GOSHEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Here’s the thing: I love cats and always have. I live with a bunch of them. I won’t say how many, but someday I expect to start coughing up hairballs of my own.
So I’m not going to write this story as the balanced, unbiased reporter that I work hard to be every day.
I’m going to fly my cat lady freak flag and write this as a column. A column about how another cat-loving woman is channeling her passion for kitties to make the world a better place.
That woman is Melanie Dial.
In her working life, Melanie is a nurse who takes care of critically ill children. On her off days, she uses her super powers to help the cats of Clermont County as a volunteer TNR specialist.
TNR, as the cat lovers out there probably know, stands for “trap, neuter, return.” That’s the practice of capturing, sterilizing and vaccinating “community cats.” (Back in the day, we called them strays.) While they’re under anesthesia, those cats have a small portion of their left ears removed – or tipped – so people can tell from a distance that the cat has been neutered or spayed.
Melanie then returns the cats to their outdoor homes. Or – if the cats are very friendly – they get transported to a shelter so they can be adopted. The goal: To reduce the number of kittens born outside, thereby reducing overcrowding in animal shelters and working to eliminate the need for shelters to euthanize cats that don’t get adopted so they can make room for other cats.
“I call it channeling my inner Bob Barker,” Melanie told me. “Help control the pet population.”
Note for younger readers: Bob Barker is best known for hosting the game show “The Price is Right” for 35 years. Starting in the 1980s – before the Internet existed -- he ended each show by saying, “This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population – have your pets spayed or neutered.” So what Melanie said is what we in the news business call “a really good quote.”
Back to Melanie.
She drives around Clermont County in her SUV, with humane traps stacked in the back. When she gets to a spot where community cats are, well, catting around, she loads the traps up with food that’s “nice and stinky.” Then she traps cats that are wandering around the community.
Here’s where I come in: I got to watch her.
And – THERE WERE KITTENS!
‘Less hootin’ and hollerin’ ‘
Allow me to repeat myself.
WCPO 9 paid me to stand around outside on a beautiful day to gawk at kittens and watch Melanie try to catch the babies and their mama cat. And then she did catch a kitten. AND I GOT TO PET THE KITTEN.
Please forgive the ALL CAPS. I am struggling to contain my enthusiasm, even as I relive the experience in my mind.
Whew, OK. Back to Melanie. She became a TNR specialist after her son and daughter graduated from high school, and she and her husband became empty-nesters. She told me she wanted to do something to help cats. Being the analytical-oriented problem-solver she is, Melanie did some research and decided that getting involved with TNR was where she could make the biggest difference.
“It is front line. It is boots on the ground, getting your hands dirty and making the biggest impact,” she said. “I knew that that’s the piece I wanted to focus on.”
She argues that the work is important for people who don’t like cats, too.
“We’re still on the same team,” she said. “Both of our goal is to have less cats outdoors. We have different rationales for it. But the bottom line is the same. We want less cats outdoors, and this is the way to have it happen.”
Male cats fight much less after they get neutered, she said, and their urine isn’t as stinky after the testosterone is out of their systems. And after females get spayed, she added, they make much less noise.
“Less hootin’ and hollerin’ at night,” she said. “The females won’t do that yowlin’ when they’re in their heat cycle. So returning them to their communities when they’re fixed, it’s a much more peaceful setting.”
Deborah Cribbs calls TNR a “kindness to the community.”
She’s the chair of the Joanie Bernard Foundation, a nonprofit that exists to create a “no-kill cat nation.”
It’s the group responsible for those Scooter the Neutered Cat billboards you probably have seen around town.
The foundation’s latest campaign – called Mild Kingdom – is focused on community cats and educating the public about the importance of TNR.
“It’s just better for society to have our pets at least not suffering outside,” Deborah told me. “Without the volunteers and their acts of kindness, we would definitely not succeed with this effort.”
The foundation’s work to improve the lives of cats also has helped Tri-State dogs, she said, by allowing animal shelters to use more of their resources to help dogs while the Joanie Bernard Foundation funds so much work for cats.
But let’s get back to the cuteness.
More ALL CAPS excitement
The day photojournalist Scott Wegener and I were hanging out with Melanie, we found her SUV parked in the driveway of a Goshen Township home.
The homeowner contacted Melanie to say a mama cat in the neighborhood had recently had her third litter of kittens. The homeowner was feeding the mama, who was getting a bit more social around people. Melanie asked the homeowner not to put out food that morning so the mama would be good and hungry.
As four adorable, fluffy kittens played in tall, decorative grass outside the house, the mama stayed back and watched.
Melanie set the trap, and the mama cat ran. More commentary here: Cats are smart.
Melanie talked with us about her volunteer work and let us see a foster kitten she had brought with her to show how beautiful cats continue to be after their ears are tipped.
Three of the four community kittens wandered off. But one stripy gray baby stayed behind during our interview, climbing up under the hood of Melanie’s SUV.
After Melanie opened the driver’s side door, the baby jumped out and hid in some bushes.
Melanie scooped some wet cat food onto a plastic spoon and sat next to the bush.
As the kitten licked at the food, Melanie drew the spoon closer to her, luring the baby from the bush.
When the kitten was close enough, Melanie scooped it up. Victory!
That’s when I GOT TO PET THE KITTEN. IT WAS SO SOFT.
(Sorry. I’m trying to contain myself.)
Then Melanie put an absorbent pad into a cat carrier she had in the back of her car and gently placed the kitten inside. The kitten was loud but modest, keeping its little tail clamped over its private area so we couldn’t tell if it was a male or female.
As the kitten mewed, Melanie smiled and then said the same thing she says every time she traps a cat or kitten: “His or her journey to a better life starts now. Right?”
As if that weren’t a good enough ending to the story, Melanie caught the mama cat later that afternoon.
We weren’t there for that part. But she sent me this photo a few days later of the freshly spayed cat’s happy return to her community.
It was – please forgive me once more – just purrfect.
Clermont County residents can email ClermontCountyTNR@gmail.com for help with free spay, neuter and vaccination services for community cats. More information is available at mildkingdom.org. The nonprofit clinic UCAN in Camp Washington offers free spay, neuter and vaccinations for community cats that are trapped and low-cost spay, neuter and veterinary care for cat and dog owners.
Acts of Kindness stories appear weekly on WCPO 9 News and WCPO.com. If you know about an act of kindness that you think should be highlighted, email email@example.com.