JOLIET – It’s Saturday morning at Joliet Township Animal Control and Bunga is in the cat room again.
That’s her name. Bunga. It’s on her license plate and her email address. Ask what her real name is and she hesitates before answering, "Pat Mrozek.” Perhaps when she was a special education teacher at Valley View School District, her students called her Ms. Mrozek. But really, it’s been Bunga since she was 15 years old, one of just 100 students in her Plainfield High School class.
When Animal Control is closed, Bunga is there at 8 a.m. for about three hours. Nearly every Saturday, Sunday and holiday for the past two and a half years. Bunga has cleaned out litter and cuddled, brushed and played with felines as she passes out treats, despite having a cat allergy.
“She’s very loving,” JTAC Director Sarah Gimbel said. “She’s donated to have different ones fixed. She brings in food and bleach and supplies and extra canned food as a special weekend treat.”
If there is someone to help her, Bunga is patient with instructions. On a recent Saturday, she gave a Joliet Job Corps student volunteer a new watch – a thank you for being a hard worker. She also gave her a huge dose of self-esteem … and antibiotic cream for a few scratches.
There are rules, for her helpers and for the cats.
“Oh, I will put a cat in time out,” Bunga said.
The good ones get some time to run around the cat room while she cleans their cage, puts in fresh food and water and a fresh towel. If there aren’t other volunteers, Bunga does it alone. Bunga rejoices when her charges are adopted and worries when they are sick.
“The reliability is huge,” Gimbel said. “If she can’t make it, she will call in. She takes care of our cats and kitties like her own.”
For as long as she can remember, Bunga’s life has been full of animals, except for the years she lived in an apartment. She has three cats at home and a dog, a Chihuahua named Shorty.
“People say they’ve never seen cats who love each other like they do,” Bunga said.
A Plainfield native, she’s lived in Joliet most of her life.
“I never married,” Bunga said. “I dedicated my life to teaching.”
Bunga earned five certificates in special education over the years and has her master’s, plus 60 hours. She retired before age 60 because Valley View offered great incentives and her mom was ill. A year later, her mom died.
A friend who volunteered at Animal Control told her about it and that’s how she started. Bunga already felt good about Animal Control because she had adopted several dogs and cats there during the last 30 years. And yes, Bunga also feeds stray cats in her area.
“One is a Norwegian forest cat,” she said. “It won’t come within two feet of me, won’t let me pick it up.” In the worst weather, she added, it sleeps in a doghouse out back.
All of Bunga’s relatives live in Indiana or Florida, so during holidays, Bunga cooks for the cats, a 12-pound turkey at Thanksgiving and a ham at Easter, giving the bone to the biggest dog at the shelter.
One day, Bunga will move to Indiana to care for her older sister. For now, she also volunteers at Cunningham School in Joliet when they need her "for all the extra stuff” and special occasions like Halloween. Other interests including reading, crafts and hanging out with neighbors around her fire pit.
“She’s amazing,” Gimbel said.
Bunga has been allergic to cats for 20 years. Instead of giving up the cats, Bunga chose immunotherapy. At first, the allergy shots were three times a week, then lessened to two, one and then once a month. If a relapse occurs, Bunga gets back in the rotation.
She feels that’s a small price to pay for making life better for countless abandoned creatures.
“I’m not going to give up a cat because of an allergy,” Bunga said.
Joliet Township Animal Control is located at 2807 McDonough St., Joliet. For information about volunteering, call 815-725-0333.