St. Michelle of Martinez

Helping people is her vocation. Helping animals sustains her.

Michelle Katzaroff, D.O., an internist at the Center for Primary Care in Green Valley, and her husband share their Martinez home with 10 cats and a German Shepherd, as well as the wildlife that moves across their property with the changing of the seasons. Deer, raccoons, foxes, gophers, wild turkeys and flocks of birds find safety and sustenance at the Katzaroff home.

“Helping animals is so therapeutic,” Dr. Katzaroff says. “It takes a lot of time to care for everyone, but in their individual ways they are taking care of me.”

Study after study shows that caring for animals can improve a person’s emotional and physical well-being. “I think we have a responsibility to help and protect the animals around us,” she says.

She happily keeps the bird feeders full of seed and makes sure running water is always available. And she keeps a watchful eye on them all. “One year we had a group of wild turkeys living in our yard,” she says. “One hen was lame, and the other hens began picking on her. I don’t know how many fights I broke up, but they were determined to drive her out. So I set her aside and fed her, and finally she joined another flock that accepted her, gimpy leg and all.”

Every July the raccoons stop by, enjoy a few cans of cat food and have their babies. “They know me and they follow me around the yard,” she says. “They come right up to the front door and let me know they’ve arrived.”

There’s also “Guy” the gopher, who gets his meals sneaking into the bird feeders and all the injured critters she carefully delivers to a wildlife rescue.

The cats came a few at a time. The couple had not planned to share their home with 10 cats. They set out to adopt two cats from the local shelter. Then a stray came to their door during freezing weather. Another stray arrived in their yard and promptly had kittens. They had the mom spayed and kept one kitten. And so it went. For a while, they seemed to be stray cat magnets and they dutifully took each one to be altered.

“My husband calls me ‘Saint Michelle of Martinez’ after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals,” Dr. Katzaroff adds. “But I couldn’t live any other way.”

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