WEST RICHLAND -- A family that has welcomed thousands of children to its home-grown petting zoo through the years now needs help finding new homes for their cats.
Dan and Ruby Barnett once kept rabbits, pigs, goats and even snakes on their property in West Richland. From the late '70s through the '80s, the "Touch-Me Farm," as it was called, was open to anyone wanting to meet the critters.
Every year, more than 2,000 children and their parents took them up on the offer, Dan Barnett said this week.
The star of the show was George, an enormous pig.
"Kids would hand feed him," Barnett said. "He was such a gentle pig."
But the couple had to scale down the farm after Ruby Barnett's health began to deteriorate a couple of decades ago.
One day, 16 years ago, Dan Barnett went to town for some errands. As he got back in his truck after a stop, a cat jumped out of the side window.
"I'd seen that cat by the house, and she'd looked pregnant," he said. "But now she was skinny."
Sure enough, Barnett found three little kittens under the back seat. The feral mom had crawled in the truck overnight to give birth.
He nursed Leo, Cuddles and Gremmy with a bottle. They're still at the house. So are more than 25 other cats that turned up injured or homeless through the years. There are bundles of cats napping on just about every surface in the house.
But the Barnetts have to find new homes for them now because Ruby's health has taken another turn for the worse.
She was diagnosed with cancer last year. After treatments in the spring, doctors said she was cancer-free. But last month, the cancer returned and Barnett had surgery Tuesday.
She won't be able to go back to the farm.
"I'll be in the hospital for 10 days, and then in a nursing home," Ruby Barnett said.
Now most of their cats are up for adoption.
"We hate to get rid of them," Dan Barnett said. "But with my wife's sickness, we really can't afford them anymore."
Each animal is spayed or neutered, and healthy, he said. The cats range in age from kitten to senior.
The Barnetts won't ask for an adoption fee, but will keep the name and contact information of each adopter on record. They would prefer that people adopt two cats at a time, because the animals are used to feline company.
They will take cats back if things don't work out.
"If they get a cat and don't like it -- don't dump it, bring it back to us," Dan Barnett said.
And no, you can't have Leo, Cuddles or Gremmy. They hope to be able to keep caring for them.
If you'd like to adopt one or more of the cats, call Dan Barnett at 509-497-7068.