Perhaps Sixties singer Peggy Lee put it best when she sang about a man who had more than just her on his arm:
He goes on the prowl each night,
Like an alley cat.
Looking for some new delight,
Like an alley cat.
Unfortunately, alley cats are stereotypically known for being just as the singer describes: sneaky, cunning, conniving, and always on the prowl.
Ironically, as Maggie Funkhouser knows, they are so much more lovable than that when you take them into your home. And the organization Alley Cat Rescue: The National Cat Protection Association, is making it that much easier to do so. Maggie, a spokesperson for the organization, tell us these cats can be surprisingly lovable and often in need of human assistance.
Alley Cat Rescue has stepped up to the challenge, providing innovative hands-on programs, information on cat health, behavior, feline diseases, and special needs, assisting with feral cat care, wildlife predation and rabies control, and rescuing thousands of these cats to place them into loving homes.
We spoke to Maggie about the goals of Alley Cat Rescue. For more information on this cat protection organization, check out their website: Saveacat.org and their blog.
What is an Alley Cat and why are they in dire need of rescuing?
An “alley cat” is just one name people call a cat that has become lost, abandoned, or born feral. Some “alley cats” are friendly and welcome attention from humans, while others are shy and keep their distance, and some are “feral” and are very wary of humans and rely on their wild instincts for survival.
Alley cats do not necessarily need to be “rescued” (and those who are feral are not suitable for home life) but they do require some basic human assistance. Despite an alley cat’s demeanor, he deserves to be looked over by a veterinarian to ensure he is healthy; and part of his being healthy is to be sterilized and vaccinated. Alley cats deserve our help because we are the reason for their existence and their current situation. Over 9,000 years ago we domesticated cats and transported them on ships to other parts of the world. So, it is our responsibility to humanely control their populations through trap-neuter-return (TNR). TNR equals healthier cats, stabilizes populations, eliminates annoying mating habits, reduces rodent populations, and encourages acts of compassion within a community.
What are some things people would typically be surprised to learn about alley cats?
They do not live terrible, horrid lives; yes, some encounter predators, humans, cars and may become injured or killed (so do other wild animals), but that is not the “defined” life of an alley cat.
They can be as affectionate as housecats, as pets.
They display the same personality traits as housecats; they play, chase, and entertain each other (and their caretakers) just as housecats do.
Can you offer some tips on how to care for a newly rescued alley cat?
The first and most important thing to rescuing an alley cat is to have a veterinarian fully examine him. He will need to be sterilized (if not already) and vaccinated. The doctor will also check for parasites (worms, fleas) and treat any other ailments.
Once he is given a clean bill of health, you want to slowly introduce him to his new home (and new family members, including other pets). Keep him in a separate room with his own food/water and litter box. He needs an area that he can become familiar with and feel safe/comfortable in. Then, he can slowly venture out into the rest of the home and eventually meet any other pets. Any rescued animal needs a period of time to adjust, get comfortable and feel secure in his new home.
Do you have any interesting cat rescue stories you can share with us?
Well, it took us about two weeks to trap and rescue a litter of feral kittens that were living under an apartment complex. They were hiding under the building in a crawl space (where all the pines and wiring is), so we had to squeeze through an access door into a dark cramped space to setup a trap. It rained just about everyday, so it was a slow and soggy trapping project, but in the end we managed to trap all five kittens, who were socialized and placed into happy homes.
What are some resources Alley Cat Rescue provides for rescued cats and people who want to adopt them?
All cats that ACR takes in receive a full health evaluation by our vet; they are all sterilized, vaccinated, tested for diseases, deafleaed, dewormed, and micro-chipped. We use an adoption center at a local Petsmart store to find cats permanent homes.
We also offer a low-cost spay/neuter program for MD and DC residents who earn less than $35,000 per year. So, if someone found a cat and would like to keep it, they may contact us for more information on how to get the cat sterilized.
Lastly, we offer a trap-neuter-return (TNR) program for feral cats. For cats that do not like people and are not suitable for adoption, we lend out traps and provide sterilization and vaccination services.
Why are cats often left abandoned and unwanted? Why do they need our help?
