LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It’s the end of the kitten season, which means that the number of stray cat colonies is increasing.
Strays in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood may not have a home, but the neighbors there make sure they are full and healthy.
If you’re driving around the neighborhood, you can catch Gerrie Hartell in an arm sling on her catwalk.
Gerrie Hartell and Abigail Shouse feed a stray cat. (Spectrum News 1 / Ashley N. Brown)
She recently returned to her Portland block after a car accident, and hospitalization just a day before her 85th birthday kept her out for a month.
“It wasn’t a good birthday present, but I was so happy to be alive,” said Hartell.
She was eager to return to her friends, and they seemed to miss her as well.
“I can’t tell you how much I love them all. I can’t begin to explain. You wouldn’t understand, ”added Hartell.
It all started 17 years ago. Twice a day, Hartell walks the streets of Portland feeding and grooming stray cats after feeding the 15 cats in her home.
She has given each stray cat a name that fits her personality.
Their love for cats is as rich as gold, but it is their steady income that covers vet bills and cat food for their house cats and the dozens of strays.
“I thought maybe God wants me to do something else,” she said. “It’s a lot of money and I’m not rich.”
The support of their neighbors makes it possible. Abigail Shouse has been helping Hartelll for five years.
Shouse has always loved animals and planned to become a veterinarian before embarking on a career in marketing.
“All the shelters are full and I have nowhere to take them, so we’re just trying to do what we can for them, feed them and find a warm place to sleep for them at night,” Shouse said.
Shouse uses recycled and donated cool boxes, trash cans, straw and styrofoam to give strays a warm home in cold weather. She wants to do at least 30 this year.
“My father is a carpenter and has taught me a lot,” she said. “He actually helped me build the first one I made.”
It takes her a few seconds to turn a cooler into a warm shelter and about an hour to do the same with storage containers.
The love for cats is only one thing the ladies have in common. You are also both allergic to feline friends. They are taking or have taken medication for symptoms, but caring for the cats was a perfect cure during the pandemic.
Abigail lost her job in 2020. She counts the time she has gained helping Hartell as a blessing.
“I care about all animals and all things and they have no one if no one helps them,” says Shouse. “I think being exposed to all of the abandoned cats was something I really didn’t know happened until I got here.”
She moved from Indiana to the Portland neighborhood 12 years ago.
The strays keep Hartell company while she distances herself socially.
“I don’t know what I did before I had her,” says Hartell. “I’ve been scared of going anywhere for a year and a half or more, so I’m grateful I had them.”
Her family believes they could go to a nursing home and save money, but they have no plans to leave the cats or the neighborhood they grew up in.
“I’m glad. I really believe I’m doing a mission that God wants me to do. When I go out and can’t find one, I’ll say, ‘Oh Lord, you made them, I’ll just feed them. Where are they?” ‘ and he shows me, ”says Hartell.
After she has fully recovered she will come back and make sure the cats are loved during the 1 in 9 lives she is part of.
“My family feels in danger, but I am not. The danger is that I will fall, but you can fall anywhere, ”says Hartell.
If you’d like to donate cool boxes or supplies, you can contact Abigail at Helpportlandcats@gmail.com.