ENOSBURG FALLS — “I don’t care if people call me a cat lady. It doesn’t bother me. I love what I do. I take care of these helpless creatures.”
Jamie Rushford stops to reflect on the moment she got involved with animals.
“One of the kittens that was born at my friend’s barn was born with one leg that was shorter than the other,” she says.
The kitten came down with a respiratory illness and passed away shortly after. The circumstance moved Jamie.
In between feeding Harriet, the partially blind and deaf, long-haired cat, Rushford pauses and looks up.
“Nowadays, if I had the support and the knowledge that I didn’t have then, that kitten probably wouldn’t have died. That’s when I started picking up cats on my own,” she says.
Two years ago, Rushford began a nonprofit called Cat Crusaders of Franklin County. She works nine-to-five as a hairstylist in Enosburg, but she moonlights feeding and rescuing cats across Franklin County. Farmers who have her number will call if there’s a stray cat on their property. This is when she and her team leap into action.
“We go in and trap starting on Friday night. Saturday morning we go check traps and reset traps. Move the cats back to wherever we’re staging the cats that weekend. By Sunday night we have our count of 30. On Monday morning, we clean the cats and load them into a rented U-haul,” she says.
Julie Kyle is a registered large-animal veterinarian and has worked with Jamie since she started The Cat Crusaders.
“I got roped into it. I was doing some of the same work on my own but she explained it to me and the need is so large. Each farm has anywhere from 10 to 30 cats or more sometimes. For the farmers it’s a two-fold benefit, they need the cats to catch the rats but the population also multiples during the spring,” she said.
Jamie says her crew started driving to Middlesex to have the cats spayed and neutered.
“I got hooked up with VT-CAN and they helped me. It’s a low-cost spay and neuter clinic out of Middlesex,” says Rushford.
There’s no way of knowing exactly how many stray animals are dropped off by their owners at farms, but Cat Crusaders rescued cats six months out of the year last year, helping 500 cats at different locations across Franklin County.
Rushford says that it costs $250 to rent a van for one weekend and a total of $2,500 per month to take the cats, have them fixed and bring them back.
“Everyone has pushed us into buying a van but moneywise, I can’t afford to buy a van for the insurance, maintenance. There’s no way I could spend $1,500 on something and then have to spend $15,000 to $20,000 a year.
After the cats are spayed or neutered, Cat Crusaders returns the feral cats to the farm they came from. The cats that can be domesticated are put up for adoption but all the cats are helped.
“Hi will ... Hi buddy!” Willie the tuxedo cat comes over but just rolls by.
“Come on now...and he won’t let me touch him,” she says as she continues, “The cats that are fixed, that’s one of the things ... they’re all vaccinated and they end up being so healthy and they joke that they’re big fat cats.”
This year, Cat Crusaders is on the Town Meeting ballot to receive funding from Enosburg. Town Clerk Billie-Jo Draper says that Cat Crusaders deserves the funding.
“The Cat Crusaders and Jamie Rushford spend a lot of time providing a service for the community and they do great things,” says Draper. “Hopefully it will allow her work to continue because we need it.”
Rushford says that she’ll take whatever help she can get because they can’t do it alone.
“It costs $70 to fix one animal. Food donations ... pee pads ... money ... anything is great. Because of COVID, every shelter has seen the numbers of adopted animals increase. People are at home and they need something to ease their craziness. Animals are unconditional love.”