When Phoenix resident Dave Cavolt hears complaints about feral cat colonies, he likes nothing more than to offer a meet-and-greet with Savanna, Boots and Gizmo.
The three kittens, born to feral parents in an industrial area of Medford, are now healthy, litter-box-trained, adoptable pets that will even walk on a leash, thanks to Cavolt's gentle instruction.
Giving "crazy cat ladies" a run for their money, Cavolt has become caregiver to the colony from which the kittens were taken near his workplace, Hannan Products, which makes machines and parts for manufacturers.
Cavolt isn't just feeding the cats, though. He's managing them for disease and overpopulation, a solution touted by local shelters. He gets the adults spayed and neutered and catches the kittens to be socialized for adoption as pets. He even has converted a small rental home on his property in Phoenix into a cat hospital, ensuring a stable indoor environment for the kittens he takes home.
Starting his day at 4 a.m., Cavolt provides food and medicine as needed — kittens will line up to take their drops before feeding time — and walks them on leashes around his neighborhood. He cares for the adults in the Medford colony on breaks from work at Hannan, where he's a machinist.
Cavolt took on the role of caregiver to feral cats in January after losing his own pet cat, which had come from a feral colony, in December.
"That one went out and then all of these just seemed to come in," Cavolt said, noting that he always felt drawn to feral cats because they're the most needy of homeless felines.
At first Cavolt offered food and kept an eye on the cats, which have invaded a collection of 1957 Nash Metropolitans behind the machine shop that the owners bought for eventual restoration. Then he began wiping the eyes of tiny kittens.
Realizing the kittens' chance for survival was grim, he took the youngest ones home.
"That's how it got started, I guess," Cavolt says, declining to be too specific on the number of current inhabitants in the interest of protecting marital bliss.
"I have a few. Not too many. My wife thinks I only have three right now," he says with a laugh.
Every few weeks, usually around payday, Cavolt assesses his inventory of food and litter and determines whether he can afford to catch another cat to be spayed or neutered.
When weather turns cold, he puts straw inside the old Metropolitans and covers them with tarps so the cats stay dry.
"If they can't find me at work they know I'm out with the cats," Cavolt says, chuckling.
"I just try to do what I can and when I have an extra few dollars I'll put out the trap and get one of them spayed or neutered."
Co-worker Melanie Roberts said Cavolt is the subject of gentle teasing for his newfound role as "cat man."
"It stops cars when he's walking them down the street," Roberts says. "People stop their car and go, 'Is that a cat?' I'm an animal person and even I couldn't believe it.
"They have always kind of congregated out behind our building where we work. He started out just leaving water and stuff out, then we looked one day and he had put hay in the cars for them to be dry. He just really does a good job taking care of them."
Summer Hunt, office manager at Medford Animal Hospital, where Cavolt takes his cats for spaying and neutering, says Cavolt has impressed the staff.
"He's a great guy. I can't believe the things that he does for these cats. I just know he does his darndest to catch all those cats and kittens and gets them spayed and neutered and then he even tames the babies and takes the time to find them homes," Hunt says.
"He's a great guy. We have several females who (work with feral colonies) and bring cats in for treatments, but it's really uncommon to have a male that devoted to kitties."
Cavolt says he never imagined being "a cat man" but felt his work was important. Progress made with one wild kitten, he says, "makes it worth it."
"I'm trying to change people's opinion of the feral cats. They get a bad rap that they're not trainable, they're mean and everything else. I haven't seen any of that. The adult ones are pretty rough at first, but it doesn't take long for them to come up," he says.
"Even the ones that are biting and screaming to start with, once you start petting them you can tell that they'll be all right after awhile. It's a lot of work but I just do what I can."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.