The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 20, 2014

No room for stray cats: Billie May wants to start no-kill shelter

By Karen Middleton

— Lots of people spend untold hours visiting numerous websites devoted to the cute cat antics.

Still others don’t like cats. They perceive them as sneaky, and cats make other people sneeze and their eyes water.

And there’s a big in-between group that can take cats or leave them, but they don’t necessarily want to see them harmed either.

Athens businesswoman Billie May, a retired educator, loves cats and wants to take steps to create a no-kill shelter to get hundreds of stray cats off the streets of Athens to keep them from spreading disease, reproducing and meeting bad ends by numerous means.

May has been working with an attorney to set up a 501c3 foundation with the working title of “Adoptable Angels,” because she believes the best solution to feral cats populations is to find good homes for them.

“My concern is that there is no good place for these cats,” said May. “There’s not too many people out there who care for cats. Peace, Love and Animals in Tanner does a super job with dogs, but there’s no place for cats.”

May and her late husband, Buddy, came to Athens in 1955 and were employed as educators in Athens City Schools. May went on to Calhoun Community College where she taught accounting for 28 years, retiring in 1994. Since that time she has been involved in several business interests, one of which as owner of the popular tourist attraction Milky Way Farm near Pulaski, Tenn., which she sold in 2006.

Her involvement in caring for stray cats began in 2004, when she took in a stray, sick kitten that she nursed to health and fed with a bottle. Her interests have escalated since then and so has out-of-pocket expenses on food, litter and veterinary bills.

One of her favorite cats was found shot with a BB in its eye and a veterinary had to remove the cat’s eye. The cat now goes by the name “Bee-Bee.”

Added to care and feeding is the cost of spaying and neutering.

“I have to face reality that I can’t take care of them all,” she said.

May said she has heard of several people locally who work quietly behind the scenes doing what they can for feral cats and bearing the expense privately. Now, she’d like to gather together like-minded people to help her establish a no-kill shelter.

“I would love a building designed just for cats and a resident to take care of them, but I realize that is just a dream so far,” said May.

She said she knows of a no-kill shelter for cats in Huntsville and at least one media outlet that helps conduct an annual fundraiser for the shelter. But that is Huntsville where resources are greater, and she said she’s not sure if such an effort would be supported in Athens.

These are the no-kill shelters in Huntsville: Greater Huntsville Humane Society, The Ark Inc., A New Leash on Life and Challenger’s House.

Local veterinarian Dr. Robert Pitman, who has an animal control contract with Limestone County and the city of Athens, said the feral cat problem in both the city and county is of much larger proportions than the general public is aware.

“At this time of year, we can get in from 20 to 25 strays a day or sometimes two or three,” said Pitman. “In the county, people start out with one or two barn cats and pretty soon they’ve got 40 to 50, and a lot of them wind up here.

“The majority of field cats are never turned in. They die of leukemia or get hit by a car. The average feral cat has a lifespan of 2 to 5 years.”

A well cared-for house cat with controlled diet, limited access to the outside and regular medical care can live upwards to 20 years.

Pitman said as far as estimating populations of animals in a given area is to multiply the number of residents by 2.3 animals.

“In a county the size of Limestone, we’ll say take 82,000 and multiply that by 2.3 and you come up with 180,000 cats and dogs, and many of them are strays,” said Pitman.

Pitman said a large proportion of the strays are diseased and have roamed wild for so long that they cannot be domesticated or tamed for pets.

So, given these factors, May’s task is a big one, to say the least. But to paraphrase an often used phrase, she feels it’s better to light a candle under concerned citizens who might aid in humanely reducing  feral cat populations than to curse the numbers of stray cats.

“With a foundation, if someone wants to pay for spay or neuter they could get a tax deduction,” she said.

Anyone with a serious interest in becoming part of this endeavor can contact May by email at