After four years dedicated to tackling Marshalltown’s stray cat problem, Cara Jackson, founder and executive director of Marshalltown Strong Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) is stepping down from her role, citing health reasons.
Marshalltown Strong TNR was a labor of love for Jackson, and she founded it about four years ago after the 2018 tornado. Jackson lost her home and her car, and while she was cleaning up in the area, one of his cats escaped and was lost for several days. While trying to trap her own cat, she caught three unattached strays. Jackson decided to have them sterilized before releasing them again, but it brought his attention to a bigger issue.
“We were down to several cats before I finally caught my cat, and it was like, ‘We have a problem here that’s not solved,'” Jackson said.
The original purpose of the Marshalltown Strong TNR was to trap, fix, and release six cats. Now in the fourth year, Jackson and his team have done so for 541 cats, 78 of which have been repaired in the past few months. Jackson believes that number will increase to 625 before the end of the year.
They also vaccinate the cats they trap and, after releasing them, they continue to provide medical care to make sure the colonies don’t get sick. Marshalltown Strong TNR also runs a “cuddle camp” for kittens who have lost their mothers and are vulnerable. A volunteer cares for these kittens and makes sure they are healthy before they are housed through the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Marshalltown.
While watching the program grow and succeed was a highlight for Jackson, after battling cancer for several years, she made the decision to step back from her leadership role and hand over day-to-day operations to Steven Havens, who will serve as the lead supervisor for Marshalltown Strong TNR volunteers.
“We have a good group of volunteers. They all took on an area of their expertise, whether it was our cuddling camp, where there would be an orphan or a kitten in need, or a repatriation or trapping, they all put themselves in their shoes and work very well with Steven,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t be more relaxed leaving my program in their hands. It’s hard to do, it’s very hard to do, but I’m very confident in their abilities to continue.
While Steven Havens will oversee the volunteers, his wife Jenny Havens will be responsible for fundraising for the program and Kayti Shaffer will take charge of the programming. Jackson said the help she has received and continues to receive from veterinarians at VCA Marshalltown Animal Hospital has been invaluable. Whether they perform vaccinations, castrations, sterilizations or wellness checks, they have supported the program “since day one”.
Since starting with Jackson herself, TNR has grown to a group of about 30 volunteers and program members, but Jackson said that didn’t count the many financial supporters that made the program possible.
She still has tears in her eyes thinking about the end of this chapter, and she thinks she will miss everyone on the show the most.
“I think I will miss our vets the most. I developed a good relationship with them, that and the volunteers,” Jackson said. “We have made friendships that will probably last a lifetime.”
Although her role with the program has been reduced, Jackson still plays an advisory role, especially while Steven Havens learns the ropes, and she still follows their social media page and other events.
“I guess I’m 85 or 90 percent retired. I don’t know when I’ll be able to pull off that last piece, or if I’ll ever be able to, but my health is rapidly deteriorating,” she said.
Jackson will leave the program in the capable hands of her staff and is thrilled to see all the progress being made with Marshalltown’s cat population.
To trap a colony, call Shaffer at (970) 573-9413 for the schedule. More information about the program can be found on their Facebook page by searching for Marshalltown Strong TNR.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or