Story by Cathy Scott
Photos by Clay Myers
Best Friends Animal Society
LAS VEGAS -- Bobbi Klocker pulls two traps from the back of her Subaru station wagon and heads across the lawn at a low-income housing project for seniors on the west side of the Las Vegas valley. Her Nevada license plate reads, "KATS."
About 20 feral cats live on the property. Bobbi’s goal, she says, is to get them all neutered and keep them fed.
The routine is nothing new for the veteran rescuer, who splits her time between Las Vegas and her cattery in Pahrump, 60 miles southwest of Las Vegas. For the last 25 years she’s been trapping feral felines, taking them to a local veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, and then returning them to their colonies.
To keep track of those already neutered, the vet snips a sliver off the edge of the cats’ ears. "That way we know if they’ve been trapped before," Bobbi says.
If a cat is injured or at risk of being put down, Bobbi catches them and helps find them homes through two area nonprofit rescue groups.
The work has had its ups and downs, Bobbi says, including when she was mugged about four years ago while setting traps in an industrial section of the city. "I was beaten, mugged and robbed," she says. "I was black and blue." She fought back and the culprits ran off with her purse.
She called police and filed a report, but it didn’t deter her from continuing to help feral cats. "I kept working," she says. "But I don’t trap at night as much as I used to."
What keeps Bobbi Klocker motivated, despite the risks? "The cats need our help," she says matter-of-factly. She also participates in meetings held by the Clark County Animal Advisory Committee, a board formed in 1990 to advise Clark County commissioners about animal issues and ordinances.
Bobbi downplays any part she may have played throughout the years in helping keep the feral population down, even though for every cat she rescues, another takes up residence in its place. "It’s never-ending," she says.
According to the Las Vegas Valley Humane Society’s website, "Las Vegas is especially plagued with feral cats because of the transient nature of some of our (human) population and because of our warmer winters. ... Once a colony is spayed and neutered, the number of cats in that area should remain pretty constant."
It’s a credo Bobbi lives by. The cat population at the housing project has been the same number -- between 20 and 25 -- for several years. Bobbi depends on residents at the facility to be her eyes and ears -- like Enrique -- who let her know where the cats are hanging out.
"Two are in there," says Enrique, pointing to a nearby gate. A few minutes after Enrique and Bobbi walk through the gate and into a courtyard, two skittish cats run up the stairs to a second-floor outdoor hallway. To escape from the courtyard, they leap several feet from the balcony to a tree, flying through the air before jumping to the ground.
Across the back yard of the complex, a black-and-white cat with a clubfoot runs to a tree and disappears in it. But the cat can still be seen through the leaves and limbs, keeping a watchful eye on Bobbi as she sets her traps.
It’s a scene that plays itself out daily at the housing project on Ata Drive near Decatur Boulevard. But Enrique and other residents are careful not to do too much for the felines. "Management has told everybody not to feed the cats," Bobbi says. "Residents get written up just like they’re in school."
"Three warnings and they get evicted," Enrique adds. But not feeding the strays doesn’t cause the cats to leave. They gather around the facility’s garbage cans for food and near the lawn sprinklers for water, says maintenance worker Zachary Allen.
Residents are afraid of getting caught feeding the cats, but some say they slip them food anyway. One man has taken in a now-tame cat named Max to live with him in his apartment. Bobbi didn’t know about it for months.
"Max disappeared," she said. "It was like a reunion seeing him again and finding out he was okay."
When the sun is out, some cats sleep in the trees, Zachary says. "In the evenings they come out a lot," he says. "They fight big-time."
"That’s why," Bobbi says, "I want to catch them and get them neutered, to stop them from mating." It’s the only way to keep the colony population in check, she notes.
At the next stop on Bobbi’s rounds, she heads downtown to a bail bonds office to check on seven cats that have taken up residence there. Bobbi has been negotiating with the property owner to not lock a basement door until she can catch the cats. She’s afraid the cats will be trapped under the house and die of starvation. Six black cats were born on the property about 10 months earlier, and the seventh, a red-and-white male, was dumped on the property.
Office manager Nancy Harvieux has befriended the red-and-white cat, whom she has named Chompers. Nancy agrees to coax Chompers into a travel crate the next morning so Bobbi can pick him up and take him to a rescue group. The remaining cats, she says, will take a week or so to trap, because they’re less friendly. They already have a place to go, Bobbi says, with a rescuer opening a cat sanctuary in Arizona. Bobbi’s job is to catch them for the sanctuary owner.
The next stop is a Chinese restaurant where a cat has taken up residence. Bobbi gives him food through a fence. Then she heads to an apartment building where strays have been reported. She takes food to them and tries to lure them off the roof. She talks to the restaurant owner about her plans to trap and rescue them. He agrees to wait to do anything about the cats until she can catch them.
When asked how long she plans to continue her feral cat work, Bobbi, who is 60-something, says, "I’m getting old. I do more rescue work now than trapping." Does she see herself quitting anytime soon? "I’ll keep doing it for as long as I can," she says.