Chris McChesney spends the first hour of her day cleaning litter boxes, filling feeders and doling out water before breakfast and coffee. Then she does what needs to be done.

"If there's housework that needs to be done I do it," she says. "If it's a day of rest I go shopping or something — grocery shopping."

McChesney relives her morning routine, cleaning up after, feeding and watering 54 felines, before turning in at night.

McChesney and her husband Hal founded For All Time Cat Haven in 2001. The nonprofit provided sanctuary, a retirement home and adoption services to up to 100 cats at a time. Six months after losing her husband to heart failure, McChesney, who just turned 70, has been caring for them on her own.

The youngest are 9 weeks old, but most are seniors or disabled, she said. None now are up for adoption.

"They literally saved my life after my husband died," McChesney said, adding that her latest additions came from a colony in Los Angeles just before Hal McChesney passed. "Even now, no matter how I feel or how depressed I might be I have to get up. I have to clean their boxes. I have to give them food and water."

McChesney began working with cats when she left home for the first time. She had owned property in the Siskiyou County community of Montague, caring for about 50 cats with her first husband who also died of heart failure before McChesney came to Crescent City.

About 27 years ago, McChesney met her second husband Hal and cared for the Humane Society of Del Norte, fostering mommas and bottle feeding babies. After starting on Pacific Avenue, Chris and Hal McChesney moved to the sanctuary's current home on Genevieve Lane.

Even though dozens of cats frolic in her living room, lounge on the bed or stalk her backyard, McChesney has a name for each of them.

There's Sunshine, a ginger and white girl who has a Persian's turned up nose and billowy tail coupled with a rabbit's big feet.

Lando the orange tabby came from Orlando, Florida. McChesney said even though he's microchipped, they couldn't find his owners.

Spunky, a long-haired brown and white tabby, was treated at 6 weeks old for urethra problems, but still has trouble with incontinence. McChesney said people wanted to adopt him until they found out about his health problems.

"He can't completely empty his bladder," she said. "Nobody's going to put up with that so I do. I love him."

Sammy is another cat with health problems. Diagnosed with lymphoma, McChesney said there's not much she can do except surgery and chemotherapy.

"I'm not going to put him through all of that," she said. "I'm just going to let him live out his life."

Alissa, Angel, Romeo, Bitsy and Rosie are just a few of McChesney's LA cats. Many that wound up at her house from Southern California are feral, crouching under ferns or among tall grass to avoid being seen.

Still more are housed in little kitty cabins. McChesney said her husband also constructed a trough with an automatic watering system.

At the back of McChesney's property is a memorial garden with a stepping stone bearing the name and age of each cat buried there. Two puppies are buried in the memorial garden. The daylilies are just starting to bloom, and McChesney said her project this summer will be to repaint the stepping stones.

It's also Hal's final resting place.

"My husband said he wanted his ashes scattered in the memorial garden with the cats," she said. "I did that a few weeks ago and my friend and I decided it'd be nice to have an arbor there."

When asked what she needs, McChesney said volunteers and donations.

"I really don't need any more cats," she said. "And I'm afraid this article's going to give me more cats."

For more information about F.A.T. Cat Haven, visit https://fatcathaven.org or www.facebook.com/fatcathaven/ .

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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