Saving the lives of cats and kittens in Alameda and across much of the East Bay is the aim of the all-volunteer, Alameda-based group Island Cat Resources and Adoption.
The nonprofit ICRA operates with a small cadre of 20 to 30 active volunteers who place cats in foster homes and facilitate their adoptions.
Since its founding in 1994, the organization has placed 2,500 cats in adoptive homes, has spayed or neutered 11,300 felines and has kept many hundreds more cats off the streets and placed in "no kill" community shelters, according to spokesperson Gail Churchill.
While ICRA is not directly involved in the current effort to to run the Alameda Animal Shelter, which is due to budget cuts, they are, says Churchhill, supportive of the effort to keep it open.
ICRA serves as an adjunct to services provided by existing East Bay shelters and has had, according to Churchill, an excellent collaborative relationship with the over the years.
Currently ICRA showcases prospective feline adoptees every Saturday at at South Shore Shopping Center from noon to 4 p.m. and the first Saturday of the month at Pet Food Express from noon to 3 p.m. Adoption rates for cats at these ongoing events are insufficient to keep pace with the number of cats needing homes.
ICRA is not accepting more cats into its care, as of this writing, due to a shortage of foster homes. Should more homes be found, Churchill says, they will be able to resume accepting cats.
Because ICRA does not have the resources to care for all the cats needing homes, they have recently shifted focus from hands-on rescue to providing education, tools and resources to those who can make an immediate difference in their own backyards.
One innovative solution to cat overpopulation is ICRA's Garden Cat Program. When cats are rescued that are deemed too wild to be placed in homes as pets, instead of euthanizing them, ICRA helps them find new "outdoor" homes in people’s backyards.
“The idea for the Garden Cat Program began a couple years ago when a family was being evicted that had been feeding seven or eight cats outside,” said Churchill. A call went out through the media to find people willing to let these cats live in their yards, and there was a huge response. All of the cats found backyard homes.
ICRA helps trap and rescue unsocialized cats, sterilizes them and vaccinates them before placing them in people's gardens. So they can become accustomed to their new surroundings, the cats are transported in a “condo cage” — like a large dog crate — to the yard of their adoptive family.
Inside the “condo cage” is a cat carrier without a door, providing a sort of shelter within a shelter. Also inside the cage is a litter box, food and water. The cat is kept in the condo cage for two to four weeks until it gets settled into its new backyard and considers it "home." At that point the door to the crate is opened and the cat is allowed out. Once the cat feels completely secure in its new habitat the condo crate is returned to ICRA and used again for another cat.
Garden Cat "adoptive parents" then install "igloos" (like those used in pet stores for dogs) or other shelters in their yard to keep the cat safe and warm.
“We always have an ongoing need for Garden Cat families,” said Churchill. “People move and cannot take their outside cats with them. People find feral colonies that need to be broken up and moved.”
All of these services take money, and Churchill admits it is a constant challenge to fund ICRA’s work. It is in need of donations to defray the cost of low-cost spay-neuter initiatives, vaccinations, FeLV/FIV testing, medical treatment for sick and injured cats, cages for recovering animals and the purchase of humane traps for feral cats.
They are already scouting out items for their champagne auction to be held next May and are planning a holiday boutique and garage sales this coming year. People who would like to support ICRA can do so by making a donation through its website or by mail.
“We are all about spaying and neutering,” said Churchill, who said she wishes people feeding a cat in their neighborhood would contact ICRA sooner, rather than later, if they need help trapping or paying for spaying or neutering the animal.
“They only think about taking care of the problem after the fact once five little kittens appear with momma cat,” Churchill said. “What we want them to do is think of us first when there is only one cat involved."
As for the current crisis facing the Alameda Animal Shelter, Churchill said, “The thought of Alameda being without a shelter of its own is just hard to contemplate. It would truly be a disaster.”
If Save our Shelter is unable to keep the local shelter’s doors open, says Churchill, Alamedans could see the streets and witness an uptick in the number of animals being unnecessarily euthanized.
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