That’s when she realized that just finding homes for stray cats wasn’t a solution to the problem. Something had to be done on a larger scale—a community scale—to help the unowned cats who spend their lives on Louisville’s streets.

In 1999, after traveling across the country to learn best practices for controlling an unowned feline population, she and her husband, Hoyt, started Alley Cat Advocates. Last month, Little received a Bell Award from WLKY-TV. The awards, according to the station’s website, “recognize people who have demonstrated the true ‘spirit of Louisville’ through selfless volunteer service in our community.”

“My husband and I volunteered for some already established rescue groups, but realized there was no group in town focusing on stray and unowned cats—and the magnitude of that problem was enormous,” Little said recently.

Little is no novice to running an organization. She takes the same managerial skills she has used as director of the music library since 1997 to her 503(c) nonprofit organization.

ACA differs from local rescue groups in that it does not try to find homes for Louisville’s unowned cats; the estimated number of strays would require every man, woman and child in Jefferson County to own 45 felines.

Instead, the group helps people who feed stray cats round them up, spay or neuter them, and return them to their colonies. The process is called trap, neuter, return, and since ACA’s beginning, “we’ve done just over 20,000 cats,” Little noted.

The organization, which runs primarily on volunteer help and private donations, receives anywhere from 250 to 300 calls a month from people who are feeding strays, she said.

Then it teaches those caretakers how to properly feed the cats, provide outside shelter and trap and transport the cats to be neutered or spayed. Thirteen times a year, ACA has what it calls a “Big Fix” – a Sunday when its 55-60 volunteers and volunteer veterinarians spend the day neutering and spaying cats.

This approach, Little said, means that the cats will be healthier because both males and females suffer from the “wear and tear” of constant mating and giving birth. The cats are going to be less of a nuisance to the neighborhood because they stop roaming and breeding, and, because the cats have a person caring for them, there is less burden on shelters.

That last point is important because Metro Animal Services frequently is called to pick up cats that once lived in people’s homes, and it doesn’t have the capacity to care for them, she said.

ACA works closely with MAS in a couple of ways to help reduce the numbers of cats it has to take in, Little explained.

The group’s volunteers go out on calls with MAS to identify cats for TNR.

ACA also has worked with MAS for the last couple of years to spay and neuter all of the stray cats in the 40215 zip code. A $75,000 grant from PetSmart supports their efforts. While they do it, they’re monitoring the number of cats MAS takes in from the area.

“It’s a partnership that is just absolutely tremendous. … The crux of really making a long-term difference is in (these types of) relationships with Metro Animal Services.”