Invisible Hero Rescues Invisible Population

by Michele Smith-Aversa

Rigsby Shoulder
Rigsby (on shoulder) gives kisses for a Selfie.


Since 2005, Gina Marvin has saved over 900 lives – for free. She is the voice for those who have been abused in ways many of us can’t imagine. She is an invisible hero to what she calls an invisible population.


Gina Marvin is the founder of Focus on Ferals Trap-Neuter-Return and No-Kill Adoption Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan ( She is on a crusade to improve the quality of life for feral cats in West Michigan and humanely reduce and control their population through the process of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). TNR consists of the humane trapping, sterilization, and return of feral cats to their familiar habitat.


“I love feral cats.” Gina says. “I respect their wild nature. But feral cats breed unwanted kittens, who just breed more unwanted kittens. The way the public has dealt with this issue in the past is to kill the unwanted cats. The methods used are sometimes horrific.” Gina contends that reducing their birth rate is actually more cost effective – and humane. As a community working together, the problem can be eliminated.

A Typical Day

Kitties just want to be loved! Jake Owen (foreground), Belen (center), Brielle (right)
Kitties just want to be loved! Jake Owen (foreground), Belen (center), Brielle (right)

There is no typical day for Gina. “I can spend anywhere between one and five hours per day doing activities for Focus on Ferals (FOF). I like to say things get done in a ‘which fire is burning the hottest right now’ sort of way.”


Gina gets calls every day from people asking for help with anything from a stray cat to an abandoned litter of kittens. Some days she spends more time out in the field trapping feral cats (for TNR), giving them medical attention or food. Some days she is at the No-Kill Adoption Center on Knapp where stray adult cats and feral kittens are brought in, socialized and adopted out. And some days she is at home buried in the paperwork that comes with running a struggling non-profit organization.

 Another Hero

Gina received a distress call on an unusually bitter November evening in 2010. The caller was a soft spoken man who lived in an area hotel known for housing people on parole or probation. However, the hotel did not allow pets. This man, Norm*, told Gina that the management was tired of the feral cat problem around the hotel, had already rounded up 20 of the cats and taken them to an animal shelter – where feral cats do not make it out alive.

This handsome guy is Neville who is known to fetch and play growl. Photo by Rebekah Dietrache
This handsome guy is Neville who is known to fetch and play growl. Photo by Rebekah Dietrache


Norm spotted two kittens that were caught in a live trap. Worried that after several hours they would freeze to death, he snuck them into his room and called Gina. By the time she arrived, Norm had been forced to move the tiny kittens back outside to his rusted out pick-up truck because management was coming around for room checks. When Gina checked his truck, she saw a shoebox with litter, two tiny dishes with food and water, and even a few toys for the kittens to play with.

Charlize is hoping for a family.


Gina was immeasurably moved. Norm had his own problems and very little money. But he rescued the condemned kittens because it was the right thing to do. Gina still smiles when she thinks of his selflessness. “These two kittens were headed for their deaths. But an ordinary person stepped in and changed that course.” The kittens were brought to the shelter, named Tater and Tot, and were eventually adopted out together.

 Rescues Despite Risk

Gina has executed her share of covert rescues to protect and save a cat. In this economy, foreclosures have become a reality for an increasing number of families. When they leave their homes, they abandon their memories, clothing and sometimes even their pets. Gina remembers one cat in particular named Ellie. When the family left, they locked Ellie in the house with broken furniture, trash, moldy food and no useable litter box. An animal cannot survive for long in those hazardous conditions. Gina felt that she had no other choice; she broke a window, climbed into the house and saved Ellie’s life.

Meet Porkchop. He has his own page on Photo by Rebekah Dietsche
Meet Porkchop. He has his own page on Photo by Rebekah Dietsche


Getting a pet is a long-term commitment. Unfortunately, some people do not take the commitment seriously. “As a nation,” Gina says, “we still have the mentality that animals are disposable.” Gina works to change that mentality, but the animals’ safety and welfare always come first.

 No end in sight

If Gina lost everything she owned, she would still continue her crusade. The shelter demands supplies, paperwork, volunteers, building maintenance, public relations – and money. Lots of it. But she will never lose sight of the big picture. Improving the lives of cats and kittens is the mission. She struggles with the knowledge that she can’t save them all. But that makes her more determined to do everything she can for the ones she does save.


There is a sign in the shelter that expresses exactly how Gina feels –

“Saving the life of one animal may not change the world, but the world will surely change for that one animal.”


Visit our website if you:


Are interested in making a donation/sponsoring a cat or want to obtain an adoption application.


See our available cats and kittens


Visit our No Kill Adoption Center Thursdays 6-8pm and Sundays 12-2pm


Like us on Facebook – where you can read success stories and see photos and videos of the kitties at the Adoption Center!