The circumstances of life can sometimes inspire an unexpected choice. After Stacy LeBaron moved to Vermont, she wanted to continue to be involved with community cat programs, but “living in rural Vermont made it hard to get involved with another group.” Her mother was also ill and so Stacy wanted to be available for her, rather than being in a position where she had to show up for “work” every day.
While driving back to Massachusetts every week to visit her mother, Stacy became a quick fan of podcasts. On one of those drives, her son told her that recording a podcast was really easy and that she should do one. “I hadn’t thought about that,” Stacy said, “but it was a good idea. When I ran the mentoring program at the MRFRS I had over 400 groups on my waiting list to get into the program. I felt terrible when we had to close that program and so I felt that doing a podcast was the least that I could do to try to pass some information along to others who are trying to make a difference in the lives of cats.”
Since its start in 2016, the Community Cats Podcast has aired over 330 episodes. It provides education, information, and dialogue that Stacy hopes “will create a supportive environment empowering people to help cats in their community.”
ALLISON: Tell me about your first kitten.
STACY: Her name was Steffi. My husband and I found her while walking home from dinner one night in Newburyport, MA, back in 1991. She was a very vocal little girl and she won my husband over that night. So she joined our family. I had already adopted an adult cat, Rusty, while in college. Luckily, Rusty and Steffi got along fine.
ALLISON: How did you get involved with and become president of the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society?
STACY: I started out by donating food and litter to them at their new but very small shelter in 1994. I eventually donated some money, after which I received a letter in the mail saying that they were looking for a board secretary. So I sent in my resume and a letter of interest. I got the job! The next year I was vice president, then I became president in 1996, and served as president until 2012. The most amazing part about leading the MRFRS was the incredibly passionate people and dynamic cats that I got to know over the years. I learned to respect so many different people because we all had a passion for cats.
ALLISON: Tell me about work with MRFRS Mentoring program?
STACY: The MRFRS mentoring program was a great partnership with PetSmart Charities and I have to thank Bryan Kortis (of Neighborhood Cats) for being willing to take a chance on me with this program. We had a great team of Karen Little (Alley Cat Advocates), Julie Jacobson (Spay Tennessee), and Nancy McCall (formerly of Tampa Humane Society). Together we work together to each mentor six to ten groups at setting up a Trap-Neuter- Return program and then do some aggressive, targeted TNR. We did a lot of mentoring around grant writing and these groups gained the confidence to have their own community cat programs. We were able to assist over 80 groups during a three-year period. Many of the things we learned from that time period has rolled into the Community Cats Grants program, which has helped an additional 100 groups.
ALLISON: How did you go about setting up a podcast?
STACY: My 13-year old son did much of the initial work, buying my equipment and setting up the software. Then I asked Kristen Petrie to join the team and she handles all things technical for me. She’s truly an amazing partner. I handle the content creation and booking the interviews and finding the folks to interview. It’s so much fun to learn something new at every interview.
ALLISON: What mistakes did you make when you first started?\STACY: If you asked Kristen, I’m sure she could mention lots of my mistakes, but she’s gifted at making every podcast sound wonderful. I think in the beginning, I worried a lot about who I was interviewing vs. just making sure that we tell a good story. I think my interviewing style got better when I really tried to listen to the person on the call. It sounds easy, but when you worry about time, sound quality, the recording, etc., it can be hard to really “listen.” Once I really tuned into folks, I think I did a much better job at the interview.
I also started out doing five shows a week. I think that was a bit overboard. We scaled back to three and now we are at one a week, but we have over 300+ episodes available, so there is plenty of content to listen to.
ALLISON: What are some highlights from being a host of a podcast?
STACY: I’m just thrilled that so many people have been excited to be on the show. I enjoy interviewing every person that I “meet.” Kristen and I have made some great virtual friends. Now when we travel to conferences, which we are doing a lot more of this year, we’re eager to meet up with guests and listeners who are out there and supporting the show.
ALLISON: Why you think the podcasts have been successful?\STACY: Podcasts are a relatively new trend. They’re another option to the radio (which has lots of commercials and no content control) and to audio books (which can be long and boring). Podcasts are usually relatively short and easy to sort through. When I would drive between Massachusetts and Vermont for three hours, I’d load up a listing of podcasts and I was just on autopilot. They are easy to listen and relatively “advertising light.”\ALLISON: What lessons have you learned by doing podcasts?\STACY: It takes a lot of work and effort to market your podcast. The whole marketing and social media world takes a lot of effort. The podcasts have really become a stepping stone to so much more. We have a blog (check out our most popular blog post, The Community Cat Pyramid, at https://www.communitycatspodcast.com/introducing-the-community-cat-pyramid/) and virtual conferences (the Online Cat Conference, Online Kitten Conference, and Online Behavior Day). We’re also able to help groups with Community Cats Grants. So the podcasts are just a piece of this big Community Cat puzzle that we have here at CCP.
Based on my interviews with a variety of guests, I’ve learned that there are many different approaches and challenges for folks trying to help community cats. In some areas town ordinances are an issue, in other areas there aren’t any affordable spay/neuter clinics, and in other areas the community seems resistant to help out with TNR or there isn’t a grassroots TNR group with boots on the ground to help with education. I’ve learned that this isn’t a one problem situation for the country. The fun part is learning how these folks overcame the obstacles and have still been able to make a difference in the lives of cats.
ALLISON: Sell my readers on why they should listen to your podcasts.
STACY: If you have a passion for cats and want to be able to help them in your community, Community Cats Podcast is the place to turn to.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Community Cats Podcast also offers two annual conferences, an Online Cat Conference in January and an Online Kitten Conference in June. The Online Cat Conference is for anyone who wants to help community cats and tickets are on sale now.