The Cat Lady

We 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."

Katrin Hecker 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'.

Katrin grew 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 adds.

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.

Between East 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 another time.

Eventually they 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.

Katrin began 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.

Katrin began 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.

Note: You can contact Animalkind Inc. at, P.O. Box 902, Hudson, NY or call 828-3694 or e-mail:

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