Between Cannibal Corpse frontman George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher’s obsession with winning plush toys in claw machines and donating them to charity, and Gojira’s environmental campaigns, death metal has a weird habit of producing extreme music’s loveliest people.
Now we can add Obituary drummer Donald Tardy to those ranks. Although his day job involves smacking a kit with the sound of blaring guitars and big brother John’s growls in his ears, he moonlights as the co-leader of Metal Meowlisha, a charity that looks after stray cats in his hometown of Tampa, Florida.
Donald created the charity in 2004 with his wife, Heather, and it operates on a “trap – neuter – return” (TNR) model, which means they care for feral felines while preventing them from having kittens.
“There are colonies of cats all over, hiding behind bowling alleys and apartment complexes, by McDonald’s and Taco Bells,” the death metal veteran explains via a video call. “So, we get the kittens and any feral adults out of there, and then they get their vaccinations and get fixed. They get to live out their lives, but they don’t keep reproducing, which helps stop the overpopulation problem.”
Tampa’s home to a ton of strays. Metal Meowlisha only covers the 1sq km surrounding Donald’s house, yet it looks after more than 30 colonies and 130 animals. The drummer noticed the abundance of unowned cats in Tampa in the early 80s, when his family moved there from Miami.
“We’ve always been an animal family,” he says. “Since I can remember, we always had dogs, cats, birds and hamsters. My brother has snakes.” John shouts from somewhere off-screen: “Got two of those!” Donald laughs. “I don’t know how, but we adopted a skunk,” he remembers. “He was a mean son of a bitch. He was nocturnal, so, when we went to bed, all we heard was him in the closet or under our beds. What do you do? You grab all the couch pillows and pile them in your bed so, when he wakes you up, you can throw them to get him out of the room. Ha ha ha!”
Donald currently has a pet cat called Yimmy. He remains the sole exception Metal Meowlisha has ever made to its TNR approach to animal care. “He’s just about to turn 17 years old,” Donald says, “so he’s an old guy now, but he is my best bud when I’m home. He doesn’t ask for much. He’s just a sweet boy.”
Donald and Yimmy have been besties for most of the cat’s life. When they first met, Yimmy was “very young” – and one of his eyes was hanging out. One rush to the vet later, Donald discovered it was a miracle that Yimmy was still drawing breath at all. “He was shot with a BB gun,” he remembers, surprisingly calmly and matter-of-factly.
“When they laid him out on the table and gave him anaesthesia, they realised that he had 11 bullets in him, all throughout his body. Someone was shooting that poor kitten again and again, and somehow he survived. If that person that shot him that many times saw how sweet a cat Yimmy is, they probably never would have. But, then again, evil people do horrible things to animals.”
The Tardys’ love for the animal kingdom and the natural world also manifests on Obituary’s new album, Dying Of Everything. The title sounds prophetic, considering it was written before the pandemic, but the lyrics lament the ways humanity is fucking up the planet – from waging wars to exacerbating climate change.
“We all love the outdoors,” John explains, as he sits down beside his brother. “We love being outside and living in Florida, all the fishing and camping. Every year, you see more of that being taken away from you. The more everybody can do just a little bit, the better everybody is, even if it’s something as simple as recycling.”
“So many people are so lazy,” Donald adds. “They just throw trash out the window or as far away as they can: that ‘the further you throw it, the less you think about it’ mentality.”
However – and despite John howling lyrics such as ‘Perish to the ground, cometh living hell’ on lead single The Wrong Time – Obituary refuse to lose hope. On a personal level, Donald declares with a loud laugh that he wants Dying Of Everything to go platinum.
“What’s that, about a hundred records now?” he grins. And, he doesn’t think the world’s completely doomed, just that people need to start taking the threats to it seriously. “Things only get overwhelming if you let them,” John offers. “I think, if everybody takes care of the little things first, then maybe some of the big things will follow.”
To find out more, head to Obituary.cc/helpcats.html. Dying Of Everything is out now via Relapse