This is the month that many turn to shelters to adopt a cat and provide a loving home. For a number of cats, adoption is not possible. Fortunately, a caring alternative exists.
Ages ago, when summer guest houses dotted the boardwalk, visitors enjoyed having pet cats while on vacation but abandoned them when they returned to their homes. For decades, a continuously growing population of feral cats had been part of the boardwalk landscape. At one time, more than 300 feral cats had roamed the area without homes or care.
The Alley Cat Allies’ Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program at the boardwalk, begun in 2000, with the cooperation of the Atlantic City Department of Health and Human Services and the Humane Society of Atlantic County, is saving the lives of cats that would have been trapped and killed.
The Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project, part of the national Alley Cat Allies, ensures the health and safety of the boardwalk’s 118 feral cats. The national organization provides funding and volunteer training to look after 17 colonies under the Atlantic City boardwalk from Vermont to Sovereign Avenues, providing care, food, and shelter to the city’s feral cats.
The colonies vary in size from two to 15 inhabitants. The aim of the TNR program is to limit the cat population and provide ongoing care for those who remain. Not one kitten has been born on the boardwalk in ten years, contributing to the health and wellbeing of the adult cat population.
Alley Cat Allies has over 500,000 supporters nationwide and more than two dozen volunteers in Atlantic City.
Volunteer commitments are flexible, working with individual home, school, and work schedules. Assignments range from daily to occasionally as needed. The team that oversees the Atlantic City Boardwalk Project is comprised of Kim Kean, program manager; Steve Garraty, South Jersey field representative; and Bob Draper, Atlantic City boardwalk field representative. Bob comments on his satisfying work with the organization: “We’re doing good for the cats and the community. It’s a win/win.”
Frank Hoopes, an Alley Cat Allies’ volunteer, cares for 35 cats who live in three colonies under the boardwalk.
Frank explained that each cat has a name and a number; all are inoculated. “The cats all receive necessary veterinary care for everything from aging teeth to tumors, all costs covered by Alley Cat Allies,” he stresses. Each morning, Frank follows the standard volunteer routine. He shows up at the boardwalk to begin his rounds with a cart loaded with wet and dry cat food and water. “Water is critical for all animals,” Frank explains. “We keep it cool in the summer and room temperature in the winter before bringing it out.”
Each site has enough shelters for its feline inhabitants. The shelters keep the cats cool in the summer, protecting them from sun, and warm in the winter, protecting them from wind and rain. Frank proudly states that Sandy did not claim one cat home or life. Volunteers like Frank not only provide food and water, but also sweep the shelters and provide some surprisingly appreciated human companionship.
The colonies are truly home to these cats. They eagerly (as eager as a cat can be) greet Frank when he arrives at each site. Some have selected roommates; they know whom they like. One, Little Man, even chose to leave one colony and relocate at another. Frank suspects that’s because the new location has a smaller population.
According to Kim Kean, “The Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project is a model program of community cat care with widespread support in the city. This program shows that TNR works, and dispels common myths about outdoor cats. The boardwalk cats are living long, healthy lives, they’re well taken care of, and have even become a top attraction at the boardwalk that people come to visit.”
Remember that the Atlantic City boardwalk cats are cared for. If you see them, smile, even photograph, but please don’t feed or try to pet them.
If you have a cat, hug it (or try). If you don’t have a cat, this is a good time to consider adopting one.
To learn, volunteer, or support Alley Cat Allies, visit alleycat.org.
AS SEEN in the AC TIMES….. Harriet Diamond is a retired business owner and management consultant, now living in Atlantic City. She is the author of eight business and communication books, numerous published articles, and the monthly AC Times column, “True Believers.”