WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - She's known in the neighborhood as "Baby." She's a black cat, about six months old, with strong motherly instincts.
"She's got a piece of sausage," Michelle Brooks said.
Brooks, who lives at the corner of 12th and Meares streets, knows Baby well. She's not her cat, but she's kind to her. Baby has taken up residency under her house.
Brenda watches as Baby walks swiftly down the sidewalk to her house with that piece of sausage in her mouth. She may have picked it up from the back of a restaurant where it was tossed out, or it could have come from a trash can. Either way, Baby has crossed busy streets with it to bring to her little ones. She has seven kittens.
"This mom, she's very young," said Joey Needham who runs Friends of Felines in Wilmington. "She probably got pregnant at about six months of age. They're a couple months old and now she's probably only ten maybe 11 months. She can go back into heat at any point in time now."
She says there are thousands of cats like Baby living under houses, behind restaurants, and any place likely to provide some shelter and scraps of food.
They are stray cats - feral cats, looking for food. At just six months old, like Baby, they also start looking for love.
"They multiply more than rabbits," Needham explained.
There are thousands of feral cats in the Wilmington area, and the number of new kittens born everyday is out of control.
Volunteers with the non-profit organization Friends of Felines spend hours each week tracking and trapping homeless cats. Their mission is to trap, neuter, vaccinate, and return, also known as TNVR.
"We go and have them fixed - which is spay or neuter them," Needham said. "We vaccinate them for both rabies and distemper and we return them once they have healed, and take them back to the places we call colonies."
Needham said they take calls from residents and business owners asking them to come and get the homeless cats and kittens. They're lured into metal cages.
"We just put sardines we put tuna fish, we put anything good and stinky,rotisserie chicken and we put it in the back of it," Neeham explained. "We hope they're good and hungry and hopefully they go in."
Needham managed to trap Baby and her kittens on the day of this interview, Wednesday, August 26.
The kittens will stay at foster homes until they are old enough to have surgery.
Baby will go in for her surgery and vaccinations, which are all paid for through donations and volunteer veterinary clinics.
Feral cats also have their ears clipped before they are returned to their colonies.
"We clip the ear because it lets animal services know and everyone else that this cat has been fixed, number one, and has had at least one round of rabies shots," Needham says.
Unfortunately, its unlikely Baby will be reunited with her offspring, but Needham says there will be every effort to take her back to her familiar surroundings near the nice lady on the corner of 12th and Meares.
If you would like to volunteer with Friends of Felines, click here.