

Ellen moved from Houston back to her childhood home of Mt. Sterling nine years ago with nine cats and a long-time dream, a retirement home for cats. She immediately founded Kitty Lodge Inc

Ellen knew when people pass on or can no longer care for their cats, the animals often suffer. Ellen wanted to give such beloved pets a new home where they can live out their lives. She takes cats in free of charge. "Its just something that I've always wanted to do," she says, "I feel like God put on my heart that it was a service that needed to be done." House shopping online, she came across a place she thought would be perfect for what she wanted to do. 

Shortly after beginning Kitty Lodge, Ellen realized she was going to need a greater income than had been immediately apparent in order to provide for the cats. "It's not cheap to have this many cats and take care of them," Ellen says. She received some support and donations from the community but not enough. Ellen went back to work. 

Ellen works part-time at the Chevy Chase Animal Clinic in Lexington, Ky. Her job has allowed her to put down new tile floor in the basement and paint the walls, all for the cats' sake. She is able to feed them healthy cat food and pay their vet bills. Ellen gets up at 5:30 a.m. to prepare for work. With a heart murmur, cardiomyopathy, and a heart valve that doesn't function correctly, she is constantly exhausted. But she feels it's worth it for the cats. 

“When I die," Ellen says, "I want to come back as some crazy nuts cat just like me.”  

Ellen pets Kit-Kat in the backyard at Kitty Lodge. She has a section fenced off just for the cats where they can enjoy the outdoors without the worry of anything getting in. “They’re part of my family, I love every one of them,” says Ellen. 

Ellen assist her colleague, David, at the vet clinic draw blood from a cat. Ellen is one of the only people in the clinic who can wrangle the unruly cats. 

Ellen brings back Wally from a stay at the vet where he had to have a procedure done on his ear. She takes care of each and every cat, getting them the proper care they need in order to live out their lives comfortably. “The cats live out their life with me," she says, "they’re not adopted out”

Ellen sits on her porch with TJ, one of the two cats that live outside. TJ came to Ellen when he wandered up to her house. She provides for him just like any of the other cats. She loves him, provides veterinary care, a warm home and healthy cat food. 

This is Gloves, who Ellen likes to call Gubbies. Gloves had the herpes virus when she came into Ellen's care which is very prominent in stray cats. Ellen got Gloves the proper veterinarian care she needed but the virus caused Gloves to lose her right eye and have scarring in her left eye.  

Ellen sits on the stairs leading to her basement where most of her cats stay. She goes down to visit with them every morning before work making sure their bowls are fun, the area is clean, and everyone is doing well. Caring for all of these cats is tough but this is a labor of love for Ellen. “Most children don’t want to help their parents let alone their animals and that’s why I do this,” says Ellen, “Just like if I died, I would want someone to take care of my animals.”.

Ellen plays with the youngest cat she has in her home right now who she calls Wild Man. He was found sick and injured in the road. Ellen took him in, got him veterinarian care, nursed him back to health, and has found a new home for the eight-week-old kitten. “I know they love me," she says "though they drive me nuts sometimes.”

Ellen kisses Bush Baby, the only one of her 35 cats that is allowed both upstairs and downstairs in her home. "I found him under a bush when he was a kitten," she says. "He's a pretty good boy." 

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