When Loma Kenner moved to downstate Cairo in 1996, she was not looking for a quieter place or a more affordable house.
She just needed a place for her cats.
She had more than 25 at the time, when she was living in Sacramento, California. But then the city passed an ordinance prohibiting residents from owning more than four domestic animals.
“It was easier to move rather than [to] lose her cats,” said Claire Kenner, Loma Kenner’s brother. “That’s the only reason she moved to Cairo.”
Kenner, 65, was killed in late March in a car accident in Missouri. After she died, a network of southern Illinois animal shelters spread the word about the 33 cats she left and embarked on a mission to rescue them.
Since the Chicago Sun-Times told her story last month, some of the cats have been adopted, but more than half of them are still looking for homes.
Wright-Way Rescue, in Morton Grove, took in seven cats, and two have been adopted. The rest of the shelters taking cats were closer to Cairo. Finding Forever, in Marion took the most — 11 — and has found a home for only one cat.
Both shelters said one reason so many still need homes is that most of them are older cats, and people are more inclined to adopt kittens. But both shelters are no-kill facilities and will keep the cats as long as it takes for them to find new owners.
“A lot of times, if people come in to our cat room they will fall in love with an adult” or senior cat, said Christy Anderson, founder and executive director of Wright-Way Rescue. The cats “just need somebody that is willing to give them a chance to change their world.”
Besides Finding Forever, the other groups from the area helping out were Project Hope Humane Society in Metropolis; the Angelina Foundation for Animal Welfare in Alto Pass; Herrin Animal Control; and St. Francis CARE Animal Shelter in Murphysboro.
Throughout her lifetime, Loma Kenner owned between 150 to 200 cats. Those who died were buried against the back fence in her backyard, where she would have stones marking their graves, Claire Kenner said.
She also spoiled her cats with dried biscuits, chicken, turkey and canned food.
“They weren’t neglected,” Claire Kenner said. “Those cats ate better than some people.”
He said his sister’s love for animals — cats in particular — began when their family lived on the Azores Islands in Portugal, where their father was stationed at an air base for two years. That’s where she rescued her first cat.
“That kind of evolved into a bigger thing,” said Kenner, 73. “These [cats] were her substitute children. They were her everything.”
Claire Kenner recalled that all the cats would sleep around his sister on her bed. Litterboxes filled one room of the two-story home. And she spent hundreds to build a fence around the house to protect her cats from her neighbors’ pets.
He said his sister was not a fan of people, but when it came to animals in need, she was loyal — like a mother with her children.
Her brother, who was unable to take care of the 33 cats and now lives in a shelter in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, appreciates the effort of nonprofit organizations that are still looking for new owners for most of the cats.
Loma Kenner kept meticulous journal entries detailing each cat’s personality and behavior, along with well-organized medical records for each one.
She occasionally updated her journal entries and medical records during her spare time, not only to keep all of her cats’ personalities and medical history straight in her head, but also to jot down special events like a cat pregnancy or death.
“This woman truly cared about these animals,” Anderson said. “To find those [journal entries and medical records] was really heartbreaking. It made you realize that these cats were her life.”