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Back Story: Spare parts



My driver's side window stopped working on Election Day. The switch had malfunctioned, allowing the window to roll down, but it refused to roll up. It was a letdown, but not as bad as Mitt's.

Sporty alloy wheels, hi-fi tape deck, retractable antenna and power windows all came standard on the EX model of my 1994 Honda Accord. It's a superb car that has aged fairly well in the 19 years since rolling off the assembly line.

That may seem like a long time in the age of planned obsolescence and Cash for Clunkers, but drastic depreciation and car payments make people unhappy. In my family, diligent, frugal care made for cars that could go 300,000 miles and still look good.

After covering the open window with a blue tarp for a few days, I searched online for the right switch. Even before shipping, it would cost three figures. My mechanic quoted me twice as much.

This is how I found myself at Wagner's Auto Salvage in south Durham. It keeps an inventory of more than 3,000 vehicles and catalogs all their parts, recycling them on an as-needed basis.

Driving up to the main office, I noticed, sitting between a row of cars, two fat and furry cats. I stopped and looked again; there were cats everywhere. Two black ones were hiding in the wheel well of a rusting Land Cruiser; several calico kittens lounged on a group of mini-van seats with the front half of the vehicle missing.

At the main office counter, there was a coffee can for donations to help spay and neuter the cats; clearly they were trying to get a handle on a burgeoning population.

After paying for my used power window switch, a total of $32, I inquired about the number of cats. "Well, we feed them at the end of the day and there's quite a few," said the cashier, Georgia, handing me my receipt.

I expressed interest in photographing the feeding and, looking over the top of her glasses, she replied, "You do know that they're feral."

A man overhearing our conversation chimed in: "Oh, they know how to tell time. Every day at 5 o'clock they come running. It's crazy."

A few minutes after the main gate was closed, Deborah McCrea started down the driveway with a 15-pound bag of cat food. Three rows into the sprawling salvage yard, she turned left. They were waiting for her.

For the past seven years, McCrea has been pouring dry cat food into old tire rims and pans scattered around the yard. She knows that the ones with clipped ears have been sterilized, and she remembers the time a pack of wild dogs reigned terror in the yard. A few cats will even let her pet them.

Wagner's is a family business built on the idea that automobiles have value beyond their life on the road. Cats hate car rides and need dry places to sleep. Everybody wins (well, except for Mitt).

If you would like to help spay and neuter cats at Wagner's, contact Alley Cats and Angels of N.C.:,, 919-303-3500.

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