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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Shawnee's 'Cat Man' devotes life to strays

  • When Russ Skaggs pulls up to the bowling alley in his car late at night, the cats are already waiting for him.

    Sometimes people gather to watch as Skaggs, who is called Shawnee's “Cat Man” by some of the locals, pours out cat food from his 44 pound bag. Before the night is over, Skaggs will have fed at least 50 stray cats in this same way at several different stops through the city.
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  • When Russ Skaggs pulls up to the bowling alley in his car late at night, the cats are already waiting for him.
    Sometimes people gather to watch as Skaggs, who is called Shawnee’s “Cat Man” by some of the locals, pours out cat food from his 44 pound bag. Before the night is over, Skaggs will have fed at least 50 stray cats in this same way at several different stops through the city.
    Skaggs, a former construction worker who lives in Shawnee, goes through one of these 44 pound bags in two and a half days. He estimates he spends between $450 and $500 a month on cat food alone.
    “A lot of people say, ‘Well why don’t you quit doing that,’ Skaggs said. “What would I do with the money anyway? All I’d do is buy a new car and that’s not me, I don’t want a payment. I’m happy with my life the way it is.”
    At first, Skaggs fed people, not animals.
    His best friend owned a food mart in town, and when the food got too old to sell, Skaggs would distribute it to the community.
    Eventually he stopped doing this for fear of giving people bad food, so he began feeding animals with them instead.
    Skaggs said he began to take notice of the stray population in Shawnee.
    “I would buy a bag of cat food at Walmart late at night and at least a couple of strays would come out and follow me,” he said.
    So when his friend’s store closed down, Skaggs began buying his own food for the strays. He’s been feeding animals in the area for about the last five years, he said.
    Skaggs is able to supplement his cat food allowance through winnings he earns through the bowling leagues he’s in or in pool tournaments he enters. He said he might earn between $30 and $40 after a night of bowling.
    Skaggs doesn’t just encounter cats when he makes his rounds. He said he runs into stray dogs and raccoons as well, both happy for a meal.
    “Over the years I’ve identified dogs and matched them up with the posters,” he said. “I tell people where their dogs are at, because I can’t catch them.”
    Late at night, Skaggs will also see coyotes in the city, stalking on the strays he feeds.
    “I usually put some food out for them and stick around and wait for them to eat it. If they get fed they’ll usually give up on the cats,” he said.
    Page 2 of 2 - While making his rounds, Skaggs said he’s come across the best and worst of people.
    He doesn’t do it for thanks, but Skaggs said it makes him feel good when someone acknowledges his work. Some even have given him money to help pay for the food.
    Some haven’t received him as well, however. A few businesses have told him not to feed in their lots. Some people have threatened to physically injure or kill the strays he feeds while others ask why he doesn’t use his money to buy food for people instead.
    Skaggs said he will feed people in desperate need, but he knows most of the time they can find other food options.
    “I’m not going to feed them because they can get up, go to work and feed themselves,” he said. “A cat or a dog doesn’t have a choice. They didn’t choose this type of life. This was dumped on them by owners who didn’t care.”
    Skaggs said he believes Shawnee has a problem with stray animals. Handing them over to shelters that euthanize can never be an option, he said.
    Instead, Skaggs hopes to solve the problem by spaying and neutering as many of the stray animals as he can.
    “If I can get them all fixed, eventually they’ll have had a good life and die out.”
    Skaggs is worried, however, that he does not have enough money to take a significant number of animals to the vet and that the problem will only get worse when he becomes too old to continue his work.
    But still, he goes out every night believing that one man can make a difference.
    “I try to do right for all the animals,” he said. “I’ve got compassion for all of them.”

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