For as long as she can remember, Diana Newman has loved animals. Growing up, cats and dogs were always a part of her home.
The family lived a block off the busy main street of Bellevue, Michigan, where a parking lot and alley behind the businesses were a dumping ground for unwanted felines.
“My mother had always loved cats and It broke her heart to see them in danger from cars on the busy street,” Newman said. “She did her best to feed and care for them.”
Little surprise that Newman would grow up wanting to take care of cats herself. She almost always has at least one kitten on her lap, especially during the spring and summer kitten season. Newman takes them home from her volunteer job as president of Companion Cats Inc. in Battle Creek.
I interviewed Newman on a chilly fall day. As we were speaking, she was holding two 3-week-old bottle babies who had been rejected by mama cat. They were too young to eat on their own and needed to be fed every two to three hours. As soon as Newman is sure kittens are going to live, they go to foster homes and new bottle babies take their place.
Many years ago, when she started volunteering for Alley Cat Angels in Battle Creek, volunteer veterinarians were spaying and neutering just 12 cats per month.
“That’s good, but it’s not going to solve the problem; it’s not enough,” Newman thought.
She broke away to start Companion Cats, whose original mission was to spay and neuter and find suitable homes for unowned cats. The organization spayed or neutered 1,073 cats in its first 10 years with one part-time, paid veterinarian and a couple of vet techs. Now, an adoption-only center, the spay/neuter responsibilities are provided by Eaton County Humane Society (ECHS). ECHS is a low-cost spay/neuter clinic and wellness center that has spayed/neutered more than 9,000 cats and several hundred dogs since June 2018.
ECHS is one of the legacy members that provided seed money to launch Michigan Pet Alliance, whose goal is to speak with one voice to achieve the best quality of life for Michigan’s companion animals.
“I’m so excited about MPA and wish I had more time to put into it,” Newman said. “I’m working with the Education and Training Committee to focus on cats, and also contributing to the digital library for other members to access information about cats.”
Newman started her career as a dental hygienist, then went on to become the grants program manager at Western Michigan University while studying there for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in public administration, which she completed at age 50. Her last paid position was as the director of Barry County Animal Shelter.
When she finally retired five years ago, she had more time to devote to her beloved cats. Now, at age 75, she is not only the volunteer president of Companion Cats, she is also the volunteer director of Eaton County Humane Society.
“It’s what I do, and I’ll keep doing it as long as I physically can,” Newman said. “It’s my passion.”
Eaton County Humane Society is located at 129 N. Main Street in Olivet. Its Companion Cats sister organization is at 29 Hoag Street in Battle Creek.