ELIZABETHTOWN — An event four years in the making took place at Elizabethtown Veterinary Hospital Wednesday — the dedication of a wing to “the cat lady of Clarkton” — but its occurrence couldn’t have been more timely.
The late Mary Grace Moore Donaldson was no stranger to the staff at Elizabethtown Veterinary. In fact, they could count on seeing her every Monday for her standing three-hour appointment. She came in weekly bearing water or orange juice, oatmeal with chocolate or fruit, a puzzle book, and 12 or 13 cats.
The cats were a dozen of the 100 or so she had at any time. Over the course of Donaldson’s residence in Bladen County, Elizabethtown Veterinary saw 276 cats she cared for — each one with a name — though no one on staff could remember when she started coming in. All were quick to point out, though, that she didn’t fit the stereotype.
Hospital veterinarian Douglas Gensel said, “If there is a perception that people with many cats contribute to the problem of overpopulation, she didn’t fit that perception. She was just an incredible, selfless person, and she did what she could to protect and stop the multiplication of cats.”
One feral cat and its offspring, over the course of three years and without intervention, can produce 180,000 more felines. Far from being a contributor to the problem, Donaldson was part of the solution, according to Gensel. She began decades ago visiting sites where cats congregate — such as near dumpsters — and would trap them, get them spayed or neutered, and release them.
“She was doing trap-and-release before anybody knew what T and R was,” said Krista Hansen, of A Shelter Friend. “In fact, when we wanted to start doing T and R, we called her and asked for advice.”
“Trap-and-release is an incredible way of fixing the overpopulation problem,” said Gensel. “On top of that, Mary only helped invalid cats that nobody else wanted. If not for Mary, many cats would have suffered.”
Donaldson began to take an interest in cats while serving in Africa as a missionary. While there, the life of one of her sons was saved when a stray cat attacked a poisonous snake that was ready to strike her son. Upon returning stateside, the welfare of cats became a priority for her, and she became known locally for her feline efforts — so much so, in fact, that, despite a six-foot fence around her yard, people would routinely throw cats over the fence for her to tend to or drop them off on her doorstep. She never turned one down.
“Everybody in the animal world around here has heard of her,” said Silvia Kim, one of the co-founders of A Shelter Friend. “She was very important to the rescue world.”
At Wednesday’s dedication, which also coincided with the hospital’s 20th anniversary, attendees partook of orange juice, water, and fruit to honor Donaldson’s simplistic lifestyle.
“Ms. Mary was a veritable icon,” said Gensel. “We always wanted to dedicate this wing to her (since its construction four years ago), but she didn’t want us to while she was alive. I think it’s fitting that on our 20th anniversary, we honor a selfless woman like Mary. She challenged me to be a better veterinarian, and I miss her very much.”
“We hope you’re not upset with us, Ms. Mary,” he added.
During the reception, attendees shared fond memories and celebrated Donaldson’s life. Hansen said that during her last visit with Donaldson in the hospital, Donaldson queried, “We did a lot of good, didn’t we?”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.