I think you’re either a “cat person” or not. Is there an in between? I don’t know.

One of the greatest gifts my mom has given me is a love of animals, especially cats. Her career as a veterinarian and her love of helping animals have given our family plenty of stories over the years. She once gifted my dad, who is not the biggest cat lover, a kitten for their wedding anniversary after he casually told her, “Surprise me.” Eighteen years later, Louis Gordon, the cat, is still with us. My dad, Gordon Louis, is too.

In middle school, I joined a carpool for my swim team. Our first day, my mom came home from work with no time to spare—and cat litter spilled all over the back of the car. Without time to clean it up, we picked up my friends, including my crush at the time, and went to practice. Cue the flushed face emoji. Another fond memory, in high school: three of my friends dressed up as my family’s cats for Halloween.

There’s also the time one of our cats set off our neighbor’s alarm while they were on vacation. Another time, my dad nearly put a hole in our basement wall to “rescue” that same cat, as we could hear him crying. My sister found him in the garage of our dollhouse minutes before my dad dug into the wall.

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Needless to say, growing up, we always had quite a few furry friends running around. All of our pets have been and are rescues. They each come with their own story and personality. That’s certainly the case with the kittens and cats that come through Community Cats of Benzie County (CCBC), too.

Based in Frankfort, the nonprofit organization was started by my mom, Dr. Carol McKee, in 2016, to reduce the number of unaltered, free-roaming, stray, feral and/or abandoned domestic cats in Benzie County. The organization achieves this mission mostly through trap-neuter-return programs that require a dedicated caregiver for each cat colony and the adoption of placeable cats and kittens.

My mom is deeply motivated to create tangible change and help felines in Benzie County. She’s not alone in this pursuit, working alongside another veterinarian and a core group of volunteers. Dr. Mary Rupley assists with spaying and neutering, vaccinations and more. The volunteers, led by Claudia Lewis and Connie Learnihan, help with fostering kittens and cats, transporting them and helping find homes for them via Facebook, PetFinder, local farmers markets and art fairs. The support of Platte Lake Veterinary Clinic has also been critical to the organization’s success.

From her days at Southpointe Veterinary Hospital to Community Cats of Benzie County today, my mom has always surrounded herself with strong, capable women who mirror her love of animals. In person and from afar, I see the time, energy and heart these women pour into CCBC. It’s a relatively small organization, but in just a few years, they’ve made a big impact.

As of October 2019, Community Cats of Benzie County has spayed or neutered more than 1,000 cats and placed more than 300 kittens and friendly cats in loving homes.

While working with animals may sound like a dream job to many—and it certainly is—the work and mission of CCBC also carries challenges. The organization has a solid group of volunteers but is always looking for more, especially during the spring, summer and fall.

Another challenge is simply that there are always more cats in need of help. In every cat colony, CCBC strives to trap and spay or neuter cats to prevent the reproduction of homeless kittens. However, it’s not always easy to get the adult cats. The work of CCBC can often feel as though it’s never done.

I’m proud of my mom, Dr. Rupley, Claudia, Connie and every other volunteer, donor and adopter for stepping into this work day after day, year after year. Every year, new stories are written for and by the kittens and cats and the families who adopt them in Benzie County and beyond. While I’m sure some are similar to those within our family, each kitten and cat certainly carries its own personality and adventurous tales.

CCBC is 100 percent volunteer and donation-driven. For more information on the organization, visit benziecats.org. Find the organization on Facebook at “Community Cats of Benzie County.”