A few months ago, Grandpa Tigger was in bad shape. The owner of Tigger, a 12-year-old cat who needed treatment for cancer, left him in the hands of a family friend. That didn’t last very long. His new owner’s dachshunds saw him as prey, hunting and attacking him on a daily basis. Grandpa Tigger was then left on his own, eating whatever he could to survive, suffering from flea dermatitis and severe food allergies, resulting in scar tissue beneath the frayed orange fur on his lower back.
Today, Grandpa Tigger is sitting plump and purring inside Action Mower & Equipment Repair. Here, he along with about 50 other cats, has found a new home and a second chance at life. All of this is thanks to the owner of Action Mower, Norma King. She’s made it her duty to not only fix lawn mowers, but to fix cats as well.
King’s career in animal rescue began in 2011 when a feral cat living under her home gave birth to a litter of kittens.“I couldn’t stand to see all of those kittens without the proper care that they deserve,” she says. “I’ve been a cat owner for my entire life. I had to do something about it.”
King then enlisted the help of a friend who was also a volunteer for West Coast Dog & Cat Rescue, a Eugene-based non-profit organization that rescues animals in need. Together, they took the mother cat to the vet to get it spayed, along with 30 other kittens.
But the problem didn’t end there. King says that the Eugene and Springfield area has a major problem with stray pet overpopulation: it’s estimated there are more than 15,000 feral cats roaming the city each day. Pets are abandoned all the time, whether their owners have passed away, or they’re living with college students who move away and leave them behind. Whatever the case may be, King has made it her mission to help provide care and shelter to animals in need by turning her small lawn mower repair shop, located in front of her home in Springfield, into a cat rehabilitation center of sorts.
The shop has become an extension of the West Coast Dog & Cat Rescue; people can call King if there is a stray cat that needs to be rescued. Once she receives the call, she drives out to the location, assess the situation, and set traps for the cats using canned food as bait. When the cat enters the cage to eat the food, the door closes, and King can take the cat back to Action Mower.
The cat is then fixed, dewormed, vaccinated, and either released or made available for adoption, depending on the situation. If the cat is able to be socialized, meaning it is well-behaved around humans and other animals, then it can be adopted. If not, it is set free. This process is called “Trap/Neuter/Return,” or TNR.
King says the hardest part of her job is rescuing cats that she knows will never find a happy home. “It’s challenging to go out to a property with ten or 15 cats that I can’t do anything more with except trap, neuter, and return them.”
Fortunately, many of the cats that King takes into her shop are able to find caring homes. And, the cats live in Action Mower while waiting for adoption or recovering. “I usually come in for work at about 8:30 every morning and feed and water the cats,” King says. “They hang out with me while I order lawn mower parts and call customers. I leave at about 5:00, but I normally come back to visit them later in the evening. They’re all very comfortable here.”
Care and comfort is what King provides the cats with on a daily basis — she works 11 to 12 hours per day, balancing managing a lawn mower repair business with her volunteer work rescuing stray cats. “There have been times where a customer has walked in on me cradling a cat and feeding it a bottle of milk,” she says.
Whether she’s bottle-feeding kittens or travelling out to a property to trap a pack of stray cats, King spends her days making sure that each cat in her shop gets the chance to start over, no matter how long that may take. While some cats can be adopted out within several days of being taken into Action Mower, other cats take several months, depending on their health and behavior.
Over the past year, King has expanded the cat rescue operations as well. Last December, she was named the Executive Director of the Stray Cat Alliance, a volunteer organization that fixes strays. She has also started her own animal rescue volunteer group, the Springfield TNR Project, which is in the process of applying for a city grant in order to expand the operations to combat pet overpopulation.
“This is life-changing stuff for the cats and the volunteers alike,” Toni Ray, the volunteer coordinator of the Springfield TNR Project says. “I was working full time at the church before I joined last year and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Although King has made some substantial steps towards fixing the pet overpopulation crisis in the area, the problem isn’t solved yet. She says it has definitely improved over the past couple of years though, with 200 cats adopted and more than 550 fixed since 2011.
“I’ve created a big spider web network of people and animal rescue organizations to help save these cats,” King says.
From the outside, Action Lawn Mower & Equipment Repair looks like any other small-town business. Once you’re inside, however, it’s an entirely different story. Not many other lawn mower repair shops can advertise that they double as a cat rescue center that has helped decrease the number of stray and abandoned cats in the area.
“It’s a serious workload, but it’s worth it,” King says. “I don’t believe that all of these cats need to be just dumped in the middle of nowhere. They deserve a second chance.”
As Grandpa Tigger sits next to King in the center of Action Mower & Equipment Repair, he purrs, and she knows that he is grateful for that second chance.