climb out of the van; it's cold. I notice tracks in the fresh coating
of snow. We walk through the wide door of the abandoned concrete building
and stop. We stand quietly. I survey the ordered hay bales and the
large snarled pile of discarded wooden pallets. Gradually little feline
faces begin to appear. It's rather like that game we played as kids,
'How many cats can you find in this picture?' Only now they're real
cats, lots of cats, maybe forty of them, me staring at them, them
staring back at me. Katrin Hecker steps into the picture releasing
a newly neutered cat; he bolts for cover. Then she scoops dry cat
food into the feeding pans. Feeding and caring for cats consumes her
life these days. "Not everybody is as passionate as me, I love cats
of all kinds." She tells me she would love to work with Siberian tigers,
"There are only about 200 of them left in the world."
is a tall beautiful woman with a wide bright smile, her lion's mane
of blonde hair escaping from beneath a hat that would make Dr. Seuss
envious. You see her tooling around Hudson and the county in her yellow
van, the 'Cat Mobile'.
up behind the Iron Curtain in Karl Marx City, East Germany. When she
was a teenager her parents applied to leave East Germany. They filled
out the necessary papers and waited and waited. Three years passed.
Periodically they would visit the government office to check on the
progress of their application. Often Soviet officials would tear up
'their papers' in front of them saying, "You'll never get out of here."
They were shadowed, their every movement watched. Men wearing beige,
fake leather coats and driving beige Wartburgs or Ladas, openly followed
Katrin and her family everywhere. Imagine a bad Cold War comedy that
wasn't very funny. "It's probably why I hate beige to this day," she
She told her
friends she was going to leave someday but they didn't believe her.
Then came the call, "You have 24 hours to leave." There was no time
to contact most of her friends, time only to pack and leave. "Seems
like a different life," Katrin recollects, her words soft.
and West Germany at that time, along the high razor fence border that
split families and the world, was a barren strip of land known as
"Nowhere Land". If you ventured into that area you were shot; few
took the chance.
Katrin and I
talk about life and how there is often that blank "Nowhere Land" space
between phases, chapters of our lives. I quote a line from a John
Lennon song, "Life is what happens to you/While you're busy making
other plans." Katrin smiles, the truth ringing in the line is familiar.
In Hamburg Katrin
became a Pediatric nurse and planned to work in Africa. The common
language for medical teams working in third world countries was English;
she spoke German and Russian. She decided to move to the States to
learn the language. She fell in love with New York City and before
long with Avis Davis, a rock and roll musician, but we'll meet him
began sensing one of those "Nowhere Land" chapters developing in their
lives. Their plan; get an RV-type vehicle and travel around the country.
Then fate stepped in. At a Manhattan flea market they saw a photograph
of a church for sale in a place called Hudson, New York. Life changed,
Hudson became home.
A stray cat
showed up one afternoon while they were working on their home. He
was a black three-legged cat. He hung around for a while then disappeared.
Months later he returned, his eye severely injured in a fight. Katrin
borrowed a trap from the Humane Society, caught him and took him to
the vet. His eye was beyond saving. After surgery, Katrin took him
home. The winter was severe so she kept him inside. That black, three-legged,
one-eyed cat became, as Katrin puts it, "One of the sweetest cats
I've ever seen." She named him Lucky.
to notice cats. The alleys were teeming with cats. They'd always been
there, only now she was 'seeing' them for the first time. "There were
cats everywhere, thin, sick cats. It was horrible. Somebody had to
do something." And she did.
feeding the cats. She founded Animalkind Inc., a not for profit organization
operating solely on donations, dedicated to the non-proliferation
of unwanted animals. Doing her research she discovered the TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return)
Method of controlling feral cat overpopulation. Feral cats are humanely
trapped, altered, vaccinated and released back into managed colonies,
where daily monitoring and care is assured. To date she has spayed
or neutered and returned more than 700 cats and feeds 180 daily. Katrin
frequently talks with young people about abuse and the importance
of kindness toward animals. Now, when she motors past in the 'Cat
Mobile' those kids holler, "Hey Cat Lady, we love you."
The simple things
that ensue during those barren "Nowhere Land" chapters can profoundly
change our lives. "I was always waiting for that something big to
come into my life," she says referring back to the Lennon lyric. "But
that's not how it works." Those everyday tasks make the greatest life-changing
difference in the community and in you. Katrin is a woman who makes
a difference. "I am happy to be alive," her eyes light up, "all the
possibilities, there are so many."
We'll talk next
time, From The Road.
You can contact Animalkind Inc. at, P.O. Box 902, Hudson, NY or call
828-3694 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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