by Kelly Flanagan
It all started with three cats. Three unaltered cats had been abandoned in a trailer home when their guardians moved away. Left on their own, the cats had many litters of kittens that were never socialized. And so, in little more than two years, three abandoned cats had grown to a feral colony estimated at over 130 felines. According to the Humane Society of the U.S., one un-spayed female cat and her offspring can produce up to 420,000 cats in seven years.
The proliferating colony quickly became more than the few kindhearted trailer park residents who fed it could afford to support on limited incomes. The caretakers reached out for help on social media and got the attention of Heather Holmes, a Suffolk resident and independent rescuer who coordinated with area organizations like Hope for Life Rescue, Billy the Kidden Rescue and Feral Affairs Network. This connection couldn’t have come at a better time because the land on which the trailer park sat was about to be foreclosed upon and sold to make way for a truck stop. Demolition of the entire park was imminent! To make matters worse, the park property manager considered the cats a nuisance and was threatening to poison them.
Together with resident caretakers Amy B. and Christine T., the group worked for over a year and a half on trapping, fostering, securing funds and supplies, and coordinating veterinary care. They liaised with sanctuaries and farms as far as Maryland and the Eastern Shore to find homes for the entire colony until the last litter of kittens was pulled from a trailer the night before it was demolished.
Heather stepped away during the midst of the project after suffering the loss of her husband but resumed her involvement a few months later when FAN notified her of a crying singleton kitten left by a dumpster in the pouring rain. That kitten, now known as Pepé, was one of two kittens she adopted from the project. “Because that kitten showed me love, I feel like [my husband] sent him to me to remind me that my life wasn’t over.” She also noted that “FAN put in the bulk of the work when it came to the trapping, holding and fixing of these cats.”
The combined efforts of so many caring people from different walks of life turned a story that could have ended tragically into an example of how feral cats really can be saved by their community.
Tiny Xena Michelle was a mess when she was rushed to our Foster Mom Genevieve in May. Xena was rescued from a water-filled ditch in Franklin, VA by an extraordinary 10-year-old girl named Jakaylah. (Read Jakaylah’s story below.) Weighing only 200 grams, Xena Michelle had a terrible infection which had become infested with maggots, and she suffered from incontinence. Gen began to lovingly restore her to health, and provided many weeks of rehab.
Because she was such a determined little fighter, Gen named her “Xena” after the warrior princess and “Michelle” after our volunteer who drove three hours in the middle of the night to pick her up and deliver her to Genevieve in time to save her life. Once Xena was healthy, she was placed with Aliza, another wonderful FAN foster mom, who continued her socialization and full vetting. Both of these foster moms fell in love with the little girl and found it difficult to let her go. A great team effort gave this kitty a chance at a wonderful life.
After fully recovering and blossoming into the beauty she is today, this sweet kitten was quickly adopted, as expected. We hear that sweet Xena is happy and adored for the princess she is.
Despite the pandemic, despite the heat, July has been a good month for FAN. We’ve had large food donations which have allowed us to spend precious funds on the many medical needs this month. Our supporters generously supported the ongoing parade of vet visits, surgeries, vaccines and other expenses. Community members, including one special 10 year old girl named Jakaylah, have assisted with our trapping projects. Many have financed the cats’ surgeries as well. Watch for Jakaylah’s story next month!
There have been challenges with some clinics being closed due to Covid-19, but we have juggled appointments and adjusted. Our main sanctuary has been too HOT, with no insulation and one AC window unit inadequately cooling the space. We have been concerned for the health of our volunteer who works in the sanctuary 5-6 hours a day, and we are currently engaged in an insulation project. Many of you have stepped up to donate materials, labor and funds toward this project, and we thank you!
FAN’s mission is TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return). We’re grateful to the many community members who reach out for assistance with feral cats in their neighborhoods, but frankly, we receive more requests than we can handle each month, emphasizing the great need for addressing the over-population of community cats.
We currently have 42 trapping locations throughout Hampton Roads. Yes, 42! We have 35 active volunteers, including 5 active trappers and 18 active foster parents. For some it’s a full time (unpaid!) job, while others donate a few hours a week. Each volunteer gives the time they have, and ALL are appreciated.
FAN is truly a network of support for community cats. Our volunteers regularly interact with community members, rescue groups, sanctuaries, shelters and each other. Although we focus on TNR and community cat welfare, many variables come into play.
The list of things our volunteers do is endless. We foster and photograph cats and transport cats to vet appointments. We maintain records, post to social media, perform administrative tasks, develop resources and provide medical care for cats and kittens. A few FANtastic souls even help clean and disinfect supportive organizations' facilities, working together for the common cause of helping cats. Perhaps most importantly, FAN works to educate the public about how each of us is responsible for and capable of caring for community cats.
During TNR, each cat and kitten is assessed for friendliness, placing those who show potential for being tame with fosters. These kitties are socialized, fully vaccinated, and spayed/neutered. Eventually, they move on to their forever homes through our adoption process. Sometimes we trap cats who are living in unsafe areas but are not friendly enough to be socialized. These outdoor cats are referred to as career cats for their greatly appreciated rodent control skills. They are moved to barn homes and set up in acclimation kennels while they adjust to their new environment. FAN volunteers coordinate these efforts, set up kennels, and stay in contact with the barn owners, ensuring long-term health for the cats.
