Deb Burnes does not go out much these days. It is not that she is shy and retiring, far from it, but she has a lot of mouths to feed and many vulnerable lives depending on her expert care.
The former Mt Druitt teacher is an animal activist, devoted foster carer and is now studying animal welfare, cat psychology and behaviour. Her fur family include those on special diets, ones needing antibiotics and others on night feeds because they are only a few weeks old.
Every single one of them, however, is given 24/7 love and care.
More Lithgow in-depth stories:
"I have 30 cats at the moment, that's six adults and teens and 24 kittens plus my own four cats which includes a Norwegian Forest Cat called Boo Boo Kitty, who has his own bedroom, and two dogs," Deb says.
Most people would have trouble remembering all the cats, but Deb has created a clever litter naming convention. For example, the gemstone cats include Topaz, Amber, Sapphire and Opal, the black cats Pitch and Midnight, the kit-kats Carmello, Twix and Malteser, the Captain Hook cats Peter Pan and Tinkerbell and the coffee cats Mocha, Latte and Cappuccino.
Deb has been caring for animals for years. Originally, she began alone but the costs of vaccinations, desexing, food, litter and the non-stop sundry veterinary bills meant she just could only continue caring if she joined an agency to have costs subsidised. As a cancer survivor with lupus, the disability pension can stretch only so far.
"My housemate Ruth was dealing with Jo from Lithgow's Hearts for Animals. She interviewed me and then we started fostering for them," Deb says. "Later, we moved across to Domestic Animal Birth control society (DABs) because it's a bigger organisation but it's still a not-for-profit organisation and struggling to get funds.
"They help out as much as they can, so I do get food and other costs back monthly, but I don't claim all my receipts such as flea and worming products, cotton pads and swabs as there just isn't enough money to go round."
The need for kitty litter is also never-ending because all Deb's cats are kept indoors.
"It keeps them safe from harm and disease, it's safer for wildlife too," Deb says.
She is, however, about to build an enclosed garden, 'catio,' to ensure they have outdoor playtime and fresh air in a safe environment.
As well as financial support, Deb also relies desperately on volunteer help.
"I have some friends who came in and gave me a hand a few months ago when I had surgery. They helped me clean the kitty litter trays. My next neighbour Em is brilliant. She's here most afternoons and, if Ruth's not home, she'll come in and help me with night feeds."
When prospective owners have filled out the relevant paperwork, Deb then interviews them before handing over her cats.
"They have to be the right families, if they come to my house and it doesn't feel right, then I don't let the cats go. Some of my cats need to go to a home with no children, or perhaps just a single person or couple. I know exactly what they need and some need to be housed with another cat for company."
New owners pay $200 and, in return, their cat is desexed, microchipped, vaccinated, is parasite free and wormed. If, on the off chance, the placement does not work out, Deb will gladly take the cat back. Her gut instinct seems to be working because, on average only about one in 20 cats a year come back for being the wrong fit.
Deb admits caring for so many homeless cats is a constant struggle and leaves her little spare time. Being a foster cat carer is a big responsibility, but she has no plans of stopping any time soon.
"I love animals. They have a right to be heard, to have a voice and they need to go to good homes, homes that are caring and loving. The only way to do that is to get involved.
"Volunteers get trained and they have to be willing to get their hands dirty and do things properly," Deb insists. "I don't want a half-cleaned kitty litter tray or the wrong cat fed the wrong food or given the wrong medication."
Deb currently has two cats classified as, "duty of care." They are the ones she worries about most, especially when it comes time for them to be rehoused.
"One of them, Jubilee, is 13 months old and has IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). She also has a personality problem where she will only bond with me and it's been like that since the day she met me," Deb explains. "I have another cat called Clancy who's like an uncle to the kittens. He loves cuddling them and helps them socialise but he's borderline about whether he can be rehomed as he only wants attention from humans when it's feed time."
Despite Deb's best efforts, not all her cats get to use live their nine lives.
"For example, Rocky and Tiny came to me soaking wet at one week old and just didn't stand a chance," Deb says. "We are also knocking back new kittens at the moment because we just have nowhere to put them."
In Deb's ideal world, there would be plenty of dedicated volunteers, ample food and donations while all cats would go to good homes. The opposite is often true. Despite the hard work, the cost, round the clock commitment and even the uncertainty about her duty of care cat futures, Deb is very clear on one thing.
"All the cats who come to me, or leave and come back, will always have a home until the day I die."