Monday, October 16, 2017

Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats Project is a Model Program for TNR #GlobalCatDay

This past July I was disappointed that I couldn’t attend the Best Friends Animal Society national conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  I had found out about it too late and I just wasn’t able to swing it. But when Alley Cat Allies announced they were holding tours of their famed Boardwalk Cat Project in conjunction with the conference I was a happy cat lady! Early on a Sunday morning my boyfriend and I took the 2 ½ hour road trip to Atlantic City to meet the Boardwalk Cats. (Lucky for me he’s a cat man, so it didn’t take much convincing for him to join me.) Since today is Global Cat Day, I thought it was the perfect time to share my experience with you. 

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


We got to visit three of the 15 colonies on the Boardwalk. The tour started with Alice Burton who is the Associate Director of Animal Shelter and Animal Control Engagement. Alice told us that since Alley Cat Allies started TNR on the Boardwalk in 2000, there has been a 72% natural decrease in the community cat population. (There are currently 89 cats.)  This is proof that TNR is effective in stabilizing a community cat population! This highly successful project is the model of success with cats and TNR. 


Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

We also met Frank Hoopes, one of the volunteers, on our first stop. Frank’s love for the cats is not only genuine, it’s infectious. Hearing Frank speak about each cats’ unique personalities made me want to pick them up and hug them! Three cats live in the first colony we visited; Big Red, Rosie and Mosie. Big Red was abandoned (which is illegal) and two years ago was absolutely petrified. Frank was able to gain his trust and today Big Red will sit in his lap! Aside from becoming very affectionate, Big Red has bonded with Rosie and Mosie and the three are a family. 


Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


I didn’t get to see Mosie, but here is Rosie.


Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


The biggest takeaway for me from Alice’s talk was the fact that she encouraged everyone to use the term “community cats” vs. “feral cats”. Not all cats in a colony are necessarily feral. Some are strays, some could have wandered off from their homes, and sadly, many are abandoned.  Alice also had the group repeat “Trap, Neuter, Return” and reminded us the “R” is not “Release” – cats are “Returned” to their colony - their home, where they belong. 




On our next stop at the second colony we met Daniel Lopez, Outreach and National Help Desk Specialist. Daniel told us “the National Help Desk is the front line for people who want to “do right about cats.” I didn’t know this hotline existed and will have to put this in my toolbox of knowledge. Six cats live in this colony, but they didn’t come out during our visit.

Daniel told us that the 30 volunteers (who work a combined 160 hours a month) are the eyes and ears of the colonies. Volunteers come to the colonies equipped with food, fresh water, and first aid kits. 



Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


But they do more than just feed the cats; they monitor their health and anytime something out of the ordinary is observed, the volunteers contact Alley Cat Allies immediately so the cat can get the required care as soon as possible. But the most important thing the volunteers give the cats is love and kindness. 

It’s policy that the cats are not removed from the community or their colonies because within the colony there is a social structure and the cats rely on each other. Sometimes the populations shift on their own, but the cats are never relocated by staff or volunteers. One of the original colonies was retired because there was only one cat left. Sally, the last cat in that colony, decided to migrate to another colony and then hers was retired. 



 

The last stop on the tour was with Matt Wildman, Senior Programs Manager and Cat Behavior Expert who spoke about the success of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats Project. In 2000 there were two colonies that had 50+ cats, and today there are only nine cats in those colonies. This was achieved through TNR and kittens getting adopted. Kittens have not been born in many years, and the remaining cats are all in their teens, with the average age being 12 – 19. (Big Red, eight years old, is the youngest cat.) 


Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

There is a challenge when it comes to feeding the cats. It’s not rats or possums – it’s pigeons, who eat the cats’ food. Alley Cat Allies solved the problem by creating these feeding stations. 



Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


What a great idea! 


A few people in the group had some questions, which included immunizations, flea protection, and medications. All cats receive an initial rabies vaccine which assists in creating herd immunity. The colony is immune as they are not exposed to other animals because there is water on one side of them and a street on the other. The volunteers have bonded with the cats and have gained their trust so they are able to administer flea protection monthly. And regarding medications, a cat named Franklin needed to be pilled every day and a volunteer was able to do this. 


One of the biggest questions on the group’s mind was about the cats’ safety during Hurricane Sandy. We were relieved to hear that during the storm the water didn’t go over the dunes and the cats were safe. I had never heard of the Boardwalk cats until Sandy and I remember being so relieved when I saw a photo on Facebook of the cats approaching one of the volunteers after the storm. The devastation of Sandy was like nothing we had ever seen in this area, and I commend the volunteers for continuing their efforts during that time. 

