A house brimming with cats and a heart overflowing with compassion led a member of a beloved quartet to establish a charitable foundation serving animals and people in need.

Joe Bonsall, tenor for the Oak Ridge Boys since 1973, along with his wife, Mary, established the Joseph S. and Mary Ann Bonsall Foundation to support animal-related causes.

Bonsall said his family had dogs while he was growing up in Philadelphia, Pa. For the past 15 years, he’s kept donkeys named Blondie and Truffles at his 400-acre farm in Macon County, Tenn. However, it was when a big orange cat named Pumpkin entered the Bonsalls’ lives in 1982 that pet ownership became a passion. Soon, Omaha, Molly, and Gypsy joined Pumpkin.

“We so enjoyed watching and relating to them,” Bonsall said, recalling how the cats inspired him to write Molly, The Home, Outside, and Brewster, a series of children’s books starring his own cats and capturing their distinctive, even human-like qualities. “Cats are like people. Every cat is different, so I gave them their own language, their own personality, and their own storyline.”

The money from these books, which are still available for purchase, was used to start the foundation, which is funded primarily by the couple’s personal contributions as well as through donations from friends, family members, and fans. Bonsall said that 100 percent of every donation goes directly to charities, and that no administrative fees or salaries are paid.

“The foundation has provided funds for animal shelters and rescue centers,” Bonsall said, adding that education about pet ownership and care of animals is another area of focus. “Adopting a pet is a lifelong commitment, and it’s important that owners act responsibly and have their animals spayed and neutered, take them to the vet, and care for them. They are a part of your family, and they add to your home.”

Bonsall said the foundation also provides direct assistance when needed. Recently, a donation was made to Walden’s Puddle in Sumner County, Tenn., after a fire killed dozens of rescued animals and devastated a portion of the nonprofit’s facility. Other recipients of foundation assistance include the Freedom Farm Animal Sanctuary and the Sumner County Human Society.

A dedicated writer, Bonsall’s popular “Molly” books are not his only literary contributions. He has had nine books published. In 2003, he released a biographical book, G.I. Joe and Lillie: Remembering a Life of Love and Loyalty, about his parents, who met during their service in World War II.

“The book still sells,” he said. “It’s touched a lot of people’s lives because so many people relate to that period of history.”

An accomplished songwriter, he wrote the title song for the Oak’s The Journey album, as well as the text for the Oaks’ 2004 coffee table book, An American Journey. Also in 2004, he published a children’s Christmas book, An Inconvenient Christmas. A collection of commentaries, stories, and other writings, From My Perspective, was released in 2010.

He is currently writing a new book for release in 2015 that offers an inside look at the career of the Oak Ridge Boys, who continue to perform 150 or more engagements annually and have sold some 41 million albums in their four decades together. In April, the Boys released their first-ever live album, “Boys Night Out,” in three formats: CD, vinyl, and digital download. The talents of Bonsall and each of the other quartet members, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban, are collectively and individually showcased in the 14 cuts chosen from more than 60 recordings of several live performances.

The original Oak Ridge Boys began as a gospel quartet during World War II, and throughout the years, sacred music has remained important, with religious songs performed alongside pop and country. In 2012, the Oaks recorded “Back Home Again,” an album of gospel favorites for the Gaither Gospel Series. Bonsall said they have been invited by Bill Gaither to record a new album of hymns this fall, which should be released in early 2015.

Busy as he is with writing, performing, and recording, Bonsall is never too busy to appreciate his daughters and grandchildren and to savor the life and home he shares with Mary and their seven felines.

“I love having cats around,” he confessed, laughing, “They are like beautiful pieces of artwork that have the capacity to throw up on your computer.”

This article was originally published in Country Reunion Magazine in August 2014. The exclusive interview and this article are by Claudia Johnson.