July 4, 2005 — She's called the "Cat Lady"sometimes affectionately, sometimes not. "I guess I'm eccentric," says 57-year-old Dottie Grey. "I don't care what they call me. At this point in my life, if I'm not hurting anyone, I just don't care."
Her St. Thomas animal activism began shortly after she arrived on the island eight years ago. She placed an ad in the Island Trader that read, "Responsible pet owner looking for apartment."
She found that apartment and eventually inherited some 40 cats from another tenant, Miss Lillian. She has two kitty doors so they can go in and out of her home freely.
"I have a feeding station outside. I don't have furniture anymoreI just don't bother," she says. "I sleep with 17 or 18 sometimes. Sometimes they sleep with the neighbors."
For years Grey has had a "cat route." She makes stops at a certain condominium complex, a fruit stand, several places in town — basically all over the island. She feeds the cats and traps the feral population for spaying and neutering. She guesses she's done about 700 cats in the past eight years, and they are all tattooed with a green "D" inside their ear.
"People throw cats out all the time because they know I'll feed them," says Grey, who adds that one unspayed cat can produce 3,000 offspring, and if not cared for, they can also spread disease. However, she says, "If you have a healthy, well-fed cat and get them spayed and neutered, you'll never see a rat."
In total, Grey feeds about 150 cats on a daily basis. That's a lot of food, and her out-of-pocket expenses run about $3,500 each month. "Financially it's a drain now," she says.
It's also become a drain physically. Grey has stage-three ovarian cancer and is treating it with targeted therapy.
On her treatment day, Grey rides the elevator to the fifth floor of the Roy L. Schneider Hospital, settles into a large pink chair, one of six in the room, and begins a running conversation with the other patients.
"Are you having treatment or just blood today?" Grey asks the man sitting on her right.
A nurse gives her a pill to help with nausea, then inserts the I.V. into a portal in Grey's chest.
"This treatment is a breeze compared to the others," she says.
This is Grey's third relapse and fourth bout of chemotherapy. On this day she finds out from her oncologist, Dr. Goldman, that the treatment is working. Her C.A.125, which is a marker to measure ovarian cancer, has gone downa good sign, but Grey knows she won't be cured.
"I'm prepared to die, but my animals are the reason I want to keep living," she says with intensity. "I've made them depend on me, but they wouldn't have had a chance if I didn't help them."
Grey has been spending time making sure the 40 cats that live with her will have homes when she's gone. "Eliana and Pumpkin are in love. They have to be placed together," she says.
Over the years word about Grey's work with the cats has spread. Strangers walk up to her with $50 bills for cat food; families who have adopted cats give her $100 a month for cat food; and others around the island help her with the care of the cats.
Recently when Grey was crawling under a dumpster for a cat, a good samaritan approached her, helped her to her feet and said, "I hate the damn cats, but I hate to see you do this even more." Since then that woman has organized a group of people to help with the feeding and care of cats in one area of the island.
Since she's been sick, the Moore Veterinary Clinic in Red Hook has helped take care of food, and Grey is also sponsored by an EDC executive who wishes to remain anonymoushe gives her money for spaying and neutering.
"Some people tell me to get rid of the cats, but it keeps me going," Grey says.
Grey is now working with the Humane Society to get a feral cat organization off the ground in the next year. She also wants to live to see the new animal shelter and the Charlotte Kimmelman Cancer Center come to fruition before she dies.
But as Grey's chemo treatment comes to a close, another patient looks at her and says, "Dottie you're not going to die. You're the Cat Lady, and you have nine lives."
You can donate to Dottie's spay and neuter fund at the Humane Society or at Moore Veterinary Clinic. Another way to help is to donate cat food. For more information on how you can help with the startup program, call Dottie at 775-5543 before 6 p.m.
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