Fall 2008 Newsletter
UNSUNG HEROES: Fran & Carol
Some people see a need and correct it while others don't see it at all or walk right past without lifting a finger. Fran Vigil is a person who not only sees the need but offers a helping hand. Fran's mission is helping cats.
Fran lives in Albuquerque and works exclusively with cats and kittens now. "A neighbor told me I had kittens in my back yard. I was amazed because I hadn't seen or heard them. When I looked, I found them jammed under some slats with no mother in sight. I pulled them out and put them in my bathroom until I could figure out what to do," Fran said.
"I began calling local rescue groups. I knew I needed help with the cost of their shots and sterilization. I was willing to feed and raise them but someone else would need to find them homes when they were old enough to go to a forever home. Albuquerque Cat Action Team (A.C.A.T.) said they would help me with the costs and take them for adoption if I fostered them. I've been taking A.C.A.T.'s kittens who need to be bottle fed since November of 2007. At one point this year I was feeding 13 kittens. It was like an assembly line."
While Fran talked, she cuddled a 5-week-old, black, Persian kitten on a towel in her lap. The kitten eagerly sucked food from a small bottle Fran held above the kitten's head. Bottle feeding kittens is intensive work. They must be fed small amounts every couple of hours, burped and have their bottoms rubbed so they learn to go to the bathroom on their own. Fran became Mama Cat to them. A formula approximating the mother's milk, but that doesn't include cow's milk, is used for kittens. Tiny tummies, tiny amounts, feed often is the bottle feeding motto.
Feral felines are afraid of people. To them a person is a giant predator. Before you can work with them, you need to calm them down first. Fran isolates the kitten in a carrier covered with a towel so the kitten can't see anything outside the crate. He is left in the crate until he can interact with a person or another cat without fear. For kittens it usually only takes a day. For older cats it takes a bit longer. While the kitten is in the crate, Fran talks to him and accustoms him to normal household sounds.
Fostering cats is a wonderful way to help cats in need and get them ready for forever homes. One hazard of this work is becoming too attached to the cat you're fostering. Then it is difficult to give him up for adoption.
"I look at it this way," Fran says. "I'm here to care for them and make sure they have a home until someone adopts them. I've cried over many cats in the last year. I believe if I don't foster them, they will be euthanized or found dead in the street. If I don't hand them over to make room for another needy cat, that's a cat we've lost."
In the last year Fran has fostered almost 100 cats.
Carol, a friend of Fran's, also responded to an urgent need. Four years ago she realized cats were wandering her neighborhood. She fed them and everything seemed fine until a hoarder moved into the neighborhood. One of her unspayed females got outside. Nature took its course and soon there were many extra kittens in the neighborhood.
When the Albuquerque animal ordinance went into effect, the hoarder moved away but the damage was already done.
"I didn't know anything about trapping and I'd never done any rescue," Carol said. "Soon there were eight new kittens in the group. I knew I had to do something before matters got worse."
Carol called local rescue groups and the shelters to see whether they had low cost spay and neuter programs. She found the New Mexico Animal Friends (NMAF) low-cost clinic. They also gave her tips on trapping the cats. Next she bought a humane trap and confronted the problem head on.
"I trapped 11 cats and took them to be spayed or neutered. The second year some of the females still weren't spayed so I found two more litters of kittens. At the height of this mating cycle, I had 13-14 cats," Carol said. She continued her work and now all are spayed and neutered. The colony is stable, healthy and happy.
While Carol had advice from NMAF and Fran fostered some kittens, it was Carol's drive and persistence that got the job done. "I can't put the experience into words. Until I tried to help these cats I didn't understand the dangers cats face outside and the problems they can cause."
Every night Carol's patio sprouts nine bowls of food for the ferals who know she is their meal ticket. "It's such satisfaction to have the colony stable and know I did all that myself," she said.
Both women offered advice about how people should treat ferals and how the City could help the cats and feral colony caretakers.
"People shouldn't ignore these cats. They aren't just part of the scenery. But they shouldn't take them to the shelter either where they almost certainly will be euthanized because they aren't socialized. They need help to form stable colonies," Carol and Fran agreed. "Trap them, get them spayed or neutered, have them checked for microchips in case a stray is in the group, and then let them go in the same area they came from originally. Put food down for them but remember if you feed them, you need to continue feeding them. It's almost like having your own animals except they live outside."
Both agree the City ordinance is very good but think there are gaps that should be corrected where feral cats are concerned. "As it stands now, you need to get a City license for a cat if you spay or neuter it. But the cat isn't yours, it's feral. You don't keep it in your house. If you register them, it looks as though you are over the limit for the number of animals you can own legally. If people are trying to clean up their block or stabilize a colony on their own, the City should offer free spay and neuter, shots and other services, such as dental care for the cats who need it, before they are re-released into their colony. The Mayor and Council have done an excellent job with the new animal ordinance, but we wish he would do something to help ferals and their caretakers before he leaves office," the women said.
Please remember Fran and Carol, and all the other feral colony caretakers, this year on October 16, National Feral Cat Day. They do a humane, loving service for cats who need their help and benefit the City in the process.
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