A “victory” and “rescue” story making a difference for millions
This is about our feral cats Alley, Oops, and Red Schoendienst.
It is quite a bit different from the hard news and serious analysis of animal issues that you usually see from us.
Alley, right now, is asleep on our bed. Oops may be stalking spiders in the crawl space beneath our house. Red Schoendienst, named because he vaguely resembles a long-ago Hall of Fame baseball player and manager, is asleep in the sunshine on a picnic table in our back yard, fenced to keep cats in and to keep vulnerable wildlife, including birds, outside and safe.
Last of a dozen, plus a raccoon
Alley, Oops, and Red Schoendienst are the last of the dozen-odd feral cats, plus a raccoon, who occupied our house, then abandoned for several years, when I moved here eleven years ago and began restoring it to habitable condition.
Together, Alley, Oops, and Red Schoendienst represent a small part of one of the most remarkable “victory” and “rescue” stories in the long history of helping animals. But from Alley, Oops, and Red Schoendienst’s perspective, they were neither “rescued,” nor part of a “victory.”
What they know about it is that I took over their home, trapped them and the rest of their colony, had them fixed and vaccinated, securely fenced their habitat, trapped and released the raccoon on the far side of the fencing, and let all the cats go, to continue leading their feral cat lives––or live indoors with me, where they always found food, water, and litter boxes accessible through a cat door, as they chose.
Wariest of the wary
While I had trapped, sterilized, and either released or socialized hundreds of feral cats before, in dozens of locations, this colony proved to be by far the wariest, least amenable to socialization of any I had known. After one cat ripped out a window screen, facilitating a mass escape, I did not even know for several years how many cats I had left, because I seldom saw more than one at a time.
I could have ransacked the house, crawl space, and yard to find all of the cats’ hiding places, of course, in order to do a precise count, but I preferred to let them feel secure, wherever they were, however many there were, and to finally show themselves to be counted whenever they themselves felt confident that I was not merely leaving food out to fatten them for dinner.
Red lets Beth pet him!
Eventually, in mid-2014, Beth joined me here, with our dog Bo, and began making determined efforts to socialize Alley, Oops, and Red Schoendienst, along with two other cats left from the colony I’d found in residence.
Only this summer did one of the last cats, Red Schoendienst, begin to allow Beth to pet him.
Names & faces
Professional fundraisers know you love stories about “victories” won on behalf of suffering animals, even if they did not really happen, or were not really “victories” at all, in the sense of changing something significant.
Therefore, many and perhaps most of the fundraising solicitations you see start out with a dramatic proclamation of “Victory!”
Fundraisers also know that donors respond most generously to accounts of rescues of individual animals, not to descriptions of things done which might benefit thousands, millions, or even multi-millions of animals who, to the donor, do not have individual names and faces.
Here at ANIMALS 24-7 we spend a considerable amount of time investigating and exposing bogus “Victory!” and “rescue” claims, because we believe donors deserve the truth.
But the victory and rescue story that Alley, Oops, and Red Schoendienst are a small part of is the real deal, won over more than 25 years of effort, involving millions of cats––and, for me, is a personal vindication, because I helped to develop, demonstrate, and publicize the neuter/return method of feral cat population control, beginning long before there were any national organizations promoting it, any academics writing papers about it, or any foundations supporting it.
All the biggies opposed neuter/return
Indeed, neuter/return was then vehemently opposed by all of the major national organizations: the American SPCA, American Humane Association, PETA, and most vociferously, the Humane Society of the U.S., whose representatives tried to persuade public officials to stop the first big neuter/return project I was part of.
By then I had already been doing neuter/return on a very small, experimental scale with barn cat colonies for more than a dozen years. I knew from that experience that it could and would work, if done on a larger scale.
But neuter/return helped to stop rabies
I knew that a sterilized, vaccinated feral cat population could form a barrier population between rabid raccoons and free-roaming pet cats, helping to keep the worst raccoon rabies pandemic in history from invading homes and infecting people.
When the time came in 1991-1992 to show what neuter/return could do, I was ready to share know-how at every level, and did, spending many hours consulting with Alley Cat Allies founder Becky Robinson, Alley Cat Rescue founder Louise Holton, and dozens of other dedicated volunteers who went on to establish neuter/return as a safe, successful technique, despite the ferocious opposition of the humane establishment.
When the late Franklin Loew, then dean of the Tufts University veterinary school, convened the first national conference held to discuss neuter/return, in spring 1992, I was the invited speaker, among about half a dozen, who came with pages of hard data about cat colony numbers, feral cat health as determined from veterinary examinations done while the cats were sedated for sterilization, and even some preliminary data on feral cat longevity.
That was only the beginning of the long saga of how neuter/return came to reduce cat intakes at U.S. animal shelters by about 75% in the next 10 years, came to be at first grudgingly accepted and later vigorously promoted by almost all major humane organizations.
Gently succeeding where even the Inquisition failed
Neuter/return has now come to achieve a 72% cumulative reduction in the feral kitten birth rate, recently documented by Alley Cat Rescue in the biggest ever of four national surveys of feral cat neuter/return practitioners.
(I did the first two national surveys myself, in 1992 and 1996 and did statistical analysis for the two most recent, in 2012 and 2017.)
Decades of catch-and-kill never reduced the feral cat birth rate at all. The cat purges of the Middle Ages actually appear to have had the opposite effect, doubling the feral cat birth rate, over several hundred years, because only the cats birthing the most kittens succeeded in passing along their genes.
But neuter/return has accomplished in only 25 years what no amount of mayhem ever even approached: a real, tangible, countable net reduction in the numbers of cats at large.
Trying to stay alive
This is what Alley, Oops, and Red Schoendienst symbolize, quietly going on about their feral cat activities, including cadging treats from Beth as the price of showing themselves, and in Red’s case, even holding still just a little now to be petted.
Unfortunately, all those years of doing, documenting, and defending neuter/return, and all Beth’s many years of animal care and rescue, have not left us with a whole heck of a lot of anything of a material nature.
We have to make a living from continuing to report the news of animal protection worldwide, whether or not it consists of all “victories” and rescues.
Passing the hat
In the electronic era, of necessity, that means reporting the news first; sharing it with all the world free of charge, hoping to inform and inspire as many people who care about animals as possible; and then passing the hat.
Our readership lately has soared to new heights: more readers just this year than ever before in my nearly 50 years of reporting about animals and habitat.
But donations unfortunately have not kept pace. Come the end of this month, as the ANIMALS 24-7 bank account now stands, we won’t be able to pay ourselves even one red cent.
We have already been cutting costs for months in every way we can: no travel, no conferences, laid off our one research assistant because we could no longer pay her even a token few dollars a day.
We’re driving a car with 230,000 miles on it, & working on a five-year-old laptop whose every major part has been replaced to keep it going as long as possible.
We’ve done odd jobs to help make ends meet––house painting, window-washing, and animal care––when we could find them.
Please feed the kitty!
For feral cats, like Alley, Oops, and Red Schoendienst before they became, unknowingly, part of our home and family, a “victory” is just surviving from day to day. That’s about what a “victory” is for us, too.
Please feed the ANIMALS 24-7 kitty, to help us feed our kitty, and keep on doing the work that made neuter/return the major humane success that it is!
P.S.––Alley, Oops, and Red, being cats, may not thank you personally. But we will!!!