By Robert Paasch, TNR Authority & Founder of Herdin Cats —
“Save the Kittens and Friendlies, TNR the rest!” That’s rescue group, Herdin Cats, mission statement (or, better yet, our battle cry!), and everything we do adheres to it.
Born out of boredom in a Mississippi military barracks, the original idea of Herdin Cats was backed by boots-on-the-ground experience and many mentors. Through blood, scratches, dirt and sweat, and a significant amount of stinky tuna, we’ve trekked from Hawaii to San Diego and all the way across the continental U.S. to Norfolk, in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It’s been a wild ride along the way on our quest to helping cats…
HAWAII: We’ve been animal rescuers since 2012 when fostering [then later adopting] our cat Lilo from the Hawaiian Humane Society. That’s not a foster-fail; we call it a #FosterWin!
HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (PART ONE): While stationed in Hampton Roads, Va., from 2014 to 2020, we lived in Portsmouth and fostered animals for Portsmouth Humane Society where their staff would give us the tougher and more unique cat rescue cases.
SAN DIEGO: In 2020, while fostering for San Diego’s Whiskers Without Borders, we were introduced to the best way to help stray and feral cats, what is known as Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).
Whether it’s the thrill of the unknown while trapping, the excitement every time we hear the trap click shut, or if it’s all the cute cats and kittens we help, there’s something about TNR that’s deeply fulfilling. For example, while in San Diego, I successfully trapped over 30 cats across four (4) colonies in addition to a racoon, a skunk, and an opossum.
Fun Fact: The unsung hero opossum, or simply possum depending where you’re from, is a major benefit to ecosystems and a healthy environment; they’ll catch and eat ticks, cockroaches, rats, and mice.
HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (PART TWO): After finding out I’d be moving back to Hampton Roads from San Diego in July 2021, I started my search for TNR groups in the area. First, after settling in, we put our newfound passion into some serious action, again with Portsmouth Humane Society.
We also applied to volunteer with Feral Affairs Network (FAN) and let them know of my arrival and experience level. While we’ve volunteered with many cat-rescue groups in the region to take on TNR, emergencies, or just meeting caretakers and assessing a colony, FAN took full advantage of the offer, and we’ve helped each other in our respective missions. Herdin Cats can recount lots of adventures: from a late-night neighborhood rescue involving a tiny kitten with a badly broken leg (requiring loads of fundraising) to multiple neonatal kittens stuck in crawl spaces.
MISSISSIPPI: While in Mississippi on business travel, I further honed my TNR skills with Feral Feline Coalition (FFC) and Fixin the Coast. I volunteered to work a colony “rehab” project to prove myself. That “rehab” colony became my rescue project for the next four (4) months, and this is where I saved a kitten’s life using CPR. That’s a moment in your life when you pause in wonder and amazement at how strong the will is to live:
“I saved a life today. While picking up pallets and digging through junk, I saw kittens running around, but one little guy was face down on the dirty ground. When I picked him up, he was motionless. When I turned him over on his back, he didn’t stir. I immediately performed CPR on this tiny fellow! After a few rounds, he gasped, and I felt his heart rate pick up speed. I gave him a couple of aggressive (for a kitten) rubs on his chest and on his back, and he gasped for air again! After placing him back down, he stood up and tried to move around, finally coming back to life. I knew he should get some additional veterinary care, and while waiting on transport, he would not stop meowing at me! Saying ‘thank you,’ I bet. My training paid off! “
The rescue group also had me visit a few towns over to rescue several kittens from an unsanitary outside home, and since our TNR motto is “no mama is left behind,” I went back to trap their mother the next morning.
I helped FFC with a few TNR projects, including the “garden crew “ at a Walmart store and a family of cats being harassed and violently threatened by a neighbor. FFC mainly kept me busy with their weekly Saturday Market, where I learned some particularly helpful fundraising skills, a requirement in the non-profit animal rescue world.
Another Mississippi group, For Pet’s Sake Rescue, asked for my help on a few projects, including preparations for one of their cross country road trips, where adoptable pets traveled further inland to their forever home.
Additionally, I was involved in rescuing kittens from the Mississippi shipyard and from the naval barracks. When you’ve become known as the “kitten-whisperer,” news travels fast when a kitten is in need.
So, ten years later, Herdin Cats finally applied for 501(c)(3) status to formalize this innumerable list of expertise, brainstorming with my mentors across the U.S., and utilizing a local artist to design the logo I’d pictured in my head.
HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (PART TWO, continued): I found that our homebase, the City of Portsmouth, needed to be the Area of Focus for Herdin Cats, expanding out as needed to other local areas. This helped offload some specific needs for Feral Affairs Network to us, adding our efforts to the solution.
The first Colony I trapped was at an abandoned house, reported by two (2) different caretakers. Originally thought to be only two (2) adults and six (6) babies, it expanded into an extra adult and three (3) additional kittens in need.
As we know in TNR, sometimes mama’s come with kittens. Herdin Cat’s first officially adoptable kittens (two cuties) came from North Carolina while trapping some adults. Whenever possible, we always maximize efforts by taking kittens where they can receive better treatment and where the resources are more readily available. TNR rescuers always travel with traps!
Community cats are a community problem, and the community is the solution.
When I’m contacted about a new cat colony that needs help, it always works better —for all parties involved— when the caretaker plays a part. The “Here is my problem, now you fix it” approach doesn’t work. Whether it is set-and-watch-the-traps, help with raising funds, transport, or holding cats for recovery, everyone needs to contribute. We all have real-time jobs and personal lives of our own, but when we work together, the colony is taken care of faster and better. Teamwork helps with controlling the population that much quicker!
Herdin Cats spent time in 2022 studying lessons learned: what worked, what didn’t, and what we want to continue, and what we need to change. Herdin Cats will forever be thankful to all the mentorship provided during our development! My wife helps with the kittens and prepping the feral cats for surgery, and she’s a good distraction talking with the caretaker when we are properly assessing a new colony.
2023 will be an even better year with an even bigger impact in the Hampton Roads area while we continue to “Save the Kittens and Friendlies, TNR the rest!”
Community financial support is important to keep our missions alive. We respectively ask for donations to fund the costly medical needs associated with our work:
Please give generously to Herdin Cats and to Feral Affairs Network.
Feral Affairs Network (FAN) is a 501c3 nonprofit. All donations are tax deductible and applied first to any specific project you may wish to support. Additional funds raised, if any, go directly into the medical fund to save more cats and kittens. Our EIN is 81-4251598, and you may download the Feral Affairs Network IRS confirmation letter from our website. Learn more about FAN’s mission, programs, and read about our positive community impact.