Atlanta resident Sterling Davis was on a break from a rap tour when he applied for a job at the county shelter scooping kitty litter. He just wanted to stay busy and make a little money. Plus, he’s always loved animals, like his cat at the time, Rick James.
“I did horrible in the interview because they had cats in the room and I was playing with all the cats, kissing all the cats,” he told TODAY.
Even though he didn’t really answer any of the questions because he was distracted by the friendly felines, he got the job because, as the person who hired him said, “We’re not seeing people like you with cats.”
Davis, 40, started helping shelter employees with trap-neuter-return cases. The team would trap community cats (formerly called “feral”), bring them to the shelter to be vaccinated and spayed or neutered, and then return them to their outdoor realm.
While Davis learned about TNR, he came to another realization.
“At the county shelter, there were no men and no Black people that worked in the cat department,” he said. “When I would go out and do TNR with all my friends, it would be all women — that’s who trained me. I finally asked the difficult question: ‘Where are all the guys and where are all the Black people?’’
The answer: There's just you.
Davis realized he had a new calling. He let his band know he would not be coming back on tour. Instead, he was going to devote all his time to cat rescue as the TrapKing.
After five years of working at the shelter run by LifeLine Animal Project and training with Best Friends Animal Society, Davis founded the nonprofit TrapKing Humane Cat Solutions in 2017.
His bold goal: to change stereotypes of men in cat rescue and bridge the communication gap between Black communities and predominately white animal welfare organizations.
“I’ve seen rescue be something that’s looked at as hard, tedious, sad,” he said. “If people can see me and I make this look like this is a rock-star type life, this is fun — you can do it.”
When his music money dried up, Davis sold everything he owned and bought a conversion van to live in to help pay for cat surgeries and support his nonprofit. He plastered the van with TrapKing logos and people started noticing. He hosted contests for kids, who would watch his humane traps. Whoever texted him first about a cat in a trap won $20, second place got $15 and so on.
I’ve had a lot of parents reach out to me and say that their son gets made fun of because he likes cats. I just want it to be known that you cannot lose cool points for compassion.
Sterling "TrapKing" Davis
“I started going into neighborhoods and kids would see me like the ice cream truck,” he said with a chuckle. “I would pull into apartment complexes and see young boys running up to the van trying to give me cats. ‘Hey Trap, look — I got a cat. Do I get some money?’”
As the TrapKing became better known, opportunities arose. The Atlanta Humane Society offered to spay and neuter cats he brought for free, which was a huge help since he wasn’t charging anyone for his services.
Davis, who enlisted in the Navy right out of high school and served for two years as an operations specialist manning the ship’s radar, believes his experiences have helped him connect with people from all walks of life as the TrapKing.
“I think being in the military, being around different people, different cultures and being in entertainment is what actually helped me better communicate with all types of people and better communicate this mission,” he said. “I’ve literally been pushing to make TNR community cat care as common as recycling and get more people engaged in so many fun ways.”
It hasn’t always been easy. Early on when Davis was returning cats to a predominately Black neighborhood, a group of men walked up and told him: “White people put tracking devices and diseases in these cats to hurt the Black community and you’re helping that. You’re bringing them into the neighborhood.”
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so wrong.’ It was really difficult to explain it because all the Black community could see was this is a white person’s thing,” he said.
Over time, perceptions have changed. When protests erupted across America in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Davis launched a T-shirt campaign called “Allies in Rescue, Allies in Life.” He announced he would donate all of the funds to the nonprofit Campaign Zero, which promotes policy changes to end police violence. Support from rescue advocates and organizations was overwhelming.
“I got a lot of feedback from the Black community on that, like, ‘So you got all of these animal people to donate to issues other than just cats or dogs?’” he recalled. “I’m like, ‘Yeah — we’re allies in rescue and allies in life.’ So that really turned a lot of things around.”
Davis now runs TrapKing Humane Cat Solutions from an RV, which he shares with his cats Bowie, Damita Jo and Alanis Mewissette. He hopes to travel across the country soon promoting TNR and fundraising for animal shelters. He’s also pushing for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to start offering a TNR badge.
Through it all, he’s continuing his outreach to communities and modeling his motto, “You don’t lose cool points for compassion.”
“I’ve had a lot of parents reach out to me and say that their son gets made fun of because he likes cats,” he said. “I just want it to be known that you cannot lose cool points for compassion. If you are doing something compassionate, you gain cool points.”
The TrapKing would love to see the rescue community find ways to put aside any differences and work together toward the common goal of saving the lives of pets.
“I think something as selfless as rescue could be an example to the world of unity and working together,” he said. “So I want to put that out there.”
CORRECTION (Nov. 24, 2020, 11:19 a.m.): An earlier version of this article had the wrong photo credit for the first image. It is from Weir Media, not courtesy of Sterling Davis.