By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer
When Eric Schickendantz volunteered to rescue cats abandoned in a Lakemore home in July, he didn't realize what he was getting into.
What was thought to be 40 cats quickly mushroomed to 60 and then to 80 and eventually to 101 as scared animals emerged from beneath beds and the burrows in upholstered furniture.
''It was totally overwhelming,'' said Schickendantz, 62. ''I don't have a shelter. I don't have a group. It's just me.''
Schickendantz has whittled away at the problem, though. Today he has only five of the original 101 cats to place.
He is well accustomed to the rigors that come with animal rescue. He estimated he has saved about 1,000 cats over the past 50 years.
Generally, that has meant trapping them, having them spayed or neutered and releasing them where he found them.
However this summer's rescue in the Summit County village of Lakemore was the most formidable challenge for Schickendantz, an importer of Buddhist, Hindu and African art.
It required six to eight hours a day for about five months — with little light at the end of the proverbial tunnel on any given day, Schickendantz recalled.
It started when he learned from One of a Kind Pet Rescue in Akron that a homeowner had left cats in his two-story house when he was evicted.
Animal rescue organizations were overburdened with their own adoptable pets or unwilling to take in these cats because they were feral, or wild.
Schickendantz worried that animal control would come in and gas the cats to allow a bank to take over the house, so he
took charge. He collected the cats, one by one, and swept mounds of cat refuse from the house.
He worked with One of a Kind on what was arguably the most important task: spaying and neutering the animals so the population would not continue to explode.
As of this week, One of a Kind has spayed or neutered 86 of Schickendantz's cats at a total cost of about $3,500, according to Georjette Thomas, director of organizational advancement for the nonprofit. Cats also received medical treatment and immunizations, depending on their needs.
Schickendantz appealed to the public for donations to fund his work. Well-wishers, the ASPCA and One of a Kind contributed $5,000 to $6,000, he estimated.
Then he had to socialize the cats to human contact.
''I took six to eight of them into my one-car garage at a time and did it slowly and thoroughly,'' he said. ''I was bitten many, many times.''
Slowly, the socialized cats went to animal rescue organizations and to good-hearted animal lovers from as far away as Virginia who heard about the cats' plight via the media and by the extensive e-mails Schickendantz sent out.
Helpful animal lovers kept popping up. This week, an anonymous well-wisher dropped off 20 10-pound bags of cat food on his porch.
That food will help feed the last cats from Schickendantz's Lakemore rescue — 26 feral animals he was unable to socialize. They are living in a shed that he visits regularly with food, water and cat litter. He won't mention the location for fear others will drop off unwanted cats.
Thomas of One of a Kind said it is ''amazing what one person can accomplish when he sets his mind to it. It was an overwhelming project and he managed it well.''
With only five adoptable cats needing homes, he is turning his attention to his newest project: a store of imported masks, jewelry and drawings called Ages Tribal Arts at 194 Myrtle Place that he delayed opening this summer because of the cat rescue.
Call him at 330-864-2879 if you're interested in adopting one of the last cats from the Lakemore rescue.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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