Amanda Bench and Ginger Franklin-Fields are crazy about cats.

I mean, really crazy about cats, to the point that they’ll climb underneath trailers in the mud or stalk through the woods in the middle of a snowy, winter night just to save one – or seven.

It doesn’t matter to them.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed either. In a small town like Newcastle, Wyoming, they’ve made a reputation for themselves as the “crazy cat ladies,” and anyone with a stray cat problem or an extra litter of feral kittens knows just who to call.

That happens a lot.

Just like tonight when a local landlord called to let Ginger know that a renter had just vacated a trailer but had to leave a cat behind after it freaked out in the middle of packing and had barricaded itself underneath the sink.

That the cat’s owner had just up and left when it refused to come out doesn’t seem to faze the ladies at all as they reach for their fishing nets and cages. They’ve seen much worse. Much, much, much worse, in fact, and this is just par for course when saving unwanted animals.

With their arsenal of equipment loaded into the back of Amanda’s white SUV, the pair headed over to the trailer to fish out the cat. By then, the renter was long gone and the trailer was dark and empty. The lingering scent of Pinesol and thick odor of lilac carpet cleaner wafted through the thin walls.

After a quick check in the closets and bedrooms, Ginger grabbed her flashlight and crawled headfirst into the kitchen cabinet, calling for the stray kitty as she shined the light in a tiny gap between the cupboard and cracked linoleum floor.

The previous owner had at least thought enough of the cat to leave behind full bowls of food and water and a litter box on the kitchen floor, so presumably the cat wasn’t hungry enough to come out quite yet. After several minutes of cat calls without response, the pair decided to leave behind a couple of live animal traps, which they covered with thick blankets, so if trapped, the cat would at least stay warm as it sorted through its abandonment issues.

They’d be back to check their traps either tomorrow or later tonight, despite the fact that it was already 7 p.m. and both had worked a full day at their respective “other jobs” – Amanda as owner of a day spa and small inn, and Ginger a nurse – a fact that doesn’t seem to dawn on either of them as they discuss stopping by the municipal dump on the way home to put out some more fresh bowls of food and check on their new heating system.

This year, the women had put out Styrofoam coolers throughout town in an effort to keep the strays alive through winter, including at the compost heap, where they were concerned workers may have removed them.

Technically, it’s illegal to be out there, but many things, like no trespassing signs, become arbitrary when these two are on a mission.

Like that night, as Ginger grabbed a couple containers of soft cat food and shimmied on her stomach underneath the barbed wire fence, as giggling, Amanda held it up for her.

Ginger’s husband, who is a police officer, would likely not approve of his wife’s actions, but in the time that the two have been married, he’s come to understand his wife’s passion for saving animals.

Ditto Amanda’s husband, Darren, who recently died unexpectedly of an aneurysm this past fall, which is the one cloud hanging over the women’s shared mission.

While alive, Darren had been an avid supporter of his wife’s excessive love of felines. Not only did he provide financing for her passionate operation, but he also built her an outdoor cat atrium off the back of their house where her kitties can sun themselves or get some fresh air in the winter.

The fact that they no longer have his financial contributions weighs heavily on the future of their volunteer operation, which both women pay for, almost exclusively, on their own. This means cat food, toys and litter, medical expenses, including spays, shots and neuters which, even with local vet discounts, are through the roof.

Unbeknownst to many, their Sweet Country Angels cat rescue is entirely self-funded. It’s not a non-profit, nor is it linked with any larger, national group but rather a grassroots mission born out of the women’s big hearts and compassion.

They have a Facebook page to try to help adopt out and save local cats. Otherwise, it’s all done in their spare time, free of charge and mostly on their own dime, with the help of a small group of donors and volunteers, who shuttle the cats to neighboring cities or states including Gillette and Montana.

They’re not benign to the sometimes lunacy of their mission and both admit that at times it seems ridiculous – even to them.

Nor do they fall into the stereotype of “crazy cat ladies.” With manicured nails, well-coifed hair and stylish yoga pants, the two are more like supermodels than women used to digging in the mud or underneath cabinets.   

Absent, too, is any resentment for the people who cast the stray cats into the cold or the fact that so many cats requiring saving. Friendly with big smiles and contagious laughs, the two are more like a French vaudeville act as they banter back and forth in high-pitched voices and giggles, making cat wrangling almost look like fun.

They enjoy laughing at themselves and their crazy passion, which both agree is a bit over the top.

“We’re a little bit crazy,” Amanda said, looking at her friend as she once again shimmied under the fence and reported that the cooler “cat condos” were doing just fine, left alone by the city workers.

Once again, they hopped into the SUV and with nothing more to check on that night, headed home as they discussed plans for the next day.

They’re in this together and have been for several years.

The two instantly bonded almost a decade ago over their shared love of God and His creatures, a deal that was sealed when Amanda noted how out of control the stray cat problem was in the “Camp of the Trees” section of town on the far west end of Newcastle, at which point the two decided to do something about it.

It took them two weeks to trap all the strays, sometimes requiring sitting for hours at a time in their car to keep watch.

“It was a successful mission,” Ginger said with a smile.

