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Elizabeth family cares for sick, homeless cats

Their homes were junkyards, trash cans and other wastelands. They were sick, abused or simply left to fend for themselves. Nobody wanted them.

Except Rise Chontos, who founded a nonprofit organization, In Care of Cats, more than 20 years ago.

Based in Elizabeth Township, the organization's mission is to rescue and care for non-adoptable abandoned cats.

Chontos' husband, Leonard, calls himself the "maintenance guy" of the organization and pitches in where needed.

Their daughter, Janine Sudy, tends the cats' wounds and gives them medicine.

The organization is extending its reach. Last month, In Care of Cats stepped in to rescue abandoned cats in nearby West Elizabeth, rather than have the municipality pay an animal control contractor to trap and kill the strays. They have rescued at least 53 cats from West Elizabeth, all for free.

Council President Louise Biddle said the arrangement is working well.

Cats in her sanctuary have illnesses or special needs that render them non-adoptable, Rise Chontos said, but they can still live quality lives.

"Being homeless and sick shouldn't be a death sentence," Sudy said.

Once at the sanctuary, cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and treated for obvious injuries.

Because most cats are frightened when they arrive, they are caged until they can safely be introduced to other cats and larger spaces. Then they're free to roam about the sanctuary, which includes an enclosed outdoor environment.

"Some come from abuse situations," Chontos said. "They may take a long time to learn to live again, trust people, and overcome the physical torment."

The organization provides a sanctuary for up to 100 cats at a time.

"They've become so much of a so-called nuisance in society," Sudy said, "and nobody seems to want to do anything about it, so we decided that's what we're going to do. We're going to help."

Chontos said the work is rewarding because every cat they've picked up would have been killed. At In Care of Cats, they try to do everything they can to make each cat comfortable, but if an animal is suffering, it will be euthanized as a last resort, Chontos said, because ultimately, cats are brought to the shelter to alleviate their suffering.

The work can get them down at times.

"You have to keep trudging forward," Sudy said, "because there's always somebody that needs help."

But the organization can't rescue all cats. Cat owners must be responsible for their pets, Sudy said.

"The owner's lack of responsibility is why they end up in the street," she said, adding that the only way to control the problem is to spay or neuter the cats.

Cat owners cannot take their unwanted pets to In Care of Cats, because it is not an animal shelter. Chontos urges people who can no longer care for their animals to take them to a no-kill shelter.

"We do not recycle unwanted pets, absolutely not," Chontos said. "We rescue street cats and their babies."

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