Illinois licensed foster caregiver Gayle Magnuson has built her life around helping animals—right down to the structure of her home. She converted her basement, once her husband’s shop, into a foster sanctuary for the nearly 100 cats and kittens she takes in each year in partnership with her local shelter. She pays out of her own pocket to care for her animals, including the supplies they need and the veterinary costs to spay and neuter and prepare them for adoption.

Magnuson, a 70-year-old retired high school social worker, says she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Even on those mornings where I have to drag myself out of bed, I love doing this. I love these animals,” says Magnuson. “The only word for it is passion. I can’t imagine not helping.”

Magnuson takes cats from her shelter, cares for them in her home, then has them spayed and neutered at local veterinary offices at a low cost in appreciation of her work. She then places the cats into adoptive homes or, if they are community cats, returns them to their outdoor homes.

To be even more of a vital resource for her community, Magnuson specializes in caring for pregnant mother cats and their kittens. She hand-raises “bottle baby” kittens until they are two months old and two pounds—ready for spay or neuter and adoption. It’s a huge relief for her shelter, which lacks the resources to care for young kittens.

“The shelter folks know that if I wasn’t here doing what I’m doing, they’d have 100 more cats each year stuffed into the shelter. They wouldn’t be able to handle that or the vet costs,” she says.

Magnuson also practices Trap-Neuter-Return. She says her Kankakee County community members often don’t have the means to trap or spay and neuter cats, so she steps up to help. When residents call her about community cats, she drives out to trap the cats with her personal humane traps, brings them to her partner veterinarians to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped, then returns them to their outdoor homes.

This dedicated foster caregiver is on a lifesaving mission and doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.

“All it takes is a love for animals and willingness to do it,” Magnuson says. “I’m going to keep doing this as long as I’m physically able. Call it my retirement job.”