Coordinating our adoption process is a time consuming job. We process adoption paperwork, keep our PetFinder list of adoptable cats current, interview and educate adopters, arrange meet and greets and deliver cats to their new homes. Many of our adoptions take place through the Greenbrier PetSmart and Catnip Cat Cafe in Ghent. We are thankful for these venues and to our Director of Adoptions for maintaining this relationship. The great news is we have adopted out every kitten who was ready in July.
Although our focus is TNR, we don’t like to turn away from cats in need, be it kittens or elderly cats who aren’t faring well outside. Sometimes a terrified but friendly adult cat is trapped. Likely abandoned, these cats fare the worst outdoors. We work to gain their trust, socializing them so they can be adopted. We also take care of any medical needs they have. The results are sweet as these kitties are adopted and find love and comfort in a home once again. The medical needs we encounter are many, including everything from fight wounds to infections to malnourishment and even kittens who can’t swallow. (You can view the amazing story of Easter here. )
We welcome new volunteers. If you love cats, and want to dedicate some time to help reduce feline suffering and deaths, we’d love to talk with you. Our biggest needs are foster parents, transporters and trappers — and yes, we will train! It’s a fascinating process to trap a feral cat, see him fully vetted, neutered, healed and returned to his community where, through a caretaker, he and his colony receive long-term care. Thanks to TNR, this cat will not produce babies who would grow up to become feral cats. We have an amazing team of compassionate folks. Maybe you could join us. Our kitties’ precious faces, purrs and nuzzles are fulfilling rewards.
Abandoned and starving, three new-born kittens cried out from under a parked car.
It was late April when a friend, KJ, called FAN volunteer, MK, and asked for help with a mama cat and three kittens she had seen in her neighborhood. The new-born, tabby kittens were heard crying from under a car in a Portsmouth neighborhood. When the mama cat hadn’t been seen for 8 hours, the decision was made to attempt to retrieve the kittens. It appeared that the mama had abandoned her litter. Perhaps she was a young, first time mother, or was frightened away by other feral cats.
It’s always best to leave young kittens with their mother to promote the best nutrition and immune system support, unless they’re in a dangerous setting or the mother isn’t caring for them. In this case, they couldn’t be left any longer.
Crawling under the car to reach the babies, the rescuers found that one kitten appeared to be dead already, and the other two still had the placenta attached. Once inside, MK (who is a retired US Navy nurse) and KJ worked together to clear the kittens’ airways of the leaves and dirt they had ingested, likely suckling, trying to nurse. They weighed each kitten, quickly bathed them with Dawn to remove fleas and debris and cut the dried up umbilical cords, which the mother cat hadn’t removed. They estimated the kittens to be about 48 hours old. Simon weighed only 3 ounces!
FAN’s intake protocol calls for detailed record keeping. Simon, identified with a black ribbon, weighed only 90 grams (3.17 oz) at intake. The second number shows his temperature at 93 degrees. Several days later, eyes still shut, he had gained to a whopping 161 grams (5.68 oz).
The two living kittens were wrapped and placed on a warmer. They accepted small amounts of water, so the rescuers had high hopes they might survive. MK then went to bury the dead kitten, only to find her moving! She was alive! She was cleaned up in the same manner, and MK started making calls to find a nursing mama cat or a skilled bottle feeder. FAN foster mom, Cheri, had a nursing mother, the sweet, gray Cheyenne, who readily accepted the three newborns. She allowed them to nurse immediately, adding to her own two babies and making a litter of five. KJ named the kittens Otis, Simon and Billie (Holliday) after some of her favorite musicians.
Rescue work is grievous at times, and sadly, despite all of our efforts over two days, Otis and Billie didn’t survive. The tiny but mighty Simon thrived.
Fast forward to the end of July, and Simon is now a hefty two pounds! Before he goes to his forever home, he needs to gain a little weight, after which, he will be neutered and finish his vaccine series. Cheri, who continued to foster Simon, just received word of a potential adopter! Given Simon’s inspiring story of survival, we are thrilled, but not surprised. This is the happy ending we work so hard for.
Follow us on Facebook for future updates to Simon's story. https://www.facebook.com/FeralAffairsNetwork/
FAN would like to thank KJ for spotting these kittens and alerting FAN. We also want to acknowledge the tireless work of our phenomenal volunteers, Cheri and MK. Their value cannot be over-stated. They do it for the cats, but FAN is far better for their compassion and enthusiastic service.
Paul & Emily called Feral Affairs Network (FAN) after seeing our Community Outreach Director, Cleriece Whitehill, explaining FAN’s mission on local Channel 13.
The family recently bought a home in Suffolk VA, surrounded by cornfields. They became aware of a Mama and three kittens on the property and wanted to help control the population, but wanted to keep the cat family outdoors. They contacted FAN; and the whole family, including children, Zoey, Zachary and Zuri, helped with setting and monitoring the traps.
Within a week, we had trapped and scheduled vet appointments for all the cats. Mama and the three kittens were neutered and returned to their outside home. Paul built a lean-to for additional shelter, and FAN supplied altered tubs filled with straw to serve as the cats’ new home.
Paul reports, “We are extremely grateful for Feral Affairs Network!! The work they do is tremendously hard but very rewarding. Their willingness to serve all of Hampton Roads is truly a testament to their passion for caring for cats. My wife and kids have named the mamma cat Snowbell, and the kittens, Hershey, Hugs, and Kisses.”
Many thanks to Paul, Emily, Zoey, Zachary, and Zuri for your compassion and willingness to work along side us to help community cats. Thanks to Paul & his family, we are happy to report another TNR success story!