Helping the 'Lucky Cats'
One of Kinston’s feral cats — lovingly nicknamed ‘Notorious BIG’ by volunteers — waits for his dinner on Sunday from Lucky Cats of Kinston volunteers. Photo by Linda Whittington / Neuse News
Janell Bullock and Lori Cahoon greeted each other in the Grainger Stadium parking lot Sunday afternoon. Bullock, the assistant general manager for the Down East Wood Ducks, and Cahoon, a part-time DEWD employee and unofficial Kinston baseball ambassador, had just finished working the game in which the Woodies clinched the Carolina League Southern Division first-half championship.
While there were still players and officials celebrating in the team’s offices, Cahoon spread more than a dozen pans on the ground behind Bullock’s SUV. When Bullock made her way out of the office, the two filled the pans with dry cat food before mixing in cans of wet food.
DEWD pitcher Jason Bahr’s parents and girlfriend — Steve and Terri Bahr, and Leah Gomez, respectively, all of Orlando, Fla. — watched and asked questions of Bullock and Cahoon while they waited for their son.
Bullock explained why they were mixing the wet and dry food.
“The cats love the wet food, so we mix it together so they’ll eat all of it,” Bullock said with a laugh.
The two are volunteers for the Lucky Cats of Kinston nonprofit organization, which feeds and sterilizes feral cats throughout the city. Bullock and Cahoon meet every Sunday for their weekly turn at helping control the feral cat population in Kinston.
HOW IT WORKS
The system is elegant in its simplicity — sets of volunteers take the trays of food to six cat “colonies” throughout Kinston daily, replacing the trays from the previous day and refilling water bowls.
The weekly trek takes about an hour to 90 minutes for Bullock and Cahoon to complete. They visit with and talk to the cats — many have nicknames from the other volunteers — and keep a census of which felines look healthy or unhealthy.
The volunteers also determine which cats are ready to be spayed or neutered. They safely trap the cats and take them to a local veterinarian where they’re spayed or neutered and given a rabies vaccine and other shots. The cats are then taken to a local barn to spend the night for observation and returned to their original environment the next morning.
Bullock said a female cat can have — on average — a mind-boggling 649 kittens in her lifetime. The most tangible difference of the project is this: since starting the Lucky Cats project in August, Bullock and Cahoon said they’ve only seen one litter of four kittens born in the colonies.
“Spaying one cat makes a big difference,” Bullock said.
When the cats undergo the sterilization procedure, the veterinarian also clips the end of one of the cat’s ears so volunteers can easily spot which animals have been spayed or neutered.
“If you see one of their ears tipped, you know it’s one of our feral cats that belong to a colony,” Cahoon said. “Our goal is that the population will go down and we won’t have to do this any longer.”
As of Monday morning, 264 feral cats had been spayed or neutered since the project started in August.
“I live, eat and breathe it every day but I still can’t believe we’ve helped that many,” Lucky Cats of Kinston Director Kim Williams said in a phone interview Monday. “But we don’t only help the cats in the colonies, but the cats in the communities.”
HELPING THE KITTIES
Bullock said she likes cats better than humans.
“Is that horrible to say?” she said with a laugh. “I’d rather help them because they can’t help themselves. It’s the human’s fault there are so many of them. We created this problem.”
Williams agrees with Bullock.
“They’ve ended up where they are because of people not spaying or neutering,” Williams said. “This program was started to help cats and to help them get the health care and food they need daily without reproducing.”
The Kinston effort grew from a similar one in Western North Carolina that has seen a lot of success.
The entire Kinston organization — including Williams, who has been a college and high school math tutor for the past two decades — is made up of volunteers.
“I’m so very fortunate to have met some of the most amazing selfless individuals like Janell and Lori, who volunteer their time — whether it’s once a week or twice a week — taking care of these cats,” Williams said. “It’s taken every single one of us to do whatever it is that we do.”
Daily, the volunteers put out only enough food to feed the cats for about an hour. Cahoon said if they put out more food than that, raccoons and other animals will take it. At the six locations where they drop off the food, volunteers and an Eagle Scout have built elevated feeding platforms and little houses for the cats to eat their meals.
“We’ve actually even had groundhogs come and feed off these,” Cahoon said with a laugh.
At the first of Sunday’s six stops, Bullock looked at a bowl of water but quickly figured out why it was still full — there was dirt in the water. She said she’s learned if the water is dirty, it’s typically because raccoons use the water bowls to wash their paws.
WANT TO HELP?
Much of the food the volunteers use is donated; Cahoon said it comes from local Girl Scouts, the Kinston PetSense store and other sources. But they also buy food with their own money, including on Sunday when Cahoon picked up some wet food for her “babies.”
“It’s our fault as human beings this has happened,” Cahoon said. “The old way was to trap and kill these animals; at least we’re controlling the populations of these colonies.”
While Williams said there were about a dozen volunteers with Lucky Cats, there is always a need for more.
“We constantly need trappers and we could use volunteers who could take on a day in the week to feed,” she said.
Even if someone who wants to help can’t do the physical work, Williams said there is a need for “social media warriors.”
“They can share our posts on Facebook and help educate the public about our trap, neuter and return efforts,” she said.
This week, residents who attend Thursday’s Summerfest concert at Pearson Park can bring cans of wet food for the kitties. Bullock and fellow volunteer Judy White will be manning a table at the concert and will taking donations of canned cat food.
“We thought it would be easier to bring canned food than having people carry around 40-pound bags of food,” Williams said with a laugh.
Williams said there would also be T-shirts for sale at their table at Summerfest; proceeds from their sales will help Lucky Cats of Kinston.