At the corner of Haskell and Hallock sits a little house that belongs to a man named Will Carroll and his wife, Tonya. I hadn’t met Will yet, but I had heard many wonderful things about him.
The day I visited was brisk, his street was quiet and as we pulled up in front of his house, one of his colony cats was sitting atop the hood of Tonya’s SUV.
“Quick, take a picture before he runs away,” said Ramona, our community resource specialist.
She was right. As soon as I rolled down my window and snapped a photo, the orange tabby darted off into the woods behind Will’s house. And that was the only photo I was able to take of his community cat colony of six.
We made our way around to the back of the van where we unloaded four 16-pound bags and two 4-pound bags of dry cat food, along with two cases of wet, canned food. Will came out onto his porch and greeted Ramona like they had been friends for the longest time.
As we got to talking about his beloved colony, another one of his cats crossed the street and maneuvered in between his neighbors’ houses.
“When you leave, she’ll come right down here and rub up against my leg,” Will bragged jokingly. He knew I wanted more pictures.
Will has been a client of ours for going on four years. Him and his wife live in Kansas City, Kansas, where we used to have another clinic off of State Avenue. His colony used to be as big as 11 cats, born and raised in his neighborhood or dumped on his street by someone else.
“I have to give a lot of credit to [Ramona],” he said. “I was seriously in trouble with those cats.”
With the help of our TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) program, Ramona and two volunteers, Dillon and Marcos, were able to trap nine adult cats and four kittens throughout the past few years, spay or neuter them and release them back out in front of Will’s house (besides the kittens who were transferred to the shelter). SNKC was able to cover the cost of the surgeries with the help of a grant; Will wouldn’t have been able to afford them otherwise.
Because his cats had all been altered, we were able to assist Will with pet food. Now, the colony has reduced to six, and they are all fed once a day and spoiled with extra table scraps, like chicken, when Will has leftovers.
They aren’t very fond of strangers, and I didn’t have to see them interact with Will to understand the amount of love that comes running from all directions towards his house when he steps outside – or the love that Will reciprocates back. The genuine tone in his voice and the candid smile on his face as he talked about his colony spoke for themselves.
This was the first day I’d met Will, but I left feeling like I had known him for all of the years he’d been involved with SNKC. As he spoke, it’s as if we were sitting on that porch together, and I could picture the cats winding down at Will’s side after eating their daily meal.
“I make sure all of my cats eat first,” he said.
It’s important to him that his colony is full of well-fed, healthy cats – cats that Ramona says look so good that they could pass for being owned. There are also big tom cats in the neighborhood that often bully his colony, and Will doesn’t tolerate that. It took him a while to accept the fact that those cats needed to eat, too, so now he makes sure his colony is taken care of first and still does what he can to help the meaner cats that seem to come and go.
Despite his ongoing health issues, he is still out there every day feeding his colony and repelling anything or anyone who might try and harm them.
The cats like to hang out underneath his porch, but they also have access to its roof so they can escape from a stray dog. When he walks down to the corner store, which is one block away and planted on a busy street, the cats will even meet him in the alley and try to follow him to the store. He pushes them back toward his house to keep them safe from traffic and off a dog’s radar. To explain the strength of their bond even further, somehow the cats know not to lay a paw on the plants in his gardens, one of his most prized possessions. Though, he admits, he’s not so lucky with others in his neighborhood, including animals and people.
Caring for others isn’t something new to him; he cared for his mother up until she was 97. Compassion is in his DNA and is quite contagious. He doesn’t think twice about putting his own wants or needs aside if that means someone else, including pets, will have one less thing to worry about, which is something he and SNKC have in common. Will reminds me that when there are things in life you feel like you can’t change, it’s still effortless to be a kind human being. And that makes more of a difference than we realize.
It’s apparent that his cats are much more than a colony to him.
“My wife could never have kids, so [the cats] are her kids,” Will said.
They no longer have personal pets anymore because Will said Tonya gets too attached to the cats, making it hard to say goodbye. Once they found a litter of kittens in their basement, and she fell in love with the white one who, come to find out, was deaf. They took it in as their own, but there was a terrible accident where it didn’t hear a visitor’s car start and couldn’t move from behind the back tire in time. Up until this day, Tonya still sleeps towards the end of the bed where the cat used to sleep next to her.
When Ramona added that if she were to find a white kitten this summer, she would have to bring it by to give to Tonya, Will said, “And now I know not to answer that phone call.”
He acts like he wouldn’t want it, but we all know he would care for it better than anyone else. Even though unfortunate events can happen when you care for a colony, that doesn’t stop Will from doing right by the cats. No matter what, he will always put others before himself without asking, and that shows even more about his humble and compassionate character.
He told me and Ramona that people say those who care for their parents their whole lives live a longer life, and that is the reason why, through all of his breathing treatments and doctors appointments, he continues to feel better than ever. Now, he has his cats to take care of, and as long as Will is around, those cats will always have a home at the corner of Haskell and Hallock.