More than two dozen cats have been rescued for the second time after being without food or water for nearly a month. The animals were being cared for at the Cat Adoption Center in Broken Arrow. The woman running the cat rescue died several weeks ago, but her body was just discovered.
About 20 of the cats didn't make it, due to malnourishment and dehydration, but nearly 30 did survive and they're at the Humane Society being nursed back to health.
One by one, cats are loaded into carriers and rushed outside to a triage center to get the medical attention they so desperately need.
Humane Society of Tulsa President, Gina Gardner, said, "Some of their little bodies are just shutting down."
The condition of the cats, volunteers say, is in no way a testament to how the animals were cared for by Merlene Stuerzer, founder of the Cat Adoption Center.
"Oh, she loved them, they all knew. She would walk in the door and they'd all come running," said Cat Adoption Center volunteer, Annette Capps.
"Cat Adoption Center and Merlene have been a staple in the rescue community for decades," Gardner said. "She's somebody we always referred people to. She had a stellar reputation for the care she gave the cats."
Stuerzer opened the adoption center in 1980. Those who knew her best said caring for those animals was her life's works. So much so, she lived next door to the trailer were the cats were housed.
Cat Adoption Center volunteer, Karen Watkins, said, "She would leave in the middle of the night to find cats that no one else would take, I saw it many times, I'd say, ‘Merlene, you don't have room,' and she'd say, ‘You know what? We'll make one more cage.'"
In the past several years, volunteers say the 72 year old was running the operation on her own for the most part, and would call in for help when she needed it.
But when no one had heard from Stuerzer for a few weeks, the Wagoner County Sheriff's Office was called, and her body was discovered in the same trailer where her beloved cats were kept.
Now, the humane society is stepping in where Stuerzer left off.
"She said, ‘I don't want anything to happen to my cats,' so this just an answer to prayer for us," Watkins said.
Making sure the surviving cats get the care they need, while giving Stuerzer her final wish.
Volunteers said a water line break is being credited for keeping many of those cats alive. Because of that, they said cats were able to get some water from leaky faucets.
"Fortunately it left a little water dripping and some of the animals were able to get in the sink and get some water. Some of the animals were able to find some in the bathtub," Capps said.
Friends of Stuerzer say she died of natural causes.
The Humane Society said all of the cats rescued are expected to survive, and many will be ready to adopt Tuesday. And if you'd like to help in other ways, like donating, kitty litter is an item they'll be using a lot of for the next few weeks.