In the heart of Chester, and many surrounding areas of our communities, cats live in wooded areas and become a colony of cats. Feral cats are defined by National Geographic as “the offspring of stray and abandoned household pets, raised without human contact, they quickly revert to a wild state and form colonies wherever food and shelter are available.”
One such colony has formed in the center of Chester. Margaret first saw the little kittens in a drainpipe in the main area. “Someone pointed out these kittens staying in the street drain in town for warmth,” she said. She put food down the drain and started feeding the babies. “My heart was sick,” she recounted.Margaret wishes to keep her last name anonymous because she’s “not looking to become the cat lady,” she added. She just saw the kittens in town and decided they needed to be taken care of. So, she feels she did “what any right thinking person would do.” She can’t imagine leaving cats to die an inhuman death, starving and in the cold.
So, she took on the task of this one colony. “There are at least seven colonies that I know of in the Chester area,” she said. “I will not name where they are because none of us that do this volunteer work want more cats just dropped off with the colonies that are already here.” She educated that once a colony is established they will not accept an interloper. The alpha male cat will chase off newcomers.
Margaret wants everyone to know that this is a human problem. “This is a problem that was created by humans and is now a problem only humans can repair,” she explained. “These are the descendants of other cats who were dumped and abandoned by former owners who never took the responsibility of spaying and neutering them.”
She is adamant that this problem can be controlled if everyone will just help. “Some people just move away and leave a fertile kitty to fend for themselves and that one fertile kitty can turn into 20 more kitties in one year.” Just think of the overpopulation.So, Margaret, along with her husband Terry, decided to fix this one little colony of about 10 cats that lives in woods around the heart of Chester. Yes, they began to feed them because they believe it would be inhumane not to. But, they educated themselves on how to stop their colony from growing and on how to improve their futures. “After many calls to shelters and clinics for help, I finally was lucky enough to find a woman, Brenda, who traveled to Chester to help us trap and fix every cat in this colony.”
There are people like Brenda all around the country that are doing everything that they can to stop the overpopulation of feral cats in this country. They are silent, unknown heroes. Brenda is a 70-year-old retired nurse who carries a special cage just for feral cats and traps them and helps to get them spayed and neutered so they can have a better life and not produce more feral cats.
Margaret and Terry do the thankless job of feeding the cats in their colony every single day. And they can’t afford it. Terry and Margaret are both retired. Margaret was a postal worker and both she and her husband have health concerns. “After our work was done of getting the colony neutered, someone has to feed these sad looking creatures forever ‘til they die off,” she said. “We come to the colony morning and night 365 days a year/seven days a week when it’s freezing or unbearably hot.”
She and her husband weren’t looking for this role in their retirement. They still have a son in college and they have their own expenses. “It’s a job where there are no days off and these thankful cats are just waiting and trusting that someone, anyone, will come back and give them another meal and clean water,” Margaret said.
Cat food runs about $200 a month to feed them. Margaret has all the records of what she has spent to date, since 2010, from when she started. “I just didn’t have the heart to look the other way, which many told me to do,” she added.
The $1,340 expenses are weighing on Margaret, so she took a part time job to bring in extra income so she can afford to help these cats. In the woods where they live, she has created feeding stations and Styrofoam boxes for cat homes and added a tarp for winter and rain shelter. “Going on a vacation is not an option because I need to be here seven days a week,” she shared. “Some say I should stop feeding them, but I say how cruel is that when humans created this problem by throwing away their pets.”
She asked if we would throw away a family member. No. If this colony and all the others that are supported by “feeders,” as they call themselves, were not maintained, these cats would surely become a nuisance in neighborhoods. If roaming cats got in fights with a pet in a yard they could spread disease to anyone’s pets. So, Margaret feels everyone has a responsibility to these feral cats to make a better solution. “Remember it was likely your former neighbor who left that abandoned cat,” she reminds. “We can’t kill them; it’s illegal to trap and relocate feral cats because they will not survive in another strange place,” she added.
There are things that can be done. “All we humans can do now is trap, neuter, vaccinate and return them,” she said. Margaret wants everyone to be active in this solution. “If you see a stray, please take them in and prepare them for a forever home,” she said. “Become a trapper and take them to the SPCA or the Richmond Animal League where they will try to find them homes.”
Each morning by 7 a.m., Terry and Margaret are in their car with their cat feedings and coffee, ready to perform their morning feeding. “We use Friskies wet food mixed with Purina dry food because wet is better for their kidneys,” she said. They go to the site where the colony is twice a day, 7 a.m and 7 p.m. with their mixture and to feed them and bring fresh water. “I know dry is less costly but I want to give them what is best for them.”
She has names for the colony — Whiney, Whitey, Mama Calico, Blacky, Calico Girl, Gray Girl, Aunt Cali, and Blue. Margaret said Terry is the devoted soldier for the colony and “is the backbone of the whole operation now.” Margaret needed that job to help out with the feeding bills but it makes her tired.
Margaret has established a charitable association — Hotel Catifornia — to help feed the cats. She would welcome help from the people of Chester. An account has been established at Wells Fargo and anyone can go in and make a donation. “I get the best deals on food at Pet Supplies Plus on Huguenot Road. They have great variety and great sales.” But, she would be so happy for any donations. Purina dry food or Friskies wet food would be so helpful. If there’s something to give and she can’t use it for her cat colony there are six other colonies right here in Chester that can use anything anyone can donate. Old Styrofoam coolers are used for shelter, bags of cat food, wet food cans, and kitty treats are always needed.
“My wish,” Margaret said. “Is that these cats die off of natural causes before I do because when we are dead and gone their fate will not be good.” Did she expect her retirement to be like this? No. “This job fell in my lap and I didn’t have the heart to look the other way,” Margaret explained. “There are lots of us doing this feeder job and the rewards are only in seeing them have a better life than starvation and I can tell you that I couldn’t sleep at night if I turned my back.”
If you’d like to help Margaret or any of the other feeders in Chester, please contact her at (804) 901-1942. She desperately needs help with volunteers to donate food or gift cards that can be used by many in the Chester area.
She reminds us each to be responsible. “If you see a stray take it in and get it to a shelter and they can help to find it a home,” she said. “I have to thank the SPCA and the Richmond Animal League for everything they’ve done.” And, she wants you to remember all the thankless Brendas and Margarets and Terrys out there that help these animals and try to stop the feral explosion.