Heroes don’t always wear capes. They don’t have to fly in the sky with superpowers like super-strength, super-speed or x-ray vision. Heroes can be people, just like you and me, who strive to make a difference, help others and improve the lives and daily interactions of people in a community. Bethany Jewell is finding these everyday heroes.
At the HeArt of It All, is a new column by Bethany Jewell highlighting those who strive to make our community a little greater in the High Country. It is a chance to interview the many unsung heroes that shape our area into one of the most loved of the Appalachians, capturing them in their many pursuits with lots of admiration and a little illustrative flair.
Through Jewell’s interviews with people throughout the High Country, she is able to then create an artistic representation of these heroes in her beautiful illustrations that accurately portray the kinds of people that we are always surrounded by.
At the HeArt of It All is aimed towards drawing attention to the unnoticed and unacknowledged heroes in our community, their beauty and kind hearts and how each and every day they make an impact that touch the lives of many.
At The HeArt of It All
An Interview on Feral Cat Rescue
with Kathy Myers Reece
by Bethany Jewell
I have a very common job. I serve food, pie in particular. Each slice is plated and served to happily awaiting customers. Even though very common, it is a calling that has led me to a different magic that defines our environment in the High Country; one beyond plummeting drops of waterfalls and endangered plant species that hang on rock outcroppings. It is a magic that at the heart of it all embodies us…the people.
Each day I meet folks who selflessly answer a quiet concern or unique calling that tugs at their hearts. The deeds they perform are often unnoticed, but give a lasting impact on our community. Nothing like a hefty slice of apple pie to start a conversation. This is exactly how I met Kathy Myers Reece, an acclaimed artist, who puts down her paintbrush to answer the needs of feral cats roaming in her small community of Valle Crucis.
- Who or what awoke you to the needs of wild/feral cats in the High Country?
I didn’t even know about feral cats until twelve years ago when they started showing up at our barn and around our cabin. They were looking for food and a safe shelter to birth their kittens. The cats kept coming and coming and before long their repopulation felt like an epidemic. Although I didn’t know what to do, I knew I had to do something. I finally threw up my hands one day and said “Well, the Good Lord is bringing me all these cats for a reason. I don’t know what it is, but I will accept it and help them the best way I can.”
- How long have you been involved in this?
About twelve years, and once you begin working with this great need you realize that on one hand these cats are survivors, but on the other they can’t control their population. That is where humans with a heart for animals can help.
- What are the needs of feral cats and how do you choose to address them?
I began with research on the internet and then met people who had been successful with Trap Neuter Vaccinate Release (TNVR) programs. Those inspiring volunteers were so kind to share their techniques along with their heart for helping feral cats. I learned the best way to help the exploding cat population was by humanely trapping the cats, having them neutered, spayed, and vaccinated. Then you release them back to where they were found. The volunteers also sat up feeding stations and shelter for the feral cats. I decided to do the same. They taught me a lot, but it was just the tip of the iceberg.
There are many ins and outs of trapping feral cats. Most tricks of the trade can be learned online or by talking to a volunteer well versed in outsmarting them. The cats are wary by nature. They have to be to survive. So persistence and determination are required to trap. And it helps to think like a cat. I learned to only trap during daytime hours to help reduce the capture of skunks and opossums. And here in the High Country you can never leave a cat outside in a trap at night. Coyotes could tear into the cage and the cat would be unable to escape.
- Was there ever a challenging moment or time when you questioned why you were doing this?
Many times you feel you don’t have the time or resources to deal with what comes your way. For me the feral cats just kept coming and in order to not let them get the upper hand and over populate, I had to address the issue. Sometimes I jokingly say it is a selfish thing to TNVR. It protects my home, but really it’s all about the animals. They need help to have the best life they can with the cards they are dealt. We can enhance their life (and ours) by sweetening the pot for them with TNVR, food, shelter and water.
- Tell us about a favorite memory or cat that crossed your path.
There have been many cats during the past twelve years. Some of my favorites are the ones that were feral, but became more tame over time and now allow us to touch them. Some even sit in our laps and will tolerate a collar with a bell. There is great sense of wonder and accomplishment when a feral cat will trust you enough to let you touch them.
We see two types of feral cats in our community: those born wild and those dropped off by neglectful owners who revert back to being feral to survive. The cats that were previously tame will generally become tame again with love and attention. These cats along with the feral kittens that are easily tamed can be placed in homes. The older, feral cats can never be tamed and will always be wild. It’s important to be able to identify the differences between them and to think through the best scenario for their future.
- As an artist, how have you found this work reflected in your paintings or in the spirit you bring to your brush? I just have a heart for animals, nature and God’s Creation. I think that same heart comes across in my paintings. I am a painter of local landscapes, but I do have a fondness for painting dogs and cats as well. I suppose it’s just the love and the passion that comes through in all we do. It’s an honor and a blessing to both paint local scenes and to help animals in need. They are two very diverse passions that enhance my life.
- Are there other individuals or organizations helping to resolve this issue that we should mention? Can you recommend contacts for animal lovers who are inspired to get involved?
Anyone can do this. It only takes a heart for animal welfare, some research and the drive to learn as you go. There is a great need for volunteers in our area willing to TNVR and set up feeding stations. As far as materials, you just need a humane trap, some cat food, hot dogs or anchovies for trapping, and a large dog crate (for recovery time following surgery.)
There are so many educational resources available on the internet. Some good sites that will help you learn more about what you can do include Watauga Humane Society (www.wataugahumane.org). They have a Community Cat Program for feral cats. And Avery Humane Society (www.averyhumane.org) has a low cost program designed especially for the spay/neuter of feral cats for residents of Avery County. Also there is Operation Catnip (www.ocraleigh.org), SNAP-NC (www.snap-nc.org), and many other TNVR sites you can find by searching. Another option includes working with your local vet to see if they might be willing to help with the costs of spaying/neutering a feral cat. The main thing is to follow your heart and do what you are intended to do. If you open yourself up to that, the rest will fall exactly into place.