Currently, most cats are being abandoned; it’s not that people do not want them--it’s that they can no longer keep them because their situation has changed. The main reason we have been hearing people giving up their cats stems from the housing and economic crisis. Most call saying their houses are in foreclosure and they must move into an apartment where pets are not permitted, therefore they must “get rid” of them. If they do not have willing relatives or friends to take the cat, they then consider taking the cat to a shelter. However, most do not wish to have their cat euthanized, so they do not leave the cat at a county-operated shelter, and turn to no-kill shelters for help; unfortunately, these shelters are full and cannot take in anymore cats. So ultimately, people decide to leave the cat in the abandoned house or dump the cat somewhere to fend for itself…these cats become “alley cats”.
How can the average person help to combat this problem?
By SPAYING and NEUTERING their pet! Hands down this is the number one thing anyone can do to not only help their pet but also help combat the number one cause of death for cats and dogs—euthansia. Sterilizing cats will combat homelessness and prevent more unwanted litters. Yes, it may be pricey initially, but it will save everyone money in the long run; it is cheaper to care for one cat than a mom cat and her babies.
Plus, sterilizing pets at an early age prevents numerous types of cancers and ensures animals will live and long and healthy lives.
What can one do if they find a stray or feral cat?
If the cat seems friendly, likes people, will let you pet it, then first make sure it does not belong to someone--ask around the neighborhood and take the cat to a vet to be scanned for a micro-chip; I also suggest calling the local shelter and reporting the found cat, incase the owner calls looking for it. If no one seems to claim the cat, then you need to decide if you are going to keep the cat or ask others if they wish to adopt the cat. From there, the cat will need to be seen by a vet for a complete exam. If you cannot find it a home, then the cat should be taken to a shelter, where it will have the chance to be adopted or humanely euthanized.
If the cat does not like people, keeps its distance, and seems to be feral, then you should contact a cat rescue organization that practices trap-neuter-return (TNR) to get assistance with sterilizing and vaccinating the cat.
Why do you avidly follow a no-kill policy?
Again, ACR believes that all creatures deserve the right to live, and as humans, we have the responsibility to help them in any way that we can. Feral animals are usually the result of human domestication and then they escape and revert back to their feral instincts; therefore, humane methods of population control should be practiced. Plus, studies have shown that total eradication attempts fail and in most cases make the situation worse. It is very difficult to kill ALL of a feral species, so the reproductive cycle continues, and sometimes killing/removing one species will have detrimental effects on other species in that local ecosystem. It makes more sense to stop the reproductive cycle (surgical, pills, injections), than to spend tax-payer money on attempts to completely eradicate and run the risk of harming an ecosystem.
What are some of the long-term goals of ACR?
ACR’s most important long-term goal is to have trap-neuter-return (TNR) accepted as the preferred method of controlling feral cat populations. Everyday we strive to educate and encourage county-operated shelters and all levels of government to support TNR and put an end to trap and kill. In addition, we fight to see that new laws are passed to protect feral cat caretakers and encourage their compassionate acts instead of fining and jailing them.
Another long-term goal of ACR’s is to continue to hold spay/neuter clinics in Mexico. In 2007, we went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and held a clinic for 3 days and sterilized 100 cats and dogs. Our vets taught Mexican vets the proper sterilization procedures for cats and dogs, because Mexican vets are more familiar with farm animals. ACR inspired the vets to hold their own spay/neuter clinic once a month, so we definitely would love to continue to share our knowledge with others and inspire them to sterilize animals.
Finally, ACR wishes to help save the African Wildcat from extinction. In September of 2008, ACR traveled to South Africa and met with local scientists, conservationists, and veterinarians to discuss implementing trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs in the surrounding areas of game reserves in South Africa, where true AWCs still exist, to begin the control of the feral cat population. The goal is to set up mobile veterinary clinics to sterilize free-roaming cats (pets, strays, ferals) in these areas to STOP the inter-breeding cycle. Arrangements are being made to have vets and vet students from the Onderstepoort Veterinary School in Pretoria operate the mobile clinics. We have also been working with individuals in Sun City, who have been steriliz-ing feral cats there, and we are in contact with a local South African ecologist, who is currently working on her PhD on the AWC in the Kalahari. Together, along with our members and other individual contributors, we hope to get a mobile vet clinic up and running.