Cats fortunate enough to get a temporary home at the Humane Society of Tuolumne County have an adoring fan and loving caretaker in Kay Schafft.

Schafft manages the shelter cattery. It is her job to make sure cats and kittens brought to the shelter are vaccinated, spayed or neutered, fed, and that they always have clean cages and play areas.

But while the cats are fortunate, Schafft is the grateful one. Working at the shelter with the cats has brought joy back to her life something she thought she had lost forever six years ago.

Schafft said she has always liked cats. But it was her daughter, April, who loved cats, especially her own, which she called Kittymew. Kittymew disappeared on Nov. 5, 1997, two days after April was killed in an automobile accident on Jamestown Road along with two of her friends.

The tragic accident wracked the Schafft family and left a void in their hearts.

"When you lose a child, you lose some of your joy, and you think you are not going to get it back," Schafft said. "Being here has helped me through the grieving process helped me to go on. And the cats have given me back some of that joy."

Humane Society Shelter Manager Julie Sardella said several people, including herself, have found themselves gravitating to the animal shelter after losses such as Schafft's.

"I've seen a lot of people come here for healing," Sardella said. "The animals are a comfort, and you feel good about yourself when you leave at the end of the day."

Sardella called Schafft the most perfect employee she has ever had, because she puts her heart into her job. Her cats are more than just charges, they are individual furballs of personality.

And Schafft names each cat according to that unique personality.

Curly is a rascal, Rainbow is playful. Flower is beautiful and Vivian is a love. Lotty is lucky because she was found in a garage with a passel of kittens and surely would have died from the urinary infection she had. But like an unsuspecting lottery winner, Lotty got lucky and was rescued.