From Rapper to Trapper: Diversity and Inclusivity Saves Cats

Sterling “TrapKing” Davis: A former musician changed his life to help stray cats and bridge racial divides.

I saw how rare it was for a Black person, let alone a Black man, to be in cat rescue and I wanted to change that.

by Sterling “TrapKing” Davis

Editor’s note: This article is part of a short series called “Journeys,” about the experiences of individuals from diverse backgrounds in the veterinary world.

Every time I speak to cat rescue groups or animal welfare professionals, the phrase “from rapper to trapper” is always used. As cliché as it may be and as many times as I’ve used it, I have to say, it’s really dead on. That’s me.
 
My life in cat rescue started when I was in between music tours and looking for a way to kill time and raise a little money before I went back on tour with my rapper friend Jarren Benton. I saw an ad in the paper for helping cats at a local shelter, and it seemed like an easy and fun opportunity. I’ve always loved cats, and at the time had my own cat named Rick James, so I felt like this would be a cool thing to do.

I knew nothing about shelters or rescues back then—I just liked cats. I did horribly in the interview for the job because I was more focused on petting the cats. The hiring manager could tell I liked felines, so she gave me the job anyway. She told me it was rare to see a Black man loving and interacting with cats, so they wanted me to come on board! After a month of training, I was learning fast and moving up quickly. I just loved this new “cat world.” I would transport kitties to various pet stores for adoption and clean lots of litter boxes. They say cat rescue is like the mafia: once you’re in, you can never get out. That was definitely the case for me. I did the unthinkable and told my buddies I wasn’t going back on tour because my true calling was rescuing cats. They thought I was losing my mind.

I saw how rare it was for a Black person, let alone a Black man, to be in cat rescue and I wanted to change that. It was similar to Venus and Serena Williams being what they are to tennis. Seeing them gives hope to young Black and Brown women to dream big, think outside the box, and maybe become superstar tennis players, too.

What if I could do something to show Black and Brown people that they can love and rescue cats? What if by seeing me loving and rescuing cats, it would help with hypermasculinity stereotyping that says a guy is supposed to have a dog and cats are only for girls? What if by engaging with different demographics, we could create more awareness and help our community pets? After leaving my music tour to help cats, I made another life change and dedicated myself to cat rescue. After five years working at the shelter, I decided to give away or sell most of my belongings so that I could buy and live out of a 1997 conversion van.

My plan was to travel the country, teaching cat rescuers about trap-neuter-return (TNR) and community cat care. I had always wanted to live a minimalist lifestyle, and it wasn’t too much different from living out of my sea bag when I was in the military. It made a ton of sense, so in 2017, I started TrapKing Humane Cat Solutions—a nonprofit focusing on TNR and community cat care. It didn’t take long for the word to get out about me. I started to travel and do rescue work with people in Philadelphia, Oakland, Los Angeles, North Carolina, Chicago, Texas, New York, and everywhere in between.

It was amazing and educational because I was able to see just how rare I was. I worked with so many rescuers all over the country, and I never saw anyone who looked like me. In fact, it was basically all middle-aged or older White women. There were lots of White women who had never seen someone who looked like me, so I always faced doubts about how knowledgeable or how genuine I was. (That hurt a lot, but I likened it to Eminem, who was always judged by Black rappers because he was the only White rapper in the business.)

Davis reading the children’s book based on him titled Marvin: TrapKing for a Day to school children in Minnesota before the pandemic.

What if I could do something to show Black and Brown people that they can love and rescue cats?

When Michael Vick went to jail for breeding and killing dogs, it became very difficult for Black families to adopt dogs. A lot of rescues were afraid to let anyone that looked similar to him adopt a pet. Combine that with the stereotype that most Black people supposedly don’t like cats, and I immediately saw the need for a bridge to be made between the Black community and the rescue community.
 
One day while out doing TNR in a predominantly Black neighborhood, I was stopped by four guys while trying to return some cats. They stopped me because they wanted to know why I was “helping White people hurt our community.” When I asked them to explain, they told me that “White people put tracking devices and diseases in cats and then dump them back in the neighborhood to hurt us.” I was speechless. I never looked at what I do like that. But growing up poor and believing that the authorities don’t have your best interest in mind is common, so I did understand immediately how they felt.

2020 was a difficult year for me. First, the passing of my first cat, Rick James, was difficult to handle. Then, all the racial unrest and demand for change sparked uncomfortable conversations in the cat rescue community. Though it was hard to watch, it was a long time coming. And I believe something wonderful will come out of this, even with the pandemic still in full swing. I am a man who believes the glass is always half full.

2021 and beyond is a new beginning, a new opportunity to promote diversity and equity in TNR, community cat care, and animal welfare as a whole. The conversations are finally happening, and in the end, I believe this will lead to more people coming together to celebrate differences, which will lead to more inclusivity. When this happens, we can save even more cats and reduce their populations, making the world a more humane place for all. 

Sterling Davis
Sterling “TrapKing” Davis is a well-traveled military veteran and music and cat enthusiast who has always loved entertaining and interacting with people. Since childhood, he was also the only guy in his neighborhood that loved cats.
In 2017, he started his own nonprofit, TrapKing Humane Cat Solutions, where he focuses on educating, assisting, and doing TNR and community cat management. He lives and breathes his motto: you don’t lose cool points for compassion.
Today, Davis is a sought-after speaker all over the world, speaking at events like Cat Con, Cat Camp, and Meow DC along with supporting fundraising events for small rescues and shelters across the United States. He hopes to one day travel the country in a recreational vehicle, teaching animal advocates in communities of all sizes about how to care for their community cats. Find him online at trapkinghumane.org.

 

Photo credits: Photo courtesy of TrapKing IG, photos courtesy of TrapKing Humane Solutions

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