What’s a feral cat’s life worth?


Feral cats aren’t so much of a problem if they’re not creating more. So Padgie Kimmick, through her nonprofit Cat Care TNR, traps the cats and has them spayed or neutered, controlling the populations and avoiding the possibility of euthanasia among out-of-control colonies. Earlier this month, she picked up cat-filled traps near U.S. Highway 160 east of Durango. She’s also holding two tiny kittens whose eyes have yet to open.

Padgie Kimmick traps cats. She’s very good at it.

True, it wasn’t good when she got sprayed last year by a trapped skunk that didn’t realize the cage was set out for felines only. But after seeing herself covered with the skunk’s bright neon-green spray, she learned quickly another valuable lesson of the trade:

Lift the door quietly, walk away and let the skunk take its time. Kimmick was in a hurry that day and kicked the trap to speed up the process. Oops.

Smelly stories aside, her focus is not on the skunks or raccoons that periodically wander into the traps, but on feral cats. Her goal is to keep down the population – estimated at 22,000 in La Plata County alone. When she traps a cat, the next step is to get it spayed or neutered.

In the eight years she’s been doing this in Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico, she has trapped an estimated 7,000 cats. Most have been feral cats in colonies that breed quickly.

“One cat will turn into 10 will turn into 30,” Kimmick says as she lifts cat-filled traps into her truck at a mobile home park east of Elmore’s Corner earlier this month. “As sweet as they are, we sure don’t need any more.”

She recently became official, creating a nonprofit called Cat Care TNR of Southwest Colorado. The TNR stands for trap-neuter-return. After Kimmick traps the cats, she sends them to Dogster’s for spaying, then picks them up and returns them where she found them. No harm done, other than a downturn in kittens.

Catherine “Padgie” Kimmick now has 21 traps. She began with one.

“It bothered me that, at the time, the Humane Society was euthanizing cats,” she says. “I thought there had to be a better way. ... I really believe they shouldn’t be put to sleep just because someone deems them feral.”

She didn’t exactly advertise her services, but somehow word got around. Over the years she’s trapped everywhere from downtown Durango businesses to La Plata Electric Association to the Colorado Department of Transportation to San Juan Basin Health. She goes to Pagosa Springs, Aztec, Flora Vista and Farmington. If you are having a cat issue, someone is bound to tell you about her.

For no fee she arrives with her traps and sets up. She’s been working under the radar, but with the incorporation last year of her nonprofit and the need for donations, she realizes it’s time to get the word out.

Kimmick puts traps in the shade if possible. She generally baits them with wet cat food and returns a few hours later – no longer than a day.

Not far from U.S. Highway 160, she’s walking around and picking up her booty. She’s careful while transferring the traps to her truck.

“You don’t want to stick your hand in a trap with a feral cat,” she says. “I’ve got bitten many times.”

There are sometimes “bonuses.” This afternoon she’s having difficulty figuring out where the tiny mewing noises are coming from. Finally, in the gazebo, she lifts an old overturned “Speed Limit 35” sign and finds two kittens – adding to the five she’s already found. Their eyes are still closed. The feral cats don’t make good house pets, but she’ll locate homes for these kittens.

And there are “surprises.” She recently took possession of a stray cat that seemed friendly and needed a home. (“People seem to call me when they’ve got cats that need to go places,” she explains.) Friendly cats she scans for microchips, which some owners have had placed behind pets’ shoulders for identification. This black, long-haired cat with green eyes had a microchip, and the owner was in Arlington, Texas.

When contacted by Kimmick, Anna Poland was utterly befuddled. The cat, which she’d acquired at Arlington Animal Services, had gone missing in July 2011, two months after she’d taken possession.

“That can’t be my cat,” she told Kimmick. “I’ve never been to Durango.”

Those nine months of the cat’s life, and the strange path that brought her to Southwest Colorado, will never be known. But we do know that Kimmick the cat-lover cashed in her frequent-flier miles and flew with the newly christened “Dora the Explorer” to Arlington for the reunion.

On this day near Highway 160 she collects 21 total cats from the site, seven of which are kittens and 14 of which she’ll take the next day to the mobile van operated by D-SNiP – the Durango-based Dogster’s Spay & Neuter Program. D-SNiP will spay and neuter, and Cat Care TNR will pick up the expense.

She also has the blessing of the La Plata County Humane Society, which doesn’t have the means to trap the numbers of cats she can.

“We tease her that she’s crazy,” says Betsy Kimmick, Padgie’s sister-in-law and a member of the Cat Care TNR board. But what she does “really is unselfish.”

It’s hard to say what impact Kimmick has made on the local feral cat population, because it’s not measurable. But 7,000 cats within eight years can’t be ignored.

“It’s kind of like emptying the Animas with a teaspoon,” Padgie Kimmick jokes, “but it seems to be making a difference.”

Coming next week: A visit to Dogster’s mobile spay/neuter clinic. johnp@durangoherald.com

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