By SCOTT PESZNECKER
Cats can usually fend for themselves.
Forest Meadows resident Fran Steel knows this. Yet, at the Calaveras County animal shelter in San Andreas, she saw a need to help the felines being housed there.
The Calaveras County Office of Animal Control is always looking for volunteers to help out: people to handle such tasks as grooming animals, walking dogs and cleaning cages.
Steel, 66 and a lifelong animal lover, couldn't look the other way once she started tending to the shelter's cats in November.
"They're all very loving cats," said Steel, who moved to Calaveras County for good almost two years ago after owning property here for 13 years. "I hope they can all find homes."
Steel is one of the shelter's six current volunteers. Five of them are members of the Humane Society of Calaveras County.
"They're doing jobs that have to be done on a daily basis," Animal Control Supervisor Brent Ferguson said. "It's really nice having them here because they free us up for other chores that have to be done."
Retired from a management post with a Santa Clara business, Steel now reports to the the shelter in San Andreas twice a week. She was up bright and early last Friday, donning a pink shirt, matching loop earrings and worn, white tennis shoes, already vacuuming cages and refilling food bowls by 8:15 a.m.
Her work at the shelter features free entertainment, too.
The feline residents are released to roam inside free, one at a time, as she cleans their cages.
"That lets the cats get their exercise," Steel said.
Cats being cats, a laugh or two is guaranteed. On Friday, a tiger-striped cat hanging upside down from the top of the cat cages to tease a penned-up friend suddenly toppled to the floor.
Steel scooped up the feline acrobat and cooed, "what are you doing, sweetheart? That must have hurt!"
Steel, a Canada native, never worked with animals as a career.
She had owned many cats, but other than sending annual dues to the Santa Clara and Calaveras humane societies had never worked with critters other than her own.