Today we meet Becky, who began working with a colony of feral cats just last year in 2016. Caring for about 20 cats, the hardest thing that Becky has had to deal with so far is the harsh winter weather in Wisconsin. When her colony was sick and being treated, it was minus 20 degrees! Just keeping the food from freezing was a real challenge.
When I started following Becky and her Birds of a Sweater profile on Instagram, I thought her TNR efforts and handmade cat toys would make for an interesting interview. Becky holds monthly giveaways on her Instagram profile for her cat toys, and I wanted to hold a giveaway today here on the blog as well to support her feral colony.
A Conversation with Becky
How did you start caring for the colony?
In January of last year, I purchased the 18 acres of land adjoining my parents’ farm, hoping to eventually, at the end of our land contract, move there and start my own small hobby farm. The land is a hoarder property, with many run-down buildings, abandoned trailers, cars, tractors, and other garbage. The former owner didn’t fix any of her cats, and at that time there were about 30 of them, all feral except for a few. By the time I took over the feeding and care of the colony (when the former owner moved away and left them), there were about 20 left, all starving and sick.
Does anyone else help you care for the cats?
My daughter, Calli, is 11 and does 50% of the work!
How do you care for the cats?
We care for the colony daily, feeding and watering the cats. We’ve treated the entire colony for a horrible upper respiratory infection, and we monitor their health daily. We’re in the middle of TNR, we have about half of the colony done and hope to have the rest done soon. We’ve fostered a few of the sick kittens that we pulled from the colony and have adopted one out.
Do you have shelters or rescues that you work with?
We don’t work with anyone in our area besides our vet, but we love partnering with TNR organizations around the country to help them network and get the funds needed to continue their mission.
What is the best part about helping the colony?
Releasing a TNR’d cat, knowing how much better their life will be, is definitely one of the best parts. Or the first time I saw them play, many months after we’d been feeding them – I knew then that they were finally healthy and happy.
How do you cover the expenses?
Most of the feeding and medical expenses are covered by the sales of the Birds of a Sweater cat toys that I make. We’ve also been blessed by the Instagram community and have received numerous donations of food from our Amazon Wish List, as well as direct donations to our GoFundMe account.
Is there a special cat that stands out in your mind?
Oh, it’s definitely Officer Tom! It was bitterly cold on December 23rd when we were feeding, and a new cat was at the feeding station. He was an unaltered, large, adult male cat, and he was friendly! That was a big change because the cats in our colony are truly feral – with the exception of one, we can’t get near them.
Because we’re so rural, we believe he was dumped. Calli named him Officer Tom and he quickly became the alpha male of the colony. Officer Tom was TNR’d in February. Since then he just continues to amaze us – originally meeting us on the path to the colony and escorting us around as we fed, watered, and trapped, and now also visiting part time on my parents’ farm and getting snuggles whenever possible.
He won’t allow us to bring him inside, but we’re hoping to at least convince him to sleep in our barn before next winter. He’s a wonderful companion and we love him so much.
Have you adopted any of the cats from the colony?
Yes, the first sick kitten we pulled from the colony, Buddy. He was about 5-6 months old when we caught him with a nasty upper respiratory infection and brought him in to treat. He has turned into the sweetest cat.
What other pets do you have at home?
Milly is our oldest cat at 5 years old. She was found as a stray in my sister’s garage when she was just 6 weeks old. Doom, our other adult cat, is also 5. He was a stray that walked in our front door when we lived in Chicago and adopted us! Mr. Smith is our Goldendoodle – he is also 5. He LOVES all cats and wishes they would play with him more. Our barn cats, Robin and Lark, came to us from a farm down the road. They will both be turning one next month.
We’re also currently fostering Leo, our neuro kitty, who was pulled from the colony a few months ago. Some sort of trauma left him with a permanent head tilt, muscle damage resulting in buggy eyes, light cataracts, and poor reflexes in his back legs. He is about 10 months old, and honestly, will probably be a foster fail.
Birds of a Sweater
How did Birds of a Sweater get started?
In 2009, my sister and I started our Etsy shop, then called “Three Sassy Sisters”. She sold handmade pet collars and I sold needle felted cat toys. In 2010, I added the Birds of a Sweater toys to the shop, after playing around with the idea for a while and letting my own cat, Jack, test them.
Eventually, my sister moved across the country and we closed the shop. I reopened it in 2015 after moving to Wisconsin. In 2016, I changed the name to Birds of a Sweater when I realized that I was going to need to support the feral cat colony.
As we come to the end of our TNR efforts with this colony, I’m beginning to allocate part of the proceeds to different TNR organizations. As of now, $2 from the proceeds of each “bird of the month” is donated. I’m hoping to be able to do more in the near future.
Do you have a “9 to 5” job or is rescuing cats what you do full time?
Sometimes it feels like I rescue full time! My full-time business that supports our family is thesodapopshop.net, we sell on the website as well as Ebay and Etsy. Between that and the Birds of a Sweater, I stay very busy!
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I used to be the Senior Wildlife Specialist and Executive Director of a wildlife rehabilitation center in Illinois for about 8 years. We rehabilitated thousands of sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals every year. I’m also a US Air Force veteran!
Rachel here! I will be purchasing a 3-pack of toys from birdsofasweater.com and one lucky reader will win the set of handmade cat toys! Leave a blog comment below and then enter the giveaway.
Also, hop on over to Becky’s Etsy shop to show your support. Sales of her cat toys go to supporting her feral cat colony. And, $2 from the proceeds of each “bird of the month” is donated to a different group each month that is helping cats. The current bird of the month is April Stripes, pictured here.
The giveaway is open to U.S. residents who reside in the 48 contiguous states, 18+ years of age, except where prohibited by law. One winner will be selected randomly by Rafflecopter and contacted via email. The winner will have 48 hours to claim their prize. Failure to do so will result in forfeiture of the prize, and a new winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter. The giveaway closes on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at noon Pacific. This is not a sponsored giveaway.