Theresa Brumfield and her husband Joe appreciate cats. They appreciate them so much, in fact, that they have fed and cared for as many as 50 in the five years they have lived in their neighborhood south of Mockingbird Lane.

But Theresa was always afraid her neighbors wouldn’t feel the same way about the strays she took in and the cats people left with her. It turns out that was the one thing she didn’t have to worry about.

Her neighbors, led by Linda Mari and Alice Ann Dailey, were determined to help. They approached the couple and asked if the neighborhood could assist in the spaying and neutering the animals.

“To my wonderful surprise, Theresa was willing and pleased someone would want to help,” says Mari, a long-time neighborhood resident who dedicates her life to caring for ill and injured cats. “We called it Operation Zero.”

Today, six months later, only four adults and a final litter of kittens remain to be spayed or neutered. And the cat population should remain at a manageable level, since potential adopters are referred to the Brumfields.

Residents and friends from throughout the neighborhood pitched in, even though many were surprised at the extent of the population. That’s because, Dailey says, only a few cats appeared in the yard at any given time.

Mari’s efforts raised more than $600, which she combined with coupons and a cash contribution from Spay Neuter Your Pet, or SNYP to obtain veterinary care for the animals. That was an enormous help to the Brumfields, who had been trying to care for the cats on their income from Social Security. They managed to buy 50 pounds of dry cat food and two cases of wet each week, but to obtain veterinary care was impossible.

To Mari, Operation Zero symbolizes what can happen when a neighborhood determines to turn a potential problem in to a positive experience.

And to Theresa Brumfield, who lived most of her adult life in Commerce, the neighbors’ efforts have made her feel like she is back in a small town.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” she says of the time she first learned of the effort. “This is like family.”

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