I first met Sterling Davis, the Trap King, at CatCamp NYC in May, and I was impressed with his passion for cats and for creating change in the world. Sterling is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever encountered, and I’m excited to introduce this multifaceted cat rescuer to you today.
Sterling’s mission is to change the stereotypes of not only men in cat rescue, but also bridge the gap in communication between black communities and animal rescue and local shelters. Using TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return,) the only humane alternative to euthanasia to handle the stray and feral cat population issue, he is not only helping the cats in his hometown of Atlanta, GA, but he is raising awareness about these important issues via outreach through his website, social media channels and personal appearances. A former musician whose life took a different trajectory after he took a temporary job at an animal shelter, this charismatic and caring man is a force of nature.
I wanted to learn more about the man and his mission, and I’m delighted to bring you the following interview.
Your mission appears to be two-fold: to help cats through TNR, and to bust a whole bunch of stereotypes around men in cat rescue, especially black men in cat rescue. How did these two pieces blend together for you? Was there a specific moment when you said “this is what I want to do?”
I’ve always saw myself as someone that would live a life of service and/or help others…..be a voice for the voiceless in some type of way. I think that mentality is what led me to being a vegetarian young, and the first person in my family to go to the military. I’ve always been considered different or eccentric by those close to me; I always wanted to show people that different and eccentric aren’t bad things. Just because I didn’t fit in stereotypes or had a different outlook on things didn’t make me wrong or bad. My love for animals, being a vegetarian, painting my nails black, or having a cat didn’t make me less cool, or less of a man and I wanted to show people that.
When I started working at a shelter, I saw a way that I could break stereotypes, help community pets as well as help people in a lot of ways. I knew when I decided not to go back on tour to do music and instead stay at the shelter and work with cats that I wasn’t a man of money or things, and I further understood and knew what I wanted to do with my life. My love for entertainment, cats, and helping people all came full circle.
How did you first come to work with cats?
I always had cats as pets and loved them, but working with them in a shelter environment started in between music tours. I was looking for a temporary job to stay busy and make a little extra money and saw an ad on Craigslist for help with cats. At that time I had a cat named Rick James and loved animals, but had never known about working at a shelter or what TNR/community cat care was. I started at LifeLine Animal Project learning about and getting better with cats. I was soon promoted from scooping litter to community outreach/TNR coordinator.
I was sent to training with Best Friends at various conferences, and even out of town to train, and I noticed all through my training, there weren’t any other people like me in any of the classes. In fact, some people had asked was I a janitor, or what I was even doing at some of the classes. I started to realize then how much rescue needed diversity and help from the men. It was literally only women volunteering, giving their all, and taking the time to really do this….black people and poor communities literally looked down on the thought of animal rescue, cats, and helping or giving to animals when they can’t even help themselves.
That’s when I knew that animal rescue and awareness needed to be raised in a different way. The black community needed to see it as fun, cool, and beneficial to them before they would participate. They needed to see someone that looks like them not only be successful at it, but love it. Similar to Tiger Woods and golf.
“You don’t lose cool points for compassion.”
Tell us about your first cat.
My first cat was a cat named Peepers if I’m not mistaken. He didn’t come in the house because my grandmother wouldn’t let him come in, but Peepers and Morris (named after the 9lives commercial cat) were my two buddies that I would play with when I was really young. I grew up dealing with abuse, and my mother and grandmother would constantly have custody battles, so sometimes I lived with my mom, and sometimes I had to go away and stay with my grandmother…..Morris and Peepers helped me get through that process. So my first cat I believe was Peepers…..or Morris. I was pretty much naming every cat in the neighborhood by the time I was 8 years old…LOL!
How many cats do you have now?
Right now I have two cats……Rick James who I’ve had with me for 11 years now. His sister Teena Marie passed over a year ago, but I have Binx now. He’s a tabby that was rescued from a tough situation so those are the only two that I have now. Anyone that rescues knows it’s hard to not have a house full as I have had in the past, but I am looking to adopt a Savannah Cat if possible. I want to train one to be on a leash at a young age and be able to go outside and do outdoor activities – just as cool or macho as any dog! 😻
What was your most rewarding experience to date?
My most rewarding experience to date was Teena Marie. We actually rescued Teena when I was working for LifeLine. She was unresponsive, not eating, and not really interacting with anyone. Come to find out, she had been declawed and was out on the streets. Even though Rick James doesn’t like too much of anybody, I decided to adopt Teena from our shelter and bring her home. Even though it took a year, eventually she and Rick James got used to each other. Teena was eating, happy, and doing good. It really helped me see what I was doing and what was happening. Rescuing her was rescuing me as well….helping me with my abuse and issues growing up.
“Rescuing her was rescuing me as well….helping me with my abuse and issues growing up.”
What was your most challenging experience to date?
My most challenging experience was a mom and kittens that I rescued. I didn’t know why the mom wouldn’t go near the babies; she wouldn’t let them nurse. I quickly found out about panleukopenia in cats and lost all but two from that litter. That, being followed by a few other tough situations, introduced me to the burnout and compassion fatigue of it all.
How can people support you and your work?
I’m always doing campaigns and selling TrapKing shirts and taking donations, as that’s how I’m able to pay for traps, food, surgeries, vaccinations, and everything to help our community cats. Even more than money, spread the word and spread some love to your fellow rescue/rescuers. You don’t lose cool points for compassion, and with depression and suicide becoming more of an issue, we have to be better to one another!!!! ❤️❤️