Pat Frederick usually cuts her own hair. It’ll save her $15, she figures, which is about the cost of a 16-pound bag of dry cat food — enough to feed half the 80 cats she watches over for a single day.
Every day is penny-pinching for Frederick, 59, a Germantown resident whom neighbors call “the cat lady.” For eight years, she has developed a trapping, neutering and feeding operation to care for five colonies of cats that live near her home. The care has become a full-time job, and it has been financed mostly with her own money and contributions from close friends and family.
But with the help of supporters in the animal-care community, a “celebrity cat” on the Internet, an Amazon wishlist, and a heavy dose of holiday spirit, Frederick now has enough cat food for at least the next month.
“I am the cat lady. I’m not ashamed of it,” she said. “I love them.”
Frederick doesn’t have pets of her own anymore. Her cats Harry and Winston — named not after the jeweler, but after Harry Truman and Winston Churchill — died years ago. Today, she’s dedicated to the neighborhood’s cats, waking up around 6 a.m. every day to start preparing bowls of cat food. By 10:30, she’s outside, stopping at 11 different locations where she feeds and gives water to varying numbers of cats.
Friday morning’s first stop was an alley. Frederick approached a brush area, made a “psss” sound, and a black cat emerged. Then another cat came out. And another. Six cats had sauntered over to eat out of plastic blue bowls Frederick filled with both wet and dry food.
“Olivia! Simon! Beautiful! Sunny! Tracy!” she yelled. Each of the 80 cats Frederick feeds has a name — there’s Chad, Manny, Opal, Missy, Buttons, Marmaduke. Frederick finds the names easy to remember based on the locations where she feeds each cat.
The ritual, which takes up most of each day, is exhausting. That would be true for anyone trekking all day in a half-mile radius around their home to feed dozens of felines, but it’s especially true for Frederick, who suffers from congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease.
Her declining health is part of what brought her to Germantown at this stage in her life. Though Frederick grew up in West Philadelphia and moved to Germantown at age 13, she spent the majority of her life in Chicago after studying mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois’ outpost there.
About eight years ago, after a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, Frederick lost her job in commercial construction in Chicago. Single, unemployed and sick, she made the choice to move back home and live with her parents in the same Germantown house where she lived as a teenager.
It was an adjustment. For those last eight years, the cats have been there.
“If I didn’t have the cats, I would have been overcome by depression,” she said. “They help me emotionally. I have a purpose. I believe they know I love them, and that helps me.”
Plenty of Frederick’s neighbors are less than thrilled with her penchant for feeding animals. Some worry it’s her actions that keep them coming back into the neighborhood. But Frederick and those who support her say that’s not so — she’s trapped and had dozens of cats neutered to keep them from multiplying. She takes them to the veterinarian when they’re sick and has helped place hundreds of cats in shelters over the years.
Aine Doley, 41, a block captain in Germantown, met Frederick in 2015 through volunteering with organizations that aim to support cat populations in Philadelphia, largely through trapping them and getting them spayed or neutered. Last year, Doley set up an Amazon “wishlist” for Frederick, a place where supporters could order food and supplies and have them sent to her home.
On Monday, Doley shared photos of Frederick on Facebook along with her Amazon wishlist, pleading for friends and supporters to send food. A couple local groups shared the post as part of a holiday giving push, as did Batgirl, a black cat with its own Facebook page and about 10,000 followers.
Within a day, supporters had ordered enough food to last a month. By Friday, Frederick had in her front yard 16 empty boxes out for recycling emblazoned with Amazon Prime.
Doley said she deserves every food donation she gets. “The time that someone is willing to dedicate to a cause, in this case it’s cats, sometimes it’s people,” Doley said, “it’s just amazing to see that amount of volunteerism.”
Some of Frederick’s neighbors agree. They offer up their yards as feeding grounds for a cat colony. Folks wave as Frederick goes on her daily rounds. One woman stopped her car Friday when she saw Frederick hunched over at one of her feeding locations.
“Hey, Pat!” the woman said while Frederick was on her knees, filling bowls. “Praying for some more cat food?”
“No,” Frederick replied. “I’ve been blessed.”