Ann Dunn: Big Cat Rejects Small Cage, a Cat Town Story

11 Apr

This guest post is written by Ann Dunn, the president and founder of Cat Town. In addition to being passionate about cats, and a cat volunteer at Oakland Animal Services, Ann is a mentor for at-risk youth. Professionally, she has worked in affordable housing for over 20 years, focusing currently on policy and fundraising for public housing redevelopment and related economic development programs.

I am excited at the opportunity to tell you about Cat Town, a new, Oakland-based cat rescue organization formed by several long-term volunteers from Oakland Animal Services (Oakland’s municipal shelter) along with a former board member of the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society. The word “rescue” suggests we are saving cats from certain death at the hands of an unfeeling bureaucracy, but the truth, as always, is more complex. Oakland Animal Services (OAS), under Director Megan Webb, herself one of the original OAS volunteers, is very well run, and stretches its very limited resources to do the most and best for the animals in its care.

Cat Town is wholly independent of the shelter but works in close collaboration with OAS to take the cats who are least likely to be adopted there, because they are unable to handle the stress of the shelter environment, or because they are older (and, so, wait much longer to be adopted). We focus on semi-feral kittens, older cats, and cats who are extremely stressed, shy or undersocialized. Through our partnership with OAS, we receive incredible support on the front end – OAS does all necessary spay/neuter surgeries, and provides other medical services prior to transferring the cats to Cat Town. The result is that we can serve far more cats because, as a fledgling organization, we simply couldn’t afford to provide these services on our own.

Miles, a very tall, two-year-old, brown tabby, is a perfect illustration of the need for Cat Town. Miles came to OAS, on February 22, 2011, in a feral box (meaning, he was thought to be a wild, undomesticated cat) and OAS’ very experienced staff could not touch him for several days. A group of cat volunteers who focus primarily on the incoming cats, to help them transition to life in the shelter, and help evaluate which cats are ready to move into the public adoption area, eventually determined that Miles was not feral, but just extremely stressed and anxious. Nearly three weeks after his arrival, when it was clear that he was a really sweet guy who doesn’t cope well with change, he had relaxed enough to be made available for adoption.

Once in the public adoption area, however, he again began exhibiting signs of stress. At first, when he was taken out of his cage by the volunteers, a time when many cats relax or play, he would mostly pace around the room making a very mournful cry. As the weeks wore on, his stress level increased to the point where it was clear he had simply had enough of OAS. At this point, it was determined it was unsafe for the volunteers to take him out of his cage, given the likelihood his reaction might be to scratch or bite anyone who got too close to him. Thankfully, Cat Town was able to place Miles in a foster home on April 5, 2011. I had the pleasure of taking him from the shelter to his temporary home. He cried anxiously the whole way, which was a mercifully short drive. Once inside his foster home, he immediately seemed to get that his circumstances had improved considerably. He stepped out of the carrier, walked around the room, then came back and rubbed up against my leg. I literally watched him decompress before my eyes, and saw him far more relaxed in those first ten minutes than I had ever seen him at the shelter. When I visited him yesterday, about 36 hours after leaving the shelter, I sat with him while he stretched out in his bed, fighting sleep as I massaged him, while making a loud, deep purr. He is such a sweet and gentle soul. It is clear that his behavior in the shelter wasn’t an indication of his true personality, but was simply a reaction to the trauma he was experiencing there. I feel so grateful that Cat Town was able to help Miles.

Finding the foster home, as hard as that can be, is the easy part. Miles now needs a permanent home, a quiet, peaceful place where he can relax for good. If you are interested in meeting Miles, please contact me at ann@cattownoakland.org.

In the immediate term, with our limited resources, Cat Town is trying to remain flexible and creative in our effort to help as many vulnerable cats as possible. We launched a foster program in March, 2011, and now have 12 cats in our care, including five 2+ week-old kittens. In many ways, the foster model is ideal because a home environment gives our cats the best opportunity to thrive. It also provides potential adopters a sense of the cat’s true personality, something that simply isn’t possible in a traditional shelter setting. To fulfill our long term goal, we are currently raising funds for a property in Oakland that can serve as a true sanctuary – a quiet, sunny spot where cats can stay as long as needed while we find them a loving home.

As we come into kitten season, the shelter will soon be at full capacity. This is the hardest time of year for our sensitive cats, and the time when we most need volunteer foster parents, and other volunteers to support our foster program. Cat Town provides all of the necessary supplies and support. We just need you to supply the love.

And, of course, we need adopters, people who are willing to give our shy, scared cats a chance to become part of their family. Like Miles, many of our cats simply need to get out of the shelter to blossom.

As someone who loves Oakland, and loves all the positive changes that we have seen in recent years – Art Murmur, the Fox Theatre, Oaklavia, to name a few – I see the potential for that same creative energy to be directed toward helping Oakland’s vulnerable cats. From the beginning, I have always envisioned Cat Town as a sort of collective, or a community response to the needs of these cats, not something just a few of us can do alone. I realized at some point that my professional skills (related to affordable housing and fundraising) cross over well to Cat Town. I am confident there are talented, creative cat lovers all over Oakland who will want to get involved, some with suggestions for what we might do that we would never have considered on our own. If you are one of those people, please contact me at ann@cattownoakland.org to learn more about us. Far from being depressing, I can assure this work will bring you much joy. I hope you will join us!

Ann Dunn is the president and founder of Cat Town. In addition to being passionate about cats, and
a cat volunteer at Oakland Animal Services, Ann is a mentor for at-risk youth. Professionally, she has
worked in affordable housing for over 20 years, focusing currently on policy and fundraising for public
housing redevelopment and related economic development programs.

One Response to “Ann Dunn: Big Cat Rejects Small Cage, a Cat Town Story”

  1. Karen Smulevitz April 11, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    What a lovely story to start the week off right. Ann is an angel, and Cat Town is good work, good karma, and good for Oakland. With all the vacant houses, surely one might be lent to this cause. All these foreclosed and blighted properties should be put to use, for families in need, for youth drop-in centers, homeless assistance, and other humanitarian purposes, including helping our animals.

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