Greenfield Plantation's Ava Biasini snapped into an incredulous look.
Make that an annoyed, incredulous look.
I had asked why an 18-year-old woman, about to head off to the University of Florida for her sophomore year — studying chemical engineering no less — would want to find homes for 23 stray cats during the summer.
She gave me her best "that's a stupid question" look.
And yet, the question made perfect sense to me.
She isn't employed by an animal rescue and doesn't have a volunteer group behind her. It's simply her own labor to find homes for all those cats — which came from "the Middle-of-Nowhere, Virginia" — along with some cash from mom and dad to pay various vet bills to get them ready for new homes.
The "that's a stupid question" look lingered, until she finally puffed out an answer.
"They were dying," she said, with an uncomfortable amount of emphasis on the word "dying."
I figured I had better veer off in a different direction.
So did you know I have a rescue dog?
We all, or at least 90% of us, have some level of love for pets. But that level can be as different as Mickey Mouse and Godzilla when it comes to saving the ones tossed aside by our fellow citizens.
Biasini explained that she visits a relative, whom she didn't want to name because of the situation — who loves to take care of pets. Unfortunately, Jewell Ridge, Virginia, has way more cats than people. So when the people get tired of their pets, they would dump them at her relative's because, after all, she has a barn.
Over the past few years, the cat situation got unmanageable because the relative, while well meaning, didn't have the finances to have all the stray cats spayed and neutered.
"It got out of hand," Biasini said.
When she visited in June, 35 cats called the barn home, and that was not counting a number of kittens who had died. Ten of the kittens were subject to a similar fate.
"The kittens had some respiratory problems, they were covered with fleas, and they had various health issues," she said. "There were three big dogs living there, and one of the dogs already had killed one of the kittens."
As Biasini, a 2021 Braden High School graduate, surveyed the situation, she absolutely knew the answer to the biggest question. Nobody was going to step forward to help.
She talked to her mom, Kathleen Biasini, about bringing five of the kittens home to East County with the hope of finding them homes.
Before going any further, it should be noted that Ava Biasini has inherited her mom's love of animals, and her strong desire to do the right thing. When Ava was 6 and growing up in Parrish, Kathleen Biasini wasn't sure her daughter even would share that passion, especially since she was more enamored with chickens than anything else. But over the years, the younger Biasini grew as much or more passionate about cats and dogs as her mom, who currently has five cats.
"I told her, 'I can't have any more cats,'" Kathleen Biasini said to her daughter. "But I new she is super responsible, and she knows my expectations. I did worry that it might be overwhelming for her."
So five kittens came home to Greenfield Plantation, and Ava Biasini turned to social media and posters to find homes. This wasn't, however, a show-up-and-drive-away process.
"We began by trying to find homes for them with people we know," Ava Biasini said. "That was very hard. So we put posts on Facebook and Valpak, and my parents paid for it all."
When people began answering the ads, they were surprised. They were met by a screening process that included a Zoom pre-visit call and a request for background checks and vet references.
"I look for consistency in what they are saying," Ava Biasini said. "One person was looking for a long-haired cat, and I didn't have any, but he still wanted a cat. Then he didn't know the name of his vet."
He went away empty.
She had to walk a fine line because she didn't want to make the process so laborsome that people would give up, and yet she didn't want the kittens to be right back in the same unhealthy situation.
Eventually, she found all five kittens new homes.
So she went back in July and brought nine more home. And since has found them homes.
Earlier in August, it was another trip, and nine more.
On Aug. 21, she had seven cats using her bedroom as a foster home. Her father, Matt Biasini, had another two at his house.
While her efforts to find new homes for the cats will continue this week as she goes back to the University of Florida, those cats will have foster homes, most with families in Gainesville.
She said the Virginia situation is under control now as all the remaining cats are fixed. So it is likely she will be able to concentrate on chemical engineering in the near future.
"I've been amazed at her success," Kathleen Biasini said. "She is super dedicated and determined."
If you been hankering for a cat, you can call Ava Biasini at 813-294-3053. The age range is between 2 months and 18 months. Since they are mostly kittens, Ava Biasini said you can't really tell what their personality will be like when they mature.
"You have to be willing to love them for who they are," she said.
All of the cats have been fixed and are completely healthy, as verified by a vet. The only thing the Biasinis couldn't afford to do was chip them.
"I just love when people who show up are patient with them," Ava Biasini said. "They are open to seeing which cat chooses them. I like when they understand why I am vetting people.
So Ava, with people like you out there, does Manatee County really need to have shelters to care for stray animals?
"That's not an area we can cut," she said. "Places like Nate's and Cat Depot are amazing, but we just don't have enough. Every no-kill shelter is completely crowded.
"And we can't always trust people to do what they should."
Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.