Then came the fun part! We got to go down on the beach and meet the colony!  I believe nine cats live in this colony, and we got to meet Smokey, Poo, Mr Meow and Groucho. 


Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project
Smokey

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project
Mr. Meow

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project
Groucho

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project
Poo

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


The Boardwalk Cats are very much a part of the community and are listed as one of the Top Ten Reasons to visit Atlantic City on Trip Advisor. They also have fans. One of the participants on the tour had a photo of a cat named Jeannie and was looking forward to seeing her again. Unfortunately, Jeannie passed away in March at approximately 16 from cancer. And Ripley spends his days at a Boardwalk store named Fashion Island. Ripley is affectionately called “Boo Boo” by the store owner and is very much loved and treated like family. 


The Boardwalk Cats Project is a Model Program that proves TNR works! As I mentioned before, the cat population has naturally declined by 72% over the years, which is an impressive number. Thanks to the love and care the cats get from the volunteers and staff, they live happy, very long lives. (The oldest cat is Inky, at 19.) A few things stood out to me on the tour: the cats look well cared for; they look happy, and it’s evident they are loved. Just look at these photos of Frank and Groucho: 


Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project

Alley Cat Allies|Atlantic City Boardwalk Cat Project


Can you guess what the highlight of the day was for me? No, I didn't hit the jackpot in the casino. I hit a jackpot of a different kind - I got to pet Groucho! He strolled out from under the Boardwalk to greet the crowd and was in his element. 




 
More and more towns and cities are endorsing TNR. Currently, more than 575 municipalities have joined the movement and have developed policies and ordinances supporting TNR. This makes me happy and sad at the same time. I’m overjoyed that cats are being saved from harsh lives on the street and are getting the respect they deserve. It also makes me sad because my neighborhood, and many I work in as well, have a large population of community cats. They do not look as well cared for as the Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats (because they are not), and the majority live their lives in fear. I live in an urban area and I cringe every time I see a community cat cross the street. 


With a turnout of 85 people, Allie Cat Allies first guided tour of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats Project was a success! I had a great time and I’m so glad I was able to go. It was definitely worth the four hour (yes, four hour!) drive home in traffic. My dream is for all communities to embrace a TNR project like Atlantic City.

You can read more about the project here and more about the cats here.  Follow Alley Cat Allies on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to stay up to date on all of their activities. 

What do you think of the project? 

Dawn

33 comments:

  1. WOW! The Boardwalk Cats Project is amazing - I wish every colony was so lucky.

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  2. OH now this makes me even more glad I contribute to Alley Cat Allies.

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  3. Great post!

    Purrs xx
    Athena and Marie

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  4. What a fantastic post, and such an amazing opportunity you had to go on this tour!!! I received a calendar and request for money from Alley Cat Allies just last week...after reading this I'll be contributing for sure :)

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  5. Such a great project and we love all the heroes who help! I wish we could be more successful on my backyard.

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  6. This project is pawtastic and I am so happy that you got to be a part of it FIRST HAND! Nothing better than someone writing about a project that is in their "neck of the woods" fabulous post!!! I try to contribute to Alley Cat Allies whenever I am able, the work they do is fantastic. Superb post! catchatwithcarenandcody

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  7. What a pawsome project ! You're so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet them ! Purrs

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  8. What a pawsome project! Paws up to Alley Cat Allies for all they are doing to help the Boardwalk community cats. And thanks for sharing your experience with us.

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  9. Someone tell the idiot councils here in New Zealand who want to kill ferals. Grrr

    This is a wonderful report on a marvellous initiative. I visited Project Bay Cat in the San Francisco area and I have seen that TNR works.

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  10. That is an amazing project. I feel bad for the ones that are not truly feral though, I wish they could get forever homes.

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  11. What a wonderful project ! Thank you for sharing this !

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  12. The Boardwalk community cats are so lucky they're well cared for. What an amazing TNR project and we can never have enough of these. And I love that they say "return" - after all it is their home.

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  13. This is one of the best posts I have seen ever. Thank you for it and the hope it represents. Did you also do the post on shelter cats and why they don;t present well? I would like to re-read it if you did, and share with others.

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  14. Wow. Just WOW. This is truly incredible! So many cats don't even get a chance - through no fault of their own - I'm glad to see so many beautiful kitties thriving. I was disgusted last year when it made the news that a local municipality was changing from extermination to TNR. Apparently, extermination of ferals is the norm around here. It just blows my mind. And the comments on the news story made me so angry and sad – most people support extermination. I truly don’t get it.

