Monday, July 6, 2009

A Week of Feral Thoughts

I've been thinking about feral cats a lot lately so thought I would share my thoughts. In just this past week, I have connected with at least seven different people in regards to ferals and when you start to really think about it, that's pretty amazing. You see, when I first got involved in animal welfare twelve years ago, I had barely even heard the term "feral" let alone explored the complex feral cat issue.

When I began caring for a colony of cats, I had no name for what I was doing, I was just feeding hungry kitties. There was no real TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) movement and the people who fed and eventually fixed the strays behind downtown dumpsters and other similar locations were called "crazy cat ladies". We joke about it now, the idea of being a crazy cat lady, but to be one is kind of an honor. And like every stereotype, there's a nugget of truth that explains the history of this moniker. I can think of several places I lived in where there was an older, often single woman who looked out for neighborhood strays.

Now years later, the face of the "crazy cat lady" has changed. Your neighborhood cat lady may be a world-renowned mountain climber (like our Jonny) or a young mom with twins, or a twenty year-old male college student, or a rough and tumble tavern-owner or the CEO of a large company. In fact, I've met a lot of atypical cat ladies over the last few years but the one thing they all have in common is compassion for these once invisible felines.

This broadening demographic is evidenced by the growing demand for our winter cat shelters. To steal a line from "Field of Dreams" (and slightly modify it) "If you build them, they will come"...we built the shelters and they came in record numbers.
In fact, the last couple winters, there was such a community clamor for our winter cat shelters that we literally ran out. That not only adds up to a lot more warm and dry strays, it also speaks to community compassion and awareness. These days I hear about ferals and wild cat issues all the time and not just because I work in animal welfare.

That thought happened to be on my mind when Monday rolled around and so I decided to take stock of how many times the feral topic came up during an average week.

On Monday, I got a call from a young mom looking to help an injured stray cat that had shown up on her doorstep. The woman's name was Jennifer and she was determined to help this little cat. As we talked about the situation and what could be done, I soon understood the driving force behind her desire to take action. She told me that she was haunted by a similar incident that had happened in her childhood. Years before, an injured cat had shown up on her family's doorstep. She had desperately wanted to help but her father had said to leave the cat alone. The wounded cat died and though she was a child, she absorbed the tragedy. She stated emphatically that she would not let history repeat itself.

Her story is unquestionably sad on so many levels but it also made me realize that minds are changing. More people are recognizing that we as human beings have a responsibility to effect change for the animals that cross our paths. More people are no longer content with turning a blind eye and feel a need to intervene. In the case of feral cats, that intervention can be the difference between life and death.

It calls to mind that great line from Stan Lee's "Spiderman" where Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility."
When it comes to animals, mankind holds the power but it shouldn't be about power but rather about co-existing with respect. Sadly, we have a history of poor choices when it comes to animals. Instead of being responsible stewards, our choices have allowed for pet overpopulation, factory farming, endangered species and so many more shameful realities.

So when Jennifer says that she won't let history repeat itself, I think she speaks for many of us who wish we had been allowed different choices, made better decisions or fostered other outcomes in the past.
Her words signal hope that maybe we're moving forward in our collective thinking and real change may be on the horizon when it comes to how we as a society treat our animals. So if you believe what Ghandi said about that being a measure of our humanity, things are looking up.

Ok back to the week at hand. On Tuesday, I went to help my friend Elaine trap some feral kittens that someone she knew had spotted in their neighborhood. The person who contacted Elaine didn't want to call animal control because he was worried that "wild" kittens wouldn't be adoptable and that left animal services and the kittens without many options. For me, this was one more indication that the public is listening when it comes to animal issues and they are more willing to seek out alternative solutions. I should add that with more shelters nationwide implementing feral cat partnerships, more citizens are now willing and able to do their own feral cat interventions and that's progress.

In between Tuesday and today, I happened to field a couple calls about wild strays and feral cat vouchers because Daye was out of the office.
Since I don't really believe in coincidences, that made me wonder if those calls were more than just another example of increased awareness.
It started me thinking about what amazing changes could take place with a broader understanding of animal welfare initiatives.

And that brings me to Thursday. No More Homeless Pets in Utah participated in a fundraiser with Whole Foods in Cottonwood Heights. As part of their Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet philosophy, the Whole Foods store in Cottonwood Heights donate 5% of its Thursday sales to NMHPU and that's cool all by itself. But Thursday's opportunity also resulted in more feral cat connections. As part of our arrangement with Whole Foods, long-time volunteer, Julie Memmott and I manned the information table that was set up outside the store. In the four hours we were there, at least three different people stopped by to talk ferals. I can't imagine that happening a few years ago. One person was looking for resources.The other two were actively involved as caretakers and had practiced TNR for many years. To me that's exciting. It means things are changing and more people really are getting involved in this critical aspect of animal welfare.

It seems kind of fitting that as we celebrate Independence Day, we think about another kind of independence - this one being a freedom from fear, pain and prejudice for feral cats.... and for all animals for that matter. It's a nice thought. So with that I'll close. I hope you had a very happy 4th! Here's to the red, white and mew!

-Erin Fell
PR Director, NMHPU


  1. Hello NMHPU. I am a fellow blogger who believes strongly in your movement. It makes me feel good to know that there are organizations such as yours out there that promote the safety and welfare of animals. I am an animal lover myself and have realized the feral cat problem. Thank you so much for acknowledging this problem and making such an effort to prevent it!

  2. I really admire what you are doing. I wish there were organizations like you in every state. Keep up the great work.