Doc’s Memoirs: How the Kitty Angel Team came to be

D E Larsen DVM

“Dr. Larsen, I visited my therapist today, and she told me to find what motivates me and run with it,” Vicki Lindley said. “She said, ‘If that happens to be cats, then do cats.’ I am going to start a cat rescue, and I am wondering if I can get some support from you.”

“That sounds like a big project, and there is a definite need around here,” I said. “The county gives no help for cats, and the humane society is not much better. Cats definitely are relegated to the backseat.”

“Well, we are going change things,” Vicki said. “Doris [Garron] is on board with me. We will start small, but we have big plans.”

“I would guess you are going to have to define your operations pretty well, or you are going to be overrun with demand. But I will give you all the support that I can afford. I don’t have real deep pockets, you know.”

Following that initial brief conversation, Vicki and Doris embarked on their project. They became the Kitty Angel Team. There were lessons to learn along the way. Sometimes they were hard lessons, and, as I predicted, the job soon became more than two people could handle.

They started working with colonies of feral cats. Sweet Home had more than enough of those colonies. The life of a wild cat was difficult and short.

Their goal was to capture, neuter and release. Once the cats were captured, the Kitty Angel Team would test for feline leukemia and then vaccinate the negative cats for rabies and feline distemper. The cats would receive a broad spectrum dewormer and then have a trip to a low-cost surgery at the Oregon Humane Society in Salem. There they would be spayed or neutered, as determined by their plumbing.

Once treated and rendered sterile, they would be released back into the colony. With a distemper vaccine onboard, the cat’s survival was greatly enhanced. Distemper is one of nature’s mechanisms to control the population of the cat colonies.

In young cats, it is a highly fatal disease. The colonies would experience periodic epidemics where the virus would eliminate a significant portion of the kittens. The feline distemper portion of the vaccine given to the captured cats is one of the best vaccines science has produced. With vaccination and periodic natural exposures to the virus, cats remained solidly immune. The average age of the colony indeed doubled.

The first significant attempt to provide primarily free neuter and spay surgeries locally were undertaken with the aid of the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon. The FCC operated a mobile truck set-up with three surgery tables and a prep table. Caregivers could bring feral cats in for surgery and vaccinations done by volunteer veterinarians. There was no fee for the procedure, although a donation was expected.

My first experience volunteering for the day was when they had the truck at the Holley Grange. I found the day exhausting and the environment in the surgery room hot and lacking adequate ventilation. But we accomplished close to 100 surgeries. I am sure that some of the cats were less than feral.

After that experience, the Kitty Angel Team took off like wildfire. It grew in numbers of volunteers helping them. The number of cats that they helped, and actually saved, also increased.

They arranged for periodic visits of the Feral Cat Coalition surgery truck. When that wasn’t enough, they would transport cats to low-cost clinics and the humane society for spays and neuters. They held adoption clinics at Petco in Albany and Corvallis.

And with their tax-free organization status, they expanded their all-volunteer, no-kill cat and kitten rescue to serve the entire mid-Willamette Valley. Their name also extended to the Kitty Angel Team Adoption, KATA.

They were obviously the only choice for Sandy and me when we were tasked with finding kittens for our two California granddaughters, Addison and Olivia. We gave Vickie a call.

“Vickie, we are looking for a couple of kittens for Dee’s girls,” I said.

“You’re in luck,” Vickie said. “Doris has a bunch at her place that are just about ready to go. I would guess that we could release a couple of them early to your care. I will call Doris and tell her you are coming if you would like. Do you know where she lives?”

“Yes, we have been by her place often,” I said. “And it would be great if you could give her a call, that way I don’t have to know her phone number. I know you two try to protect your privacy as much as possible.”

“We can get up there this afternoon. We are not going to California until the end of the week. But we can hold the kittens at the clinic until we leave. That way, we can make sure they have all their shots and deworming.”

Doris was waiting for us when we pulled into her driveway.

“I have these kittens in the old chicken coop,” Doris said. “This spring has been pretty productive. We have almost 20 kittens in there. I have a few more isolated, just for that mild upper respiratory stuff they get sometimes.”

We followed Doris into the chicken coop, and we were immediately swarmed with kittens. I think they were expecting to be fed. There were all kinds and colors. They all looked to be six to eight weeks old, and I could only spot a couple with a bit of discharge in the corner of their eyes.

“We keep the younger ones with our foster caregivers,” Doris said. “Then, when they are about six weeks old, we move them in here, so they are a little better socialized to the ways of being a kitten.”

“Picking two out of 20 might be a little difficult,” I said.

I had no more than spoken those words when two kittens launched themselves onto my pant legs and started to climb up. They were a couple of tabby kittens, and they looked so much alike that they must have been littermates.

“It looks like these two made a choice for me,” I said.

We gathered the two kittens up and made a generous donation to KATA. The kittens shared a kennel at the clinic. It was a couple of days before our trip, and they seemed to enjoy being away from the crowd.

* * * *

The trip to South San Francisco proved to be uneventful. The kittens, in their carrier, had no issue with traveling. We stopped for a visit with cousins at Fortuna. We stayed in a motel, but the kittens stayed with the cousins. They were almost adopted by Lorrene and Jim. We could have easily left them there.

We picked up Addison and Olivia from school on our arrival at Dee’s. To say they were excited to see the new kittens would be a colossal understatement.

It did not take long for Wishbone and Crystal to become fixtures in the family. They have individual personalities, but they also remain very close to each other in their daily routines.

And most of all, they remain a living testament to the great work done by Vicki and Doris and their cadre of volunteers.

– David Larsen is a retired veterinarian who practiced 40 years in Sweet Home. More of his stories are available on his blog at