I have lived in my current home in Delaware, Ohio, for seven years. In that time, I have had the pleasure of becoming friends with a neighbor and fellow animal lover, Carla Matthews. I found not only that I liked her immensely, but also that she was an inspiration, because she is a caretaker of a local feral cat colony.
Carla and her best friend, Laurie, have sheltered, fed, rehomed, and spayed/neutered more than two dozen cats in seven years. Through their efforts, the colony is now down to only three adults. I say that is inspiring and something to be proud of, so I sat down with Carla and learned more about her acts of generosity.
Carla was flanked by her adorable Golden Retriever, Rusty, and her cats, Emmy, Sonny, and L.O. I asked Carla how she and Laurie decided to take on the responsibility of this feral colony. She told me that she often saw stray cats at her workplace’s parking lot.
“At one point, however, we were seeing many kittens,” she recalls. “That alone was tragic enough, knowing the fate of most of them. But when we noticed some were wandering around blind because their eyes were so infected, we knew we had to do something.”
I’ve taken care of a feral cat colony in the past and witnessed the same issues.
The current setup, Carla explains, is three siblings, aka the “Big Three.” Lefty and Pancho are gray tabbies, and Willie is all black.
“They have a warm ‘cat house’ (which is actually a large dog house), twice-daily feedings, fresh water, and loving from me and Laurie,” Carla says. The cats are friendly to the women, but “I’m not sure if anyone else is able to pet these cats. It’s not unusual for these cats to dine on leftover steak, pork chops, chicken, or lunchmeat. People often comment about how healthy they look.”
Laurie’s husband, Tim, and their daughters help out as needed, as do Carla’s sister and niece — especially if Laurie and Carla have a Bob Seger concert to go to! As for financing the caregiving, Carla says they mostly pay for things themselves.
“We have had a couple of cash donations, and a few donations of food,” she says. “We recycle aluminum cans and keep that money in a kitty cat fund, but we usually only use it for spays/neuters or if a cat needs vet care.” Because the colony is now so small, the women don’t accept donations. In a generous example of paying it forward, she told me that they once gave some of that money to a woman who adopted one of the stray cats, since she was nice enough to take the cat off the busy street.
Carla adopted Sonny and Emmy from the parking lot, while Laurie has taken in Lottie and Penny. Laurie’s daughters adopted one cat each, and the two have found homes for several other cats. They rescued some kittens, who were taken to the local no-kill Humane Society to be rehomed.
Carla’s goal with her feral colony is to help prevent unwanted litters in our little corner of our world, and for these animals not to suffer in any way. It may not seem like much, but the statistics showing how many kittens can be produced by one unsterilized female cat and her kittens are just staggering. She’s a keen advocate of spay/neuter, pointing out that the local Humane Society has a low-cost spay/neuter clinic and often offers special programs through grants, where people could get their pet spayed/neutered for free. Many, however, do not take advantage of these programs.
“It seems many pets -ÔÇô especially cats for some reason ÔÇô- are seen as disposable. It’s so sad,” she says. “Some people just do not ‘get it’ or care.”
I prompted Carla to share a favorite story about the colony. “Laurie and I have shared laughs and tears through this,” she says. “When we first tried to catch a litter of kittens, we were unprepared for how elusive they could be. We eventually started using a humane animal trap. Once we were trying to trap one cat in particular, but one of the other already spayed cats kept getting in the trap. It was so funny to arrive and see her in there each time, looking a little sheepish.” We laughed together over that mental image.
It was getting late and time for me to leave her cozy home, but I wanted to ask her one more and very important thing: How can others help the feral cat issue in their own communities? Carla gives this advice:
“Assess the situation and make a plan. Read up on trap-neuter-release. Talk to your local humane society or animal shelter and look for a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in your area. If you talk to them in person, explain what you’d like to do, they may be a big help. Get help from friends and neighbors. Someone has to help these animals. One of my favorite quotations, and I won’t get it exactly right nor do I know its source, is this: ‘It is the greatest mistake of all to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can.’ I feel if everyone helps a little, a lot of change can be made.”
I could not have said it better myself.
What about you? Have you ever helped to care for a colony of feral cats or participated in TNR? Do you think you have it in you to do so? Share your stories in the comment section below!
About Angela Lilly: This plus-sized, longtime-vegetarian, tree-hugging dirt-worshiper geeks out over anything Wookiee, keeps a birding life list with glee, and thinks taking look-alike pictures with her cat, Meeko, is totally normal. With her Halloween-obsessed, home-haunter hubby of nearly two decades and their six house cats, she enjoys her world through writing poetry, macro photography, art collecting, and reading naughty, trashy novels.
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