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  15. Oh oh OH! Now I want to go to Atlantic City to visit the cat colony! Those feeding stations are da bomb too! If you feed them, fix them!

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  16. Thanks for sharing. That's a pretty neat project. It's nice that the community got together to create a safe environment for these stray kitties. It looks like you had a great visit!

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  17. I was lucky enough to walk the boardwalk of Atlantic City. Dogs are not normally permitted but I think because my little one is 3.5 pounds and an ESA they waved us past (ESA's are NOT service dogs so this was very unexpected. I saw three cats. one came right up to our Monte and "booped" his nose. Monte lovvvvvves cats. His best bud is a Russian Blue that lives at the pet store where we get his freeze dried liver. So I can totally get that not all cats are feral.... and I LOVE the "return" rather than "release". yes. Sadly in Canada our climate makes this sort of thing near impossible. We must capture and ther eis no return.... when it hits -40 .... it's just not an option. I have seen this approach done on the Greek islands (famous for the cats) and it's been very successful there too. And they are community cats. The locals all help feed them and bring fresh water.

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  18. Very cool! We're in NJ but I have to admit that I've never been to Atlantic City. This gives me a lot more motivation to visit sometime!

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  19. What a great initiative to help these community cats! You are right, that is such a better name than strays! I also love that they say the R is for Return and not release. These cats deserve a stable environment, not to simply be neutered and dumped everywhere. It may not be a conventional home, but I am sure they are happy to have their little community at the boardwalk and the volunteers that care for them.

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  20. Wow, so amazing and many incredible things I want to comment on about this post. First of all I am guilty of using the term trap-neuter-release (I try to use return from now on).

    So interesting about the social structure of the colonies and how some colonies are retired after the cats pass on. Really incredible that they have reduced the numbers by 72% AND that trip advisor now features the boardwalk cats - love that! I'm going to tweet this post, too!

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  21. yes! community cats are cats that everyone is responsible fore. What a great way to put it. What a great success! ~Dear Mishu

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  22. This sounds like a wonderful project! I really like the term "community cats." When we moved into our house about 20 years ago, there were a lot of cats around. I don't know if any of them had homes or not. One of our neighbors used to feed them, and I suspect she had took them to be spayed and neutered, as we hardly ever see cats here anymore. I think our cat was one of the last of the community colony, but he was always very friendly.

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  23. It's awesome that they've reduced the cat numbers by that much. The cats look well cared for. I can't believe they're managing to pill one of them every day!

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  24. I love the idea of calling the community cats. This goes to show with care and TNR, the colonies will naturally reduce. That is, unless someone does something stupid and abandons more cats. I just don't get it.

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  25. FABULOUS!!! I volunteer as a photographer for my local Feral Cat Community and will share this post with the group. I love that the cats are referred to as community cats and that they are not removed from their community. TNR definitely works and 72% is an impressive number. I hope you have success educating your community and hopefully such a program will be created.

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  26. I love this project. I have to admit i wasn't a cat fan for a very long time. Then one day a little gray haired kitten chose me. Smokey Cat became my little bestie. I love the words community cats! I would love to see something like this around me. This is extremely impressive. Wonderful pictures of all the cats and extremely informative.

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  27. What a great cause and project to help cats to thrive! I'm not a cat person, per se; but, I'll never turn down the opportunity to pet a cat, or allow it to lay on my lap! The purr of a cat is very soothing. I'm glad to read about initiatives such as this for cats.

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  28. This is such a great thing that they're doing. I love to see communities doing good work, especially when it revolves around fuzzy creatures. I think it's great that they even put out little houses for them.

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  29. This is such a neat initiative. I have not heard of anything like this before. We must not have anything like it near where I live. This is excellent!

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  30. What an awesome post! I had no idea there were community cat colonies (I love that name) in Atlantic city! What a wonderful experience to visit them. That feeding station is a very smart idea, those darn tri-state area pigeons, LOL!! Thanks for sharing.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

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  31. What a wonderful project. I never heard the term "community cats" but I think that's a much better way to approach these animals in need. Thanks so much for sharing this awesome experience.

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  32. I love how awesome this idea is! I know my husband would absolutely plan a trip there!

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  33. Wow, what a great experience to see this! This is an awesome project. I've heard people wanting to use community cat vs feral as well. Next year, the BF conference is in my neck of the woods and I plan on going - can't wait!

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