Norma King, a Springfield business owner, never thought she would end up working with the city of Springfield and Willamette Animal Guild to trap, spay, neuter and release hundreds of feral cats. But now she says she’s not stopping, and that the joy of saving and rehoming each cat or kitten keeps her going.
Starting Action Mower and Equipment Repair in April 2009, King moved into a trailer park behind the shop a year later. “There was a mama cat with kittens that a lady had raised,” she recalls. “She was getting evicted and she said that Greenhill came and took the kittens, but the next day, after she’d left, they were still out there. I took care of those kittens.”
King found another litter around Thanksgiving, and believes there was yet another in between. She again gathered up the kittens to care for them, though she had little money. She took the mama cat to Willamette Animal Guild (WAG) — a low-cost spay/neuter clinic — for a feral package, a $40 deal that includes spay/neuter, vaccinations, flea/ear-mite treatments and an ear-tip (snipping the tip of one ear signals a cat is altered).
Then she met Teresa Koch, who did Trap-Neuter-Return, a common practice in which feral cats are trapped, altered, and returned to the environment where they were trapped — as that’s basically their best option. Koch was willing to help at King’s trailer park. She did, and “in April 2011 I told her ‘If you need help I’ll help you,’ because she did something for me and I wanted to help her.”
True to her word, King began helping Koch trap feral cats. Then In 2012, Koch moved out of state. Before leaving however, Koch set up a fund at WAG to allow King to continue trapping. At that point, animals were stacking up in her workspace. “I can do two recoveries in the bathroom with the door closed and sometimes I could set up two in the main room. Then in a little cubby I can stack two dog crates,” she explains, pointing out the spaces in the office of her mower repair shop.
Word of “the cat lady” quickly spread, and King was getting increasing calls about strays. One night after working a long day, she went home to find a cardboard box on her porch. “I didn’t even have to look inside,” she says. “I knew what was in there — kittens, about 8 to 10 weeks old, gooped-up eyes, looking pretty bad.”
Last Memorial Day King held a fundraiser to pay for fuel and trapping supplies. She met a woman who suggested King talk with Springfield Mayor, Christine Lundberg. About two months later, she did. Mayor Lundberg offered King 3,000 square feet of space for her rescue mission, provided she was under the umbrella of a nonprofit. King joined forces with WAG, and last December she secured a $50,000 grant to alter 1,000 cats in Springfield.
When King is working with someone to trap a feral cat, she tells them not to put out food for 24 hours. The traps are cushy, have water, a blanket and tempting food such as tuna or sardines. “I set traps around and sit in my car so I can hear when they go off,” she says. Usually, it takes up to 90 minutes to trap a cat, and she does this almost every day of the week after working a full day at her own business.
King now has several rooms in her Springfield facility, for feral cats, cats in recovery from surgery, and free-roamers. She says she is always dismayed to find that many of the “wild” cats she traps are friendly. “That means they’ve been fed, and have had contact with people who probably knew they were having babies.”
King now manages 40 volunteers and transports for surgeries four days a week. Each day after work she checks on her kitty guests. Since early this year, she and her team have cared for 200 strays and more than 160 owned cats. Fifty-five cats have come through that were adoptable or adopted. Some adoptables have gone to PetSmart to be adopted, and three have gone to Sara’s Treasures.
“I don’t want to see the cats struggling to survive,” says King. “Each cat that I can help on their journey to their new home is what keeps me going.” King’s grant is renewable, and once she makes a report in December she believes she will be re-funded. “I have no doubt that we will reach our goal of 1,000 cats,” she says.
Recently King again met with Mayor Lundberg, who told her that most of the comments and emails she gets are either about the city’s proposed developments in the Glenwood area or “the cat project.”
“She said people tell her they have seen a difference in their neighborhood,” King says. “They say ‘thank you for supporting the cat project' because this is the first time they haven’t had feral cats in their neighborhood. So it’s starting to make a little bit of a difference.”