Sometimes, you hear a story that warms your heart… although in one Stafford woman’s case, it’s a lot more than just our hearts that are getting a warming. Mo Galbraith, a 23-year-old from the Fredericksburg area of Stafford County, is showing the world what a little human kindness (and a lot of determination) can do, and the results are truly inspiring. After seeing the success a friend had enjoyed in designing and installing rain shelters for stray cats in Florida, Galbraith decided to see if she could achieve similar results in her home town, somewhere where, thanks to long, cold winters, the need was even greater. “I saw a lot of cats crawling into storm drains and sheds or garages to stay warm. I had to do something,” she explained to Patch. While most of us would probably prefer to be judged by our intentions than our actions, Galbraith has put her money where her mouth is by seeing her plans through to fruition, something the cats of Stafford can be extremely thankful for.
Rather than having to squeeze into the gutters and cracks of buildings to keep warm, stray cats in Stafford can now take advantage of the series of shelters Galbraith has installed around the area, designed with the express intent of giving a warm, safe bed to any wandering feline. Since November 2018, the enterprising Stafford native has managed to build 15 shelters using an ingenious combination of plastic or Styrofoam coolers or storage containers for the main structure, Styrofoam for extra insulation, straw for bedding, and pipe insulation to stop any rain or snow entering through the main entrance way. To finish, a brick is added to lend weight to the structure and to stop any of the shelters blowing away. After coming up with the idea, Galbraith started a GoFundMe campaign to raise the initial funds. The campaign generated enough money to get the project (which she’s since monikered The Cat Shelter Project of Fredericksburg) underway.
While the funds raised by the GoFundMe campaign was a huge boon to Galbraith’s plans, it was a local resident, Anne Warlick, who provided the real kick start to the project when she donated five coolers- something Galbraith quickly made use of in her first few shelters. “Without Anne, I wouldn’t have been able to reach out to the community so quickly,” Galbraith has praised. Since the project’s inception, Galbraith’s idea has caught on like wildfire, with the result that shelters can now be seen in multiple locations near feral cat colonies around Stafford Hospital, Stafford courthouse, and the Fredericksburg Fire Department, along with areas by Chatham Bridge in Chancellor Battlefield and in Oak Hill Cemetery in Fredericksburg, both of which are known for their high number of abandoned cats. Although the project has already generated enough revenue to give plenty of needy cats shelter, Galbraith hopes to raise even more over the coming months to develop her next idea: high-quality storage containers that are equipped to house multiple cats at a time (the current shelters are just large enough to fit 2 or 3 cats at a maximum).
The success of Galbraith’s innovative idea has caught more than just the media’s attention. After becoming impressed with how quickly and efficiently the shelters have improved the lives of the county’s stray cats, The Stafford County Animal Shelter contacted Galbraith to broach the idea of a possible partnership. The plan, had Galbraith accepted, involved controlling the feral cat population by using the shelters as part of a trap, neuter, and release program – a scheme that’s been growing in popularity in recent years thanks to its effective, and many say humane, way of handling a problem that in some areas, is at epidemic proportions (although of course, no scheme is without its detractors, with some opposing the idea of releasing the cats back onto the streets after neutering).
So far, Galbraith has resisted calls to join forces with either The Stafford County Animal Shelter or indeed any other organization, fearing that a partnership would distract her from her main goal of installing as many shelters (which she’s described as being surprisingly quick to build) as possible. Although this is the first time Galbraith’s altruistic activities have made the news, she’s far from unfamiliar with the area of animal welfare. After moving into Fredericksburg a few years ago, Galbraith started working as a staffer at the Fredericksburg Animal Hospital, something that not only gave her the opportunity to help animals, but also helped her fit into a community that until that point, she’d struggled to find a place in. “I truly felt a part of the community, working for one of the oldest vets in town,” she’s explained. “I’ve always wanted to do something good and with heart. This project seems to tick all the boxes.”
She’s recently left her position at the Fredericksburg Animal Hospital and will shortly be taking a new and exciting post at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In terms of her long-term plans, she has hopes that her feline cat shelters will eventually act as a bridge into a career in emergency management for humans. That said, she’s got no plans of abandoning cats for humans entirely, and after starting her new job, she will continue to build new shelters in her free time. Those interested in donating or learning more about Galbraith’s future plans and hopes for The Cat Shelter Project of Fredericksburg can visit her Facebook page, which emphasis the need for the shelters with the explanation “The shelters provide warmth and a safe-haven for the cats during the harsh Virginia winters, with temperatures dropping into the single digits or snow some nights.” With the growing feral cat population placing extraordinary demands on local shelters and animal welfare organizations, the inspiring work of The Cat Shelter Project of Fredericksburg and Galbraith are proof of how one person can make a true difference to the community, whether that be a two-legged one or a four.