You can hardly turn on a TV or radio this week without hearing recollections of the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005 — and how its long shadow still lingers over New Orleans. Alley Cat Allies was right there on the ground saving cats after Katrina: we witnessed the heartbreak, but also the hope of rebuilding a better future. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, accessible, affordable resources for feral cat care have emerged that New Orleans residents can call on today as they continue putting their lives back together.
In the days after Katrina struck on August 29, 2005, calls from Gulf area residents flooded the phone lines at our Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters, seeking help for beloved pets trapped in attics and imperiled feral cat colonies living in flooded areas. As an advocacy organization, we had never attempted large-scale rescue before, but the desperation in their voices begged the question — who else was going to help these cats?
Within hours of calling on our nationwide network of supporters, Alley Cat Allies had decided to establish a site for a base camp and emergency shelter 80 miles north of New Orleans, in Bogalusa, Louisiana. Working on the ground over the next three months, we witnessed great tragedy, but also humanity and compassion. A total of 150 volunteers helped us rescue and provide care and comfort to 361 displaced, traumatized cats and any other animal that came our way. Residents of a mobile home community helped us to save a colony of 77 feral cats, even as they were being evicted to make way for FEMA trailers.
Everywhere we went, there were cats in need and people struggling to care for them. We made it our mission to help them both. We knew that Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) — the humane method for cats where they are trapped, neutered, vaccinated, and returned to their homes outdoors — was the best way to improve the lives of the thousands of intact cats now living on the streets of New Orleans. And so we organized the Feline Frenzy spay/neuter marathon in May 2006 and neutered 1,166 cats free of charge for grateful residents. The following month, Alley Cat Allies organized Feline Forum, a pair of workshops that empowered Gulf area residents and animal control workers to maintain their own TNR programs.
As New Orleans gradually rebuilt in the years following Katrina, Alley Cat Allies stayed in touch and helped promote organizations and individuals caring for cats, just as we have since we began our work there 20 years ago. Today, New Orleans is part of our Every Kitty – Every City program, which raises awareness about the importance and availability of affordable neuter services for all cats — pet, stray, and feral — and provides a place where caregivers, volunteers and residents can network, find help for feral cats in their communities, and continue to come together for cats after Katrina.
On August 29, 2008, Alley Cat Allies received the Friendship Key to the City of New Orleans for our work to save the city’s cats. We were deeply honored, but our lasting reward over the last five years has been seeing services for feral cats expand and life improve for New Orleans’s cats and the people who care about them.
Knowledge about feral cats and resources for their care have made great strides in the Greater New Orleans area in the last few years. Several veterinary clinics that support Trap-Neuter-Return have incorporated low-cost neutering for feral cats into their regular clinic practice, including the LASPCA and Southern Animal Foundation. Next month, SpayMart: Feral Cat Project, will hold its annual Neuter Scooter campaign, which offers low-cost neuter services for feral cats during the entire month of October, in observance of National Feral Cat Day on October 16. As you remember Katrina this week, please spread the word about these invaluable community resources for New Orleans’ cats and people.
Becky Robinson is the founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to transforming and developing communities to protect and improve the lives of cats.
photo credit: Alley Cat Allies
by Becky Robinson, founder and president of Alley Cat Allies