The day Sterling Davis applied for a job at an animal shelter in Georgia, he kissed all the cats. He said he bombed the interview because he was too focused on the felines.
“But they hired me anyway for one big reason,” he said. “They weren’t used to seeing a Black man like me loving cats.”
In fact, Davis loves cats so much that he decided to give up his life on the road performing as a rap artist in 2012 to instead change litter boxes at the Atlanta Humane Society. Then in 2017, he gave himself a new nickname — “TrapKing” — and started a company to humanely trap stray cats, get them spayed, neutered, and microchipped, and return them to where they came from. He says the name is a play off the term “rap king,” an honorific bestowed on hip-hop’s best lyricists.
“Like most boys in my neighborhood, I grew up hearing that only girls should have cats and guys should have dogs,” he said. “So I knew there was a lot of work to do.”
Davis, 40, now runs his company, TrapKing Humane Cat Solutions, from his RV, visiting predominantly Black neighborhoods throughout the metro Atlanta area to trap feral felines and educate people about the importance of caring for strays.
“I like to teach kids that the ‘crazy cat lady’ down the street who is feeding all the strays isn’t actually so crazy,” he said. “She’s doing what she can to help. And anyone can do the same.”
The practice of TNR — trap, neuter, release — is the humane alternative to euthanasia for stray cats, Davis added.
“Strays don’t usually do well in homes, but they help with rodent populations,” he said. “So it’s important to neuter them and return them where you got them in order to humanely control their numbers.”
Friendlier cats that do well around people are put up for adoption with help from an Atlanta cat cafe, Java Cats, he said.
Although Davis struggled for years to fund his company (he spent much of his own savings to pay for neutering strays), he is now enjoying a surge of support since he was featured in November on Today.com.
“People used to think I was crazy to be out there doing what I’m doing, and now a lot of them are reaching out with kind words and offers to volunteer,” he said. “It’s a cool thing to see. I want people to love cats as much as I do.”
His fascination with felines started when he was growing up in Detroit. On most days after school, he played with the strays in his neighborhood and was disappointed when his parents wouldn’t allow him to bring the cats inside, he said.
“Everyone thought I should be playing with dogs,” Davis said. " ‘Sterling, stop bringing those cats around here,’ they’d tell me. But I still managed to sneak a few into the basement.”
After he graduated from high school, Davis said he served in the Navy for two years then decided to focus on his other passion, rap music.
“I remember singing and dancing as soon as I was able to walk,” he said. “Just like with cats, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t into it. My dream was to be like Jimi Hendrix or Prince. They had a lot of talent and were both eccentric dudes.”
Davis didn’t hit the big time as a solo artist, but he managed to pay the bills by touring with groups such as Tech N9ne, he said.
Then in 2012, during a two-month layover before a new tour, Davis decided to scrap it all and focus on something that was pulling at his heart: cats.
At Fulton County Animal Services, Davis soon worked his way up to the position of community cat coordinator and began helping with the shelter’s trap, neuter, and return project.
“People were surprised to see me,” he said. “I’m 5-10, muscular, and I have tattoos. My fingernails are painted black.”
He said that whenever he goes to cat conferences or workshops, he’s usually the only Black man in the room.
“They’ll talk to me, then realize, ‘Oh, guys really do love cats — cat men are good,’ " he said. “I love making that happen.”
The back of his RV is outfitted with plenty of room for cages holding the stray cats he picks up each day after enticing them into traps with treats of chicken or mackerel, he said.
His efforts have had a positive impact on the well-being of feral cats in neighborhoods all over Atlanta, said Megan Stapleton, a Humane Society veterinarian.
“The first thing I noticed about Sterling was his huge smile and the genuine love he had for the cats in his care,” Stapleton said. “If any health issues or complications from surgery arose, Sterling was as attentive as any pet owner about [what was needed] for the cat to return to the field in full health.”
With so many stray cats roaming the streets, his cause often feels overwhelming, admitted Davis.
“But if we can get kids to care about these cats and especially teach boys that it’s OK to love them, maybe there’s some hope,” he said.