In the late 2000’s, Kathy Humann and her husband heard about a mother cat in Walnut (a small town with a population of less than 900) with five kittens and foraging garbage for food. Kathy discovered that the cat family was living in the crawl space under an unoccupied house. Although they weren’t causing any real nuisance, the kittens would cross the busy street and mama was searching for food in some unsavory places, and so it wasn’t the best environment. When Kathy called the county animal control, she learned that if they came out to trap and remove the cat family, they’d be put to sleep. She told them not to come, that she’d figure something out. A friend encouraged her to check into Trap-Neuter-Return programs and then to start one. In the fall of 2011, inspired by Ms. Gray and her kittens, Western Iowa’s Feral and Homeless Cat Program was born.
ALLISON: How did you get WIFCaP established?
KATHY: One of the first things I did was start a Facebook page. I was determined that I would’t sink personal funds into this organization and so, along with engaging posts, I asked for help. Another TNR group that I had networked with were very helpful with getting the word about our needs. It didn’t take long to find a foundation grant to cover the cost and legal services to get our 501c3 in place and we were off and running. We obtained our IRS non profit status in February of 2012
My full name is Abigail Gray. Gray because my fur is a silky, silver-gray. Abigail because it means ‘good in discretion and beautiful in form’. But there was a time I was known as ‘that cat’. You know, ‘that cat’ who eats from your garbage cans, ‘that cat’ who uses your garden for a litter box, and ‘that cat’ whom you catch just a glimpse of trying to stay dry under your car and beneath your porch….—excerpt from My Name is Mrs. Gray by Kathy Humann.
ALLISON: Who most supported your efforts?
KATHY: Total strangers have been our biggest supporters. On an individual basis, it’s been people from all over the USA that donate funds to help us. Our biggest fund raiser has been the Omaha Community Foundation’s Omaha Gives 24, held each May. This is a one day event that can gain us over $5,000 at one time. Also finding two local vets to give us low cost spay and neuter pricing has been a huge support to us. Without them, we would have to stop.
ALLISON: Did you face any opposition?
KATHY: Not as much as I thought we would. At that time, I was a city council member, and so I confirmed there weren’t any ordinances against TNR. I also made it clear to our city council that I would appreciate them letting me know of any real concerns. The only opposition was that originally I called the program Walnut Feral Cat Program. Some residents thought their tax dollars were going to fix cats and they weren’t happy about it. I calmed their fears by telling them that they were actually saving tax money because all our efforts were paid for by donations. I also changed the name to Western Iowa’s Feral and Homeless Cat Program.
My first memory is searching for a warm and dry place to bring my five kittens into the world. I found a little house, where it seemed no humans lived. There, I found the PUFF-fect spot underneath, with an entrance just large enough for me and my babies, yet too small for dogs to enter. It was there I made my little nest.—excerpt from My Name is Mrs. Gray by Kathy Humann.
ALLISON: How many cats did your group start with?
KATHY: Six. Mrs. Gray and her five babies were our first TNR and our first managed colony.
ALLISON: How many cats do you currently help?
KATHY: We TNR an average of 40 cats per month. We also deal with some friendly cats who are found stray. While we are not a shelter, we help the find homes for them. We also help cats with manages situations that we assist with food and oversight. Many others are on acreages and farms and are continually monitored by the property owners.
ALLISON: To what do you contribute the decrease in numbers of free-roaming cats in Iowa?
KATHY: The decrease in numbers is being seen in areas that we have worked in for the past four years. We get few to no calls from the areas we have been in working in during the last four years. This decrease is due to the fact the cats are not reproducing and natural causes are causing the death of some of the established colony cats. We stay busy because we’re expanding beyond the areas already assisted.
ALLISON: How have you tracked this data?
KATHY: Our organization is small, so we feel that no calls or the few we get are proof that things are better. We don’t have a huge followup procedure. Our caretakers check in when there’s an issue or new cats show up in the colony. We’re more known that ever and so I know if there are issues we will be the first called.
Also, last spring we had about 50% fewer calls about kittens with no mother or sick kittens in community cat colonies. No kittens is a huge thing!
A Walnut lady who fed about 12 cats that we trapped and returned is now down to two. We don’t know what happens to most of them. They just kind of go off into the sunset, and we don’t see them again. But no new issues arise, and we know that reduction in the numbers is the goal.
ALLISON: How do you recruit and keep volunteers?
KATHY: We have a board of six people whom we keep in touch with at quarterly board meetings. Our volunteers are few and far between, but I do have a couple committed trappers and some fringe people that I can call on for events, etc.
ALLISON: How do volunteers stay in contact with each other?
KATHY:I have set up a closed group for TEAM WIFCaP and only those that volunteer are able to get on that page. We use email and phone as well.
ALLISON: Does WIFCaP have any standard guidelines?
KATHY: We have rules and guidelines for safe trapping and how to deal with property owners. We also have a nice rack card that has most of our info on it and it serves as a great hand out when we trap for people. In addition, I carry business cards and give some of those to the volunteers.
One morning I followed her to her house. It was just across the street from my nest after all. Her porch quickly became my new home. There was a wonderful red swing that I loved to sit on and lazily watch the days go by. And a straw bale on which to sunbathe!—excerpt from My Name is Mrs. Gray by Kathy Humann.
ALLISON: Share a high moment of TNR.
KATHY: Mrs. Gray and her five babies continued to live under the house for three years. I took food and water to them daily. Mrs. Gray finally warmed up to me, enough to trust me to touch her. No pick up though! During that time, four of her kittens went on their way. No new cats ever joined Mrs. Gray and her daughter, Zeva. One day, Mrs. Gray and Zeva followed me home (across the street). They became very comfy with little heated huts and daily visits from the humans they trust.
ALLISON: What tips do you have for helping community cats?
KATHY: Realize the cats are there for a reason. There is food and shelter. Removing the cats will not work. The first stray cat that needs food and shelter will re-occupy the site, then the babies, and the whole problem comes back.
Find a way to set up a feeding station with some shelter in a inconspicuous spot, get the cats ALL fixed, and then provide daily food and water. Most times when people realize that the cats will be put down if taken by animal control, that they’re not adoptable, and that they have a chance at a good life right where they are, they will consider TNR.
You might think my story ends there, but not so. One day my son and I were adopted into a wonderful family. Yes, we live inside a house! No more fear or cold or wet or the dangers of living outside. My new family is awesome. They all love me and care for me, and I love them back.—excerpt from My Name is Mrs. Gray by Kathy Humann.
ALLISON: Ever thought of quitting? What keeps you going?
KATHY: I have not thought of quitting. The busy summer time takes it’s toll and I feel sorry for my car but I love it. I won’t stop unless I have to!
According to the WIFCaP website, “Mrs. Gray has become the poster child of TNR for WIFCaP and she has fans around the world. Kathy took many pictures and short videos during her visits with Mrs. Gray and the process of turning a frightened feral cat into a loving, trusting little soul has been a treat and blessing to all who have watched the transformation.” You can read more about Mrs. Grey in the children’s book bearing her name. Proceeds go to support WIFCaP.