When you think of a community cat caregiver, a bearded biker and ex-boxer who owns an auto body shop probably doesn’t come to mind.
Meet Ron Black, a burly Toronto caregiver who has spent years caring for a colony as well as other local cats. He’s shattered stereotypes about animal lovers and shows that toughness and compassion can go hand in hand.
“I know I’m not your typical cat guy, but that means nothing,” says Black. “I just want to make people aware that it’s okay to do this. It’s always okay to be human and take care of an animal.”
Black began helping cats years ago when he first spotted a community cat and her kittens outside. He fed and set out shelters for them, but the colony grew quickly until he learned about Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) from Mekki MacAulay, a Toronto community cat caregiver and member of Alley Cat Allies’ Feral Friends Network. Since then, Black has trapped more cats than he can remember, adopting out any socialized cats and returning the others to their outdoor homes. In lieu of an adoption fee, he asks each adopter to donate money to an animal rescue.
Every day, Black cares for a colony of about 10 cats who live across the road from his auto body shop. When he was a boxer, Black typically woke at the crack of dawn each morning to go for a run. Now he uses that early-bird habit to feed his colony instead of loosening up for a fight.
Black says the cats are “royalty” and he treats them like it, building them shelters and even making a deal with a local butcher to provide the cats with leftover chicken scraps. He also helps other locals care for their cat colonies when needed. He says the work is its own reward.
“No matter how I feel, no matter what my day was like or if I slept, if I’m sick or if I was riding for 20 hours the day before, it makes no difference,” says Black. “I know the cats are waiting. And it’s great. They’re all unique with their own personalities and they acknowledge you for sure. They feel like a part of me.”
Black isn’t afraid to flex his muscle against animal abuse. He makes clear that nobody messes with his or any cats on his watch.
“I used to see people messing with the cats, like throwing apples at them. I put a stop to that real quick,” says Black. “Now nobody goes near my cats or any other cats in the little colonies nearby. It’s just not going to happen. I don’t stand for abuse—ever.”
Riding is a way of life for bikers and, for Black, so is caring for cats. Recently, Black and his friends shipped their Harley motorcycles out to Israel to ride across the country. In Jerusalem, Black was approached by four community cats. He didn’t hesitate to get them a bite to eat.
“Everybody looked at me like ‘dude, they’re following you everywhere,’” says Black, laughing. “I can’t get away from it no matter what I do. But it’s fine, I’m happy to do it.”
Mixing his passion for motorcycles with his love for animals, Black hosts an annual charity event called A Ride to Rescue. About 200 bikers and other animal lovers get together to raise money, encourage adoptions of animals from local rescues, and ride for around 180 miles. Last year, the ride raised over $5,000 for a local dog rescue. This year’s ride is coming up in July.
Black’s work inspires people around him, and he’s built a network of local veterinarians and friends who help him keep the cats fed and healthy. Even some of his fellow bikers have taken to watching out for the cats. Black firmly believes that if he can find time between his rides and his job to do this compassionate work, anybody can.
“When people ask me why I do it, I always tell them: If you believe in anything, if you believe in a higher power, someone is putting things in your path that you have to deal with,” says Black. “And how you choose to deal with it makes you who you are. You can deal with it by walking away, or you can face it consistently and do good. That’s what I feel I’m doing by caring for these cats.”