How Heidi Bender Became a Cat Lady

My name is Heidi Bender, and here is the background story of how I became a cat lady.

In the spring of 2003, Ted (my husband) and I decided to adopt a kitten.

Our friend’s barn cat had kittens. We planned to get one kitten, but once at the barn, we decided that if we got two (Lina and Kilala), they could play with each other, and we would each have one to hold on our lap.

And so our life with cats began.

Did You Grow Up With Pet Cats?

I did not grow up with any cats. My first long-term experience with a cat was house-sitting when I was in college for one month for a professor with one cat.

This cat did not want anything to do with me; regardless, I enjoyed caring for it. This cat was an indoor/outdoor cat, and I would pray each time it went out that it would return unharmed! The cat went out the window, and 15 to 45  minutes later, it returned.

Ted’s family had small dogs but no cats.

When Did You Become a Cat Lady?

For the first eight years, we only had Lina and Kilala, and I felt like a typical cat owner.

In 2011, Buster showed up on a freezing winter day. He was starving, and once we let him in the house, he never left.

Three cats felt somewhat typical.

Everything changed in the summer of 2014 when a mom cat brought kittens to my backyard. That summer is when I first felt like a cat lady.

The First Stray Cat With Kittens

What do you do when you see five kittens in the yard? At this time, I had only heard of Trap-Neuter-Return because Buster had an ear-tip already when he moved in.

The mom cat (Violet) wasn’t super friendly, but she wasn’t feral either. And the kittens learned to enjoy my attention.

Once the kittens were weaned, we brought them into the house along with their mom. We found homes for three of the kittens and kept the mom cat and two of the kittens (Jake and Elwood).

So, I started to feel like a cat lady.

Violet with her 5 kittens
Violet with her five kittens

The Sick Cat in My Sister’s Yard

In the fall of 2016, my sister’s dog found a sick kitten in their yard. Eventually, the kitten ended up in my care, and we kept him (Taco). His eye needed a lot of treatment and many trips to the vet. He has chronic sinus issues and a little scar on his eye left behind from the eye ulcer.

The Feral Cat With Kittens

And then, in the spring of 2017, a feral cat had five kittens in my yard.

I didn’t know where she came from or why she chose my yard, as we stopped putting cat food outside once in 2014 when we brought Violet inside.

After talking to many people in the neighborhood, I discovered that her regular feeder lived ten houses away.

Since she was feral, the kittens did not naturally warm up to me.

I learned how to do TNR to get the mom cat fixed. And then, for the first time, I socialized kittens!

We kept one of the kittens (Nacho), and the Humane Society found homes for the other four kittens.

And then I helped TNR many other cats in my yard and neighborhood and for a couple of friends (more than 30 cats in total).


My Friend Moved and Couldn’t Keep Her Cat

At this point in 2018, we had eight cats. My friend was moving, and I had arranged for her outdoor cat to go to a barn. But the barn connection didn’t work out, and it turned out that Charlotte was very friendly. So, Ted decided that we should keep her.

My Sister Found a Cat in a Parking Lot

In 2020, near the end of September, my sister found an abandoned cat in a parking lot. The senior citizens feeding the cat said it had been living in the lot for at least three weeks and was rumored to have been a “kicked-out cat.”

After contacting four full rescues, we decided to keep him. At first, Rocko, it seemed like keeping him would work out fine with the other cats. But after several weeks, we realized that Nacho was afraid of him. Eventually, the Humane Society was able to take him in.

Related: How to Rehome a Cat: Tips and Resources

The Cat Colony in the Yard

Once you have cat food out in the yard, cats will come to eat it. We currently have three cats that call our backyard home.

There have been several cats in the yard. Some didn’t return after they were TNR’d, or for whatever reason, chose to move on to be fed elsewhere in the neighborhood.

And there was Other Buster 2, who kept getting into fights after he was fixed. He turned out to be friendly after a few months of hanging around. We were going to bring him inside after another animal bit him, but he tested positive for Feline Leukemia. After fostering him for several months (isolated from my other indoor cats), he moved into the sanctuary at Leuk’s Landing and now lives in one of their foster homes.

Pork Chop, Charcoal, and Midnight on the deck
Pork Chop, Charcoal, and Midnight

In the fall of 2021, a feral teenage cat showed up in the yard. He is named Winter and has become best friends with Pork. Charcoal and Midnight have both since died.

Helping Other Cats

And then I started helping other cats in need. My home isn’t great for fostering (small, and no extra rooms), but I’ve been able to get by with a cat playpen in my garage.

I’ve held friendly strays for a friend until the Humane Society could take them in (we are at our limit for indoor cats) and a mom cat with kittens for a few weeks (they were born in my friend’s shed). And a feral cat that needed a broken, infected tooth removed.

Also, as mentioned above, I’ve helped with Trap Neuter Return projects.

Heidi Bender, the Cat Lady

I became a cat lady in 2014 when we increased our number of indoor cats when taking in stray cats from the yard. That’s when I went from a normal cat owner to a cat lady. We adopted more cats over the years and have been a temporary foster for many others.

To learn more about being a cat lady, read through this list of cat lady signs.

All cats have a story! Even those that are not Internet famous.  You can meet my cats here.

I send out a weekly cat newsletter. It’s free, and you can sign up for it here.

Thanks for reading!

Heidi Bender

Read Next: Meet the cats

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Heidi Bender is the writer and founder of the Joy of Cats. She enjoys sharing cat information and providing helpful cat tips. She considers herself a cat lady and currently cares for eight cats.