The Girls of Bell Gardens
by Joe Federico
It has long been our practice at FixNation to lend traps and teach people how to use them safely. Appointments are made to bring in trapped cats for free spay/neuter, vaccines, and medical treatment. But every once in a while there is a case that needs a little more support.
A call came in from an 84-year-old woman who lives in the town of Bell Gardens, California. Her 101-year-old mother (that’s right, she’s 101 years old!) had been taking care of a few roaming cats on her property. As it unfortunately happens all too often, those few cats soon multiplied.
As a FixNation volunteer, I arrived and immediately saw 12 adults and 2 kittens admiring the woman who was sweeping the pathway in front of the home. I assumed this woman was the 84-year-old daughter because whoever heard of a 101-year-old woman sweeping a pathway, pruning branches, and moving potted plants out of the way just to make my entrance easier? But there she was, her mother, fit and spry and over 100 years old. Out of the house came her daughter who carried the same lovely, youthful genes her mom has. I fondly referred to them as the Girls of Bell Gardens from that moment on.
We got right to work and quickly caught 6 cats that evening. After they were fixed and returned, we set the traps up at feeding stations to make the remaining cats feel comfortable enough to enter them. By feeding these cats in unloaded traps, the confidence of the colony was so strong that even the ones that were already fixed were willing to go in and eat, thus creating a calm confidence among the group. When I arrived to help a few days later, we caught 5 more by using a skinny roll of paper towel to hold up the door as well as a long rope so that when an unfixed cat went into the trap, we could pull the string to remove the towel roll and close the door. It was a very effective, old school method of trapping which made us laugh. There I was with the traps, mom with her lovely gardening tools, and her daughter who was an expert at stitching and making clothes. When looking over our trap covers that are usually made quite nicely by volunteers, she asked for material and got right to making some of the finest we’ve ever received.
The two kittens were finally caught and both fixed. One was very friendly and taken to an adoption event, and the other went back to the colony where he was most comfortable.
That’s eleven adults and two kittens. What happened to the remaining adult cat? Well, somewhere just before we started this project, another litter was born. Now there is one more momma cat and five babies waiting to be fixed when the time is right. The babies are being cared for by mother and daughter, and will soon be ready for adoption. Momma cat is always near and now that she has weaned off the babies, she will be fixed and returned to the rest of her gang with the same ear tip that makes them all special and us all proud. That tip means fixed, fine, and full of health.
Perhaps most special of all is this mother and daughter team. After meeting them and getting to know them through several visits, after spending hours laughing during our TNR process, and after sharing stories about family and feline rescue, we all realized that our hearts would be connected forever. We will continue to help each other and remain friends in that unique way cat-lovers do.
I appreciate all my volunteer opportunities at FixNation, but every now and then there is something extraordinary that happens. Caring for community cats never ceases to be amazing, and the practices I have learned at FixNation are the most rewarding experience anyone can have. In our shared effort to find balance in communities and collectively resolve over population problems among homeless cats, hundreds of people participate in an ongoing project that keeps cats from multiplying and turning into a problem. Hundreds of people care about their lives. I am one of them. The girls of Bell Gardens are two more.
Trap, Neuter and Return allows feral cats to live their natural lives with dignity and respect. And oh yeah, they’re fixed! Everybody wins.