In November, ATZ began a series of posts about rescuing ‘Snow Coney’ and other cats in Coney Island, where strays and ferals live along the Boardwalk. While the cats are being fed by caregivers, they lack winter shelters and medical care. As we previously reported, both Disneyland in California and Atlantic City’s Boardwalk have model programs including feeding stations, shelters, and Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) to stabilize and manage the cat population.
Disneyland is home to a managed colony of 200 feral cats who dine at five discreet feeding stations and receive medical care in exchange for keeping the rodent population under control. While the Disneyland cats are only occasionally sighted by visitors, the Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats, founded by Alley Cat Allies in 2000, have become something of a tourist attraction. The national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats cares for the feral cat colonies along the boardwalk as part of a city-endorsed Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. We first heard of the Atlantic City cats after Sandy, when news reports documented their survival. The Coney Island cats also survived Sandy, but are being displaced by development. With the new year and the new pro-animal rights administration of Mayor de Blasio, we would like to see a program modeled on Alley Cat Allies Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats Project.
ATZ interviewed Alley Cat Allies Interim Programs Director, Aileen Walden, who has been instrumental in the Atlantic City program, to learn how her organization’s success can be replicated in Coney Island. Here is an excerpt:
Q: On your website it says Atlantic City Boardwalk’s famous cats draw visitors and admirers from all over the country. This is a really interesting and positive aspect. I would like to know how a feral colony can go from being kept secret by feral cat advocates or considered a nuisance by some locals to world famous and admired. This is a very good selling point for a project in Coney Island!
A: One of my favorite things to share with people is that in 2012, the Boardwalk Cats were named by Atlantic Coast Magazine as one of the top 10 attractions in Atlantic City. Whenever we are down at the Boardwalk, we are stopped by people who tell us that every time they visit Atlantic City, they make it a point to visit the Boardwalk Cats. We also have people who come regularly from Philadelphia, northern New Jersey and NY just to feed the cats. During high season, it’s not unusual for our staff and volunteers to be surrounded by a crowd of people asking us about the Boardwalk Cats and sharing stories of their love for their own cats.
Q: Can you tell me how many cats were originally at Atlantic City, the approximate size of the population over the years and today. If the cats are spayed and neutered, doesn’t the size of the colony dwindle or do new ferals and strays join the colony?
A: We had approximately 250 cats at the Boardwalk Colonies when we began. Over the years, we have handled 394 cats there (many within the first 3 years) which would be original colony members, kittens, friendlies that wandered in or were dropped and migration from other city colonies. There are now just 127 cats in those colonies and no kittens have been born in over a decade.
We have found relatively few abandoned cats over the years but there are a few. It’s important to prominently display the local ordinances against abandoning animals when you have colonies at public locations.
There is now a Seaside Heights NJ official colony that the mayor and local TNR group modeled after Atlantic City with support from ACA.
Q: How did you manage to get the support of the City for the program and organize the support and cooperation of businesses as well as people feeding the cats?
A: Perseverance, Professionalism and Persuasion. We were reasonably lucky in Atlantic City because early on the head of the Department of Health, Ron Cash, recognized the value of managing the breeding of the cats at the Boardwalk and that removing them wasn’t making a dent. He also recognized the public health and PR benefits of TNR. We also worked closely with the Atlantic County Humane Society who were well-known in the area.
The people feeding were the easiest to convince. Once people know the cats are safe and will remain, they are more than happy to help. The HS and DOH were helpful in relating to business owners who had concerns. The best advice I can give is find the people who care about animals who are opinion leaders. They are everywhere. Elected and appointed officials, media people, wealthy community members, prominent business leaders.
There is no single formula that will work in every community. You need to identify and build a coalition of support for the TNR program. You then need to identify and target the departments and administrators who are the decision-makers for TNR and for Animal Control. I don’t know if Coney Island is a state or federal park but if it is, you will need to identify the decision-makers for that park as well as trying to find sympathetic ears in the Borough. You have an advantage in NY because the Mayors Alliance supports and promotes TNR for outdoor cats and oversees the NYC Feral Cat Initiative, www.nycferalcat.org.
Here are some links to:
– Advocating for TNR and humane programs for cats.
– Starting a TNR program or organizing what was previously a lot of separate programs and people.
Here is a contact form to send Amusing the Zillion a private message about helping the Coney Island cats. Let us know if you’re interested in volunteering to help organize a TNR program in Coney Island or can provide post-op recovery space for a few days after surgery.
Related Posts on ATZ…
January 26, 2014: Save Coney! Adopt Steeplechase the Coney Island Bunny
January 18, 2014: Coney Island Bunny Rescued After 21 Days on The Run
January 8, 2014: Bunny Returns to Bulldozed Coney Island Garden, Kitten Euthanized
December 10, 2013: Update on Coney Island Cat ‘Snow Coney’ & His Family
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