When Jessica Litzinger began feeding a stray cat about five years ago near her home, she had no idea the direction her caring ways would eventually take her.
Today, Litzinger runs Beautiful Feral Felines, an organization devoted to caring for stray and feral cats, out of her home in Mt. Pleasant, with the help of her husband, Dan.
The couple currently cares for approximately 35 cats in need and is seeking non-profit status.
"I think caring for ferals is very important," she said. "They need help. They didn't ask to be feral."
In addition to ferals, felines in the Litzingers' care include kittens being fostered for adoption, she said.
They also watch over cats that have tested positive for feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus, which have to be housed separately due to their conditions, she said.
"I wouldn't be able to do this without all the help that I receive from some very generous people with kind hearts," she said. "I am truly blessed, and I really appreciate all the help."
The organization's Facebook site, www.facebook.com/beautifulferals, has more than 2,000 followers from across the country and enables the Litzingers to continue their efforts, she said.
"I have someone from Florida who auto-ships stuff all the time, and even one from Canada who contributes," she said.
Litzinger works with local veterinary clinics and animal shelters to ensure the cats are healthy, and she also sees that they are spayed or neutered, she said.
"It's always the plan to catch and release them," she said.
She has found, however, that sometimes the cats are friendly enough to be socialized and adopted.
Officials at shelters such as the Animal Friends of Westmoreland in Youngwood assist the Litzingers in the placement of adoptable kittens and cats that find their way into her care.
"Jessica and her husband Dan are amazing," said Robin Stewart, shelter manager of Animal Friends Westmoreland.
"They have hearts of gold when it comes to cats," she said.
The Homeless Cat Management Team in Pittsburgh is another organization that assists Beautiful Feral Felines.
That group provides discounts to the Litzingers to have the ferals altered.
"Having them fixed is the most important thing we can do," Dan Litzinger said. "It's a major misconception that you only need to have the females fixed. Males need to be fixed as well."
According the Humane Society of the United States, 80 percent of kittens born annually in the United States are from unaltered, feral cats.
The Litzingers are currently conducting a "Save a Life - Adopt" T-shirt fundraiser sale, the proceeds of which benefit the organization.
Shirts can be ordered at booster.com/beautifulferalfelines3.
Litzinger said her efforts could mean the difference between life and death for some of the cats for which she cares.
"At times it's stressful but it's so worth it in the long run," she said.
Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.