In the eight or so years since they’ve been at this, they try not to think about how many hours goes into their cat saving, but instead try to celebrate the fact that they’ve found so many cats good homes.

In Newcastle, the choice for stray cats is pretty limited. The local animal shelter can only house so many and to combat over-population, years ago the city opened the Cat House with the primary purpose of indiscriminately euthanizing any cat who is missing for more than three days, whether it’s a stray or pet.

The opening of the Cat House, in fact, is what prompted the pair to launch Sweet Country Angels, which is putting a big dent in the stray population.

And though the Cat House is controversial to some, others feel it was exactly what was needed to put an end to the rampant stray cat problem, which back then most would agree required a swift solution. Between the cat wranglers and the Cat House, in fact, the stray cat problem appears to be more or less under control.

At a recent city council meeting, News Letter Journal reporter Alexis Barker noted that council members were lamenting the lack of business at the Cat House, which for two months sat entirely empty, as council questioned the cost and need of keeping it open.

In the seven or so years since Sweet County Angels stepped in, and up, with the mercenery mission of saving these cats, the business seems to be solidly going in their direction. 

For every cat killed, they figure they have saved a dozen.

Their Facebook page is filled with testimonials from those who have adopted cats and those who’ve helped find adoptive homes. Photos of cats begging to be adopted stare from the page with big eyes, and often recently stitched wounds, from their perch on the sofa or cat bed. Many are in various stages of recovery from situations of abuse or being attacked by other animals.

Were it a matter of simply eradicating stray cats from the city, their mission would have likely been accomplished years ago. If humans stayed out of the mix, that is.

“Humans are the biggest problem,” Ginger said.

There are a few notable situations throughout town, primarily hoarders and lonely people and others with mental disabilities, who don’t view their excessive animal populations as a problem.

In one case, one hoarder kept a houseful of unaltered cats whose population exploded with a mixture of starving and ill cats in various need of attention. It took the women months to convince the owner to let them get the cats fixed and the medical attention they needed, which they singlehandedly accomplished through frequent visits, and sometimes, through bribes.

“I baked a lot of cookies,” Ginger said with a laugh.

It had worked, too, until he brought in a whole new slew of unfixed cats and the cycle began yet again.

Another time, one of the cat hoarders died, and with police tape still on the doors, the women frantically set about freeing the trapped cats.

“It’s frustrating,” Amanda said.

And sometimes controversial.

The two take plenty of heat for their sometimes-unorthodox methods of saving animals. On social media, they’re sometimes lambasted for stealing other people’s runaway cats or not doing due diligence when it comes to getting them all the necessary shots or doing proper background checks prior to adoption.

To them, however, the end justifies the means of saving animals from much worse fates, including a life on the streets where they just continue reproducing.

Another drawback of the job is that cat saving often is a full-time job with no holidays, particularly when people drop their unwanted cats off at their door.

Unfortunately, in a small town, everyone knows everyone, which in Amanda’s case amounts to lots of strays dropped at her door, despite her continual pleas on Facebook to respect her privacy.

A few weeks before Christmas, after Amanda had been to the Festival of Trees fundraiser with her family, she returned home to find a cardboard box on her doorstep. Thinking UPS had dropped off a package, she kicked it through her front door. Two kittens flew out, scaring Amanda, who shrieked as the cats flew under the couch.

She was livid. Beyond the fact that someone had essentially just dumped their cats at her house, they’d left them sitting out in the cold without food and water. What if she’d been out of town?

This is the kind of stuff that really gets under her skin. That night, with fresh wounds of her late husband on her mind, she took to social media to air her grievances, declaring her cat saving days were done.

The next morning, however, she deleted it. But not before many had read it, including Ginger, who worries about her friend.

That said, Amanda’s loss seems to have made her realize that it’s impossible to save every single one.

As a nurse, Ginger tends to view death in some cases as a much kinder alternative than suffering or procuring ridiculously high medical bills just to keep a cat alive.

“I don’t like to see anything suffer,” Ginger said, “cats or anyone else.”

The first time they had to put one down, Amanda cried hysterically, insisting they needed to pay whatever it cost to keep the animal alive.

The last time they had to put down two sick kittens, Amanda faced it stony-eyed, with no tears.

“She did incredibly well,” Ginger said. “I couldn’t believe it.” Amanda shrugged.

“They were sick,” she said. “The vet had them on medication for two weeks and they weren’t getting any better.”

This is just part of the operation, they acknowledge, and not every mission ends successfully – or at all.

But their hearts are always in the right place, and that keeps them going every time.

By: Jen C. Kocher

PHOTO CREDIT: Amy Menerey/Lost Cabin Photo Design

Amanda Bench and Ginger Fields have teamed up to form Sweet Country Angels for the purpose of rescuing cats that would otherwise be euthanized. The self-funded Newcastle, Wyoming, duo make sure each of the cats they rescue are spayed or neutered before finding them homes with families in Gillette and beyond.

Leave a comment

About The Author

Jennifer is a Wyoming transplant who can’t imagine living anywhere else. She comes to Outliers with more than a decade of community reporting experience from publications around the state. For story ideas and tips, contact Jen at jckocher@mcllc.net.

Related Posts