MEADOWS OF DAN — The Patrick County Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control this week rounded up some 70 cats from a troubled rescue operation called Feral Feline Recycling Project.
Collecting all those cats from the Meadows of Dan property of Susan Bridges took more than three days, according to Sheriff Dan Smith. Smith said that half of the cats would be taken to Roanoke to receive medical care at Angels of Assisi, an animal protection organization and veterinary clinic. No placement has been found for the remaining cats, the sheriff said.
The scores of cats began arriving at Bridges’ 40 acres around 2015, when she began her cat rescue organization. At first she went to feral cat colonies across a three-county area and made videos of herself taming the cats, she said. She would take the cats to be neutered or spayed, then release them back to the colonies, Bridges said.
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She brought cats indoors to “get them used to living in a house so they can be adopted,” she said. “I’ve been able to sporadically find homes for them here and there.”
Bridges blamed her husband for not putting an adoption page online to facilitate moving the cats on to new homes elsewhere. She and her husband split up in 2020, Bridges said.
Meanwhile, with people abandoning their pets at Bridges’ property, the cat population had grown and there were an estimated 60 animals inside the house, she said.
State records show that Bridges formed Feral Feline Recycling Project, Limited, on March 20, 2020. It lists her as CEO, Jutta Goldman of Texas as CFO, Esther Rosier of Maine as “Co-Consulting Expert,” and Patricia Mullins of Bassett as “C-Consulting Office.”
She tried to establish a 501c3 charity status but has not been successful, she said.
She brought cats to her house to “get them used to living in a house so they can be adopted,” she said. “I’ve been able to sporadically find homes for them here and there.”
Bridges said this week that her living conditions have deteriorated in recent years. She has posted descriptions on her Facebook page, “Cat Balue.”
The house hasn’t had heat or running water for three years, Bridges said. She said she lived off a $1,087 monthly income with food from a local food pantry, and donations of cat food from Facebook followers have helped feed the cats.
She said all donations through her “donor-to-vendor program” go directly to a store for cat food and supplies and to two veterinary clinics, one in Floyd and the other in Montgomery County, for spaying and neutering.
However, not all of the cats in her home have been spayed or neutered, she said.
Bridges said she suffers from various health problems including third stage kidney failure, COPD, bladder and bowel incontinence and a collapsed spine, and she has had a heart attack, and she is no longer in good enough health to take care of the cats.
“We’re cold and we’re starving to death. We’re freezing to death,” she said.
“We’re living in cold and filth and conditions you cannot even imagine,” she said. “I have been hard-pressed just to keep what I’ve got here alive.”
Angels of Assisi confirmed on Friday that they sent their truck to pick up 24 cats, but won’t know if they can take more until they assess how healthy the first batch of cats was. They said that they have been told all of the cats are going to need medical care.
Angels of Assisi had helped Patrick County before, Smith said, in a case of removing 58 dogs from a house six years ago. “They have been a blessing to us in stepping in and helping us in these situations,” he said.
“We had to do something because the conditions were deplorable,” Smith said of the Meadows of Dan’s house. “Extreme filth inside of the home, odor coming from inside of the home that you could smell a distance away from the home when you were walking up to it.”
On Friday, pet traps and dirty carriers were piled up outside the house, a dog was heard barking in the house, a barn and carport had fallen into disrepair on the property and a battered car contained an almost empty cat food bag.
Talking Friday in her front yard, Bridges said she provides food and care for more than 200 cats in 12 feral cat colonies in Patrick and surrounding counties.
Her love for cats began when she was a child when her pet cat would provide comfort to her in the midst of a dysfunctional family. She realized that she had a talent for interacting with wild animals, especially feral cats, and now at 68 years old, still feels for the feral, stray and neglected cats.
“There’s a magic moment, and you see it in their eyes … It changes from fear to trust,” she said. “… and that’s why I do this work.”
Not all of the indoor cats were removed. She has kept five elderly cats who are her own personal pets.
Bridges said that one of her neighbors has in the past let her use an outside faucet for water. Now that the neighbor has shut off the water for winter, she goes to the local laundromat for water she carries home.
While she can’t take any more cats at her home, she said, for as long as she is able she still plans to travel to all of the colonies each day to take food to the cats, continue to “tame” feral cats and try to get them adjusted to home life and to facilitate TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) efforts in the area.
This process, she said, takes her on a 45-mile route each day. Her eyes began to tear up as she speculated what would happen to the cats if she was unable to complete this daily task.
Bridges said that people in her situation usually get labeled with the “crazy cat lady” stereotype and that in her case it wasn’t a situation of hoarding, but as neglect “by humanity at large.” She described one situation in which the driver of a car tossed a cat out the window onto her property for her to take it in.
This Christmas, Bridges urged people to “feed into the reason for the season” by donating to organizations that help animals in need in peoples’ names as a gift instead of an “expensive … impressive” gift. Her voice broke with emotion as she said that if she didn’t go feed the cats on Christmas “they wouldn’t have food … not even Christmas dinner.“
By Friday evening, both Bridges and Angels of Assisi had made Facebook posts about cats.
“Despite the devastating blow, as all of us feral cat people know, the work continues,” reads the post on the Cat Balue Facebook page, which links to a fundraiser for Feral Feline Recycling Project, Limited. A day later, $40 had been received toward the $5,000 goal.
“Due to the poor conditions these cats were kept in, the air was filled with ammonia which caused severe eye and respiratory infections,” the Angels of Assisi post reads. “The medical care these cats will need is extensive.”
Angels of Assisi requests donations to its Biscuit Fund to help with the cats’ care. Less than a day later, $1,760 had been donated. Angels of Assisi can be reached at [email protected] and 540-344-8707, and its address is 415 Campbell Road SW, Roanoke, Va., 24106.
Regarding the remaining cats, Smith said that as of Friday they “have not been able to find placement for them and we don’t have room to be able to hold them.”
And meanwhile, Bridges said, the cat overpopulation problem she has been trying to combat just keeps growing.
“Nobody’s adopting. They’re still dumping” cats, she said.