In a dull yellow, one-story house with a basement, complete with a silver minivan and faded blue and white swing set in the front yard, many feral and abandoned cats find comfort in the seemingly typical home.
Upon entering cat behaviorist Jami Hull’s house, the initial sight is a mixture of cats either roaming on top of the dining table, sleeping under the old rocking chair or being held by her excited, three-year-old daughter, Aubrey Hull.
In the past few months, the number of cats has increased due to Jami Hull starting the Trap-Neuter-Release Maryville program where she captures strays and ferals to neuter or spay before releasing them or putting them up for adoption.
The cats Jami Hull has trapped and rescued reside within her room in large cages in the corner opposite from her bed. With two kennels and a cat cottage, lent to her from the New Nodaway Humane Society, she is able to house an average of seven cats with room to spare.
“It’s a lot more than I would like to have or anyone for that matter, but compared to the alternative, I will gladly take them in if it means saving their lives,” Jami Hull said. “I am hoping they can get adopted quickly.”
Jami Hull has had a passion for animals since she was young, especially after her family rescued their now 18-year-old stray.
“I begged my dad all the time as a child to bring in anything and everything that I could,” Jami Hull said. “When I was three years old actually, I wanted to be a veterinarian and that kind of changed as I grew older, but I still came back to it in a way since I’m still helping animals.”
In 2018, Jami Hull was able to pursue her dream further after graduating from Animal Behavior College and was certified as a cat behaviorist.
In order to graduate, Jami Hull needed hands-on training. Through this training, she met the staff of the NNHS where she still helps with a few problematic cats.
Animal caretaker, front desk assistant and animal control officer Janelle Yapi recounted what she first thought of Jami Hull when she came in looking for hours.
“Crazy cat lady,” Yapi said. “She would be able to go in there and touch them (stray cats who were mistreated or abandoned), and they would love on her, and I’d be like, ‘That cat just sliced my face open this morning.’ So yeah, she was the crazy cat lady.”
A few of the staff members even call her the “cat shrink.”
Her college certificate of completion and cat trainer certificate is displayed proudly over her quaint wooden desk that is riddled with various papers and has been taken over by her children.
Jami Hull works hard to balance out her passion for animals and her numerous responsibilities as both a mother and a business owner. Between school for her children, owning Claws on the Walls LLC and running the T-N-R Maryville program, life can get a bit hectic.
“It definitely gets tricky sometimes,” Jami Hull said. “I have four kids total. There have been days where I’ve loaded all of my kids up with traps in the very, very back of my little minivan. Then we drove all over town, and we picked up cats and took them to the vet. If it’s an emergency situation, definitely they’re on board to help.”
Not only do her children help out in her search for strays and ferals, but her husband also supports her and her passion.
“I’m pretty proud of what she does and happy she does it,” Michael Hull said. “I think that’s good for her and the community.”
Even with the many cats in their house, Michael Hull said, for the most part, he doesn’t believe it’s that big of a deal. He even discussed how the children seem to like the cats.
For Jami Hull, she enjoys watching her children socialize with the stray cats since the human interactions help the cats become used to people.
“She’s (Aubrey) definitely a cat lover,” Jami Hull said. “I wake up early, early in the morning, 6 o’clock every morning, and I clean everything out of my room, and she’s always right in there with me helping.”
Despite the support of her family, Jami Hull sometimes finds herself facing accusations of stealing and selling pets for profit. She said some people don’t seem to understand her cause, and some have been difficult to deal with when it comes to wanting a stray back.
“Not everyone supports my cause,” Jami Hull said. “I encourage anyone to come and sit out in the cold with me one night and see what these cats have to go through. ‘Education is key’ is kind of my main thing. It’s just teaching people.”
Jami Hull’s nine-year-old, Adrian Hull, loves being able to help his mom, even in freezing temperatures.
“My nine year old sat out in the blizzard with me,” Jami Hull said. “Over on Fourth Street, he sat out in the blistering cold with me, and we were only able to catch two cats but it made his day that he was able to help.”
Adrian Hull’s favorite part about helping is getting to meet and play with the cats who come home with them.
“It’s great when my mom gets really sick cats and they don’t like us but then we help them feel better,” Adrian Hull said. “They slowly trust us, and sometimes I can pet them like they know we are there to help them.”
One of the biggest problems Jami Hull faces besides angry pet owners is funding for all the medical bills. It is $40 to spay a cat, $30 to neuter and $5 to vaccinate for rabies, all of which are essential processes for Jami Hull before she releases them.
Jami Hull said donations are greatly appreciated, even if it’s simply donating time to socialize with the cats or items like blankets and toys.
“There’s so many more (cats) out there,” Jami Hull said. “Fifty may seem like a great number to start off with, but it doesn’t even begin to touch all the cats in Maryville. It’s kind of my goal. If people can help me, then I can help more.”