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On a mission to help feral felines: Local woman continues mission to care for wild cats in Hastings

Carol Estrada of Hastings gets some food ready for a pair of feral cats that are living under a trailer home in Hastings. Estrada was at the trailer park on Monday when it was 10 degrees below zero to feed the cats. Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson

On one of the coldest days of this brutal winter, Carol Estrada drove her little black car across town and pulled up alongside a trailer in the Three Rivers mobile home park in south Hastings.

In one hand she held a small garden tool, which she used to chip away at the frozen pile of snow that blocked her entry. In the other hand she held a bag of cat food and a newspaper from the previous day.

Eventually, Estrada got up and over the pile of snow and approached a small gray blanket, used to provide a make-shift shelter for two feral cats living outside in the mobile park. She swapped out the newspaper, dropped off some fresh dry food and some fresh wet food and then called out to the cats.

“Here kitty kitty,” she said.

It was 10 degrees below zero at the time, and the wind made it feel even colder. Yet there stood Estrada.

“I love them,” she said. “It breaks my heart. I look at these poor cats – all they want is a little attention and food and love.

“It’s cold for them, too. I cannot sit at home and know they’re hungry.”

Every day this winter, Estrada has made this trip.

Feeding and caring for the cats at the mobile home park is something she has done for some 15 years now.

She moved to the park in 1999 and quickly noticed a feral cat colony living in the woods behind the park. That colony had mixed with some of the domesticated cats in the park and grown over time.

One time a cat gave birth to her entire litter in Estrada’s front lawn. Another time, a cat gave birth in her wood pile. It didn’t take long for Estrada to spring into action.

She set up a shelter in her shed and would feed the cats twice a day.

“We had cats all over the place,” she said. “They were really hungry and starving. Pretty soon, there were so many cats, I couldn’t handle it anymore.”

About 18 months ago, Estrada didn’t know which way to turn. She called the Animal Ark in Hastings, who got her in touch with a woman named Rebecca Nelson, who works with cat rescues. Nelson and Estrada teamed up to trap the cats, get them spayed and neutered and then find them a home. Veterinarians donated time on their lunch breaks to help out and in all, nearly 50 cats were moved out of the park safely.

“Oh my goodness – Carol is a trooper,” Nelson said. “I’m very, very impressed with her. I’m impressed because this was a real physical hurdle for her.”

About half of the cats they trapped were socialized and adopted out. The other half, too old to be socialized, were adopted by farmers who needed help with rodent control.

Late last year, Estrada moved out of the park, but she still goes there once a day to feed the final two feral cats there. They haven’t been able to catch them yet. Once they can safely trap them this spring, those two final cats will be adopted out. In the meantime, Estrada brings them fresh food every day.

“My heart tells me I have to do this,” she said.

Nelson said the problem isn’t unique to Hastings. Many cats can find shelter and relative warmth under trailers, making them an ideal spot for feral cats. The nearby woods in Hastings also make the spot here a likely home for feral cat populations.