‘The cat whisperer’

Georgia Eagle Scout candidate builds cat condos for FCAR

Trey is pictured in FCAR’s shelter with the finished condos. (Courtesy photo)

Trey Uttecht has never met a cat he didn’t like.

“Every cat I’ve met, I’ve gotten along with,” he said, noting even a mild allergy hasn’t hampered the bond.

Even cats he’s warned will attack on approach “just start loving on me,” he added. “It’s really weird ¬– it’s weird but nice at the same time.”

Trey, 15, may not fit the profile for a typical cat lover, but the Georgia teenager is rounding the corner on some milestones: He got his braces off, and he’s about to achieve Eagle Scout status, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts of America.

So when Trey’s mom, Jennifer, suggested Trey pick a topic he really cared about for his culminating service project, he didn’t hesitate. Last month, he finished building 11 “cat condos” – climbing structures made with PVC pipes, plywood and other materials ¬– for Franklin County Animal Rescue.

“I did this mainly out of my passion for cats, basically,” Trey said from his kitchen table one night after track practice last week, thumbing through a folder of project plans, photos and blueprints.

He hatched the idea last year and sat down with his father, an engineer, to devise a prototype on graph paper; he created a budget and wrote a proposal to go before Scout leadership for green lighting.

That was all before the project took on an unexpected weight: Last April, FCAR temporarily closed its shelter due to financial duress. Low revenue, high expenses plus the cost of caring for eight dogs seized after a 2015 animal cruelty investigation in Richford “depleted reserve funds,” FCAR said.

Towns that contracted with FCAR for stray animals had to look elsewhere while the shelter worked to reopen. Georgia partnered with a private kennel in Milton during the shutdown.

For his part, Trey got to work, his Eagle Scout project suddenly more important than he’d anticipated. Once school and sports ground to a halt for the summer, Trey “got cranking.”

He raised more than $2,000 plus material donations from local businesses – especially Milton ACE, he said – and enlisted friends, family and other Scouts to assist with assembling the structures.

It took Trey and his grandfather about three hours to build the first condo with about $200 worth of materials.

The structure is a souped up cat tree of sorts, a series of PVC connectors and plywood shelves for feline lounging at three varying heights. Atop each edifice, a large plastic bowl offers another spot for a cat to curl up.

Trey also collected blankets, toys and other cat supplies to donate. Scratching posts were a last minute addition.

From brainstorming to fundraising, the project was a big undertaking for the teen, whose planning experience was previously limited to stints as Troop 42’s senior patrol leader.

“Trying to figure out estimated costs, not knowing where we were going to get the materials or how much was going to be donated was a problem,” Trey said.

Soliciting donations was tricky business, too, albeit one made easier by repetition. Trey “started off easy” right down the road at Georgia’s Exit 18 Equipment, hoping to find a sympathetic ear in the Macys, who Trey knew had two Eagle Scouts in their own family.

“They already knew the drill,” he said, and that experience “gave me a little bit of a foothold” for the next ask.

The project also tasked Trey with management: He spent a Sunday last month in FCAR’s St. Albans shelter space walking about 20 volunteers through the assembly process.

“I went into it going, ‘OK, I should be able to keep everybody organized, but there’s a slight chance it may get very crazy very fast,’” Trey said. “The slight chance happened.”

After training and troubleshooting 10 groups of people, the work was finally done. His mom, who photographed the whole process for a future Scout scrapbook, captured a proud Trey in full Scout attire with the fruits of his labor lined up before him at shoulder height.

Last-minute renovations continue as FCAR nears its Oct. 12 reopening date, and Trey hopes to stop by and see his condos occupied.

As for Scouting, three more merit badges and an appearance before the Eagle board stand between Trey and his final rank.

In a cruel twist of fate, Trey’s own cat – a 14-year-old Siamese named Koko, who grew up with him – died just days before he finished his Eagle project.

He’s getting two new kittens, though, and hopes his condos offer comfort cats crave upon their return to FCAR’s shelter this week.

“He’s the cat whisperer,” Jennifer said.

For more information on Franklin County Animal Rescue, including a donation wish list, visit www.fcarpets.org.

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