When you live in a city with 86,000 abandoned, dumped and feral cats trying to survive on the streets and only a handful of volunteers and organizations willing to care for them, you jump when you get a call from Chris Hughes at Weruva.
To give you some background, we go back a ways with Chris having met him through his own rescue, The Mr. Mo Project, and promptly recruiting him as an official Softie – known nationally for his work with senior, special needs dogs. However, since joining Weruva, he’s also been instrumental in developing corporate programs to help cat colony caretakers across the country. Although I hoped the call from Chris meant we’d get a little more donated food to help Baltimore’s struggling caretakers, I wasn’t prepared for what he proposed.
“I want to come to Baltimore with Sterling “Trap King” Davis, Nathan the Cat Lady and $30,000 worth of Weruva food for your cat caretakers and trappers. The three of us will do the heavy lifting and we’d also like to join some of your local rescuers on a trapping mission.”
“Seriously? You mean, you not only want to provide salvation for an army of volunteers who are struggling to put food in the bellies of abandoned cats, but you also want to bring two heroes of the kitty world along to do grunt work?”
“Yep, that’s exactly what I want to do. We know how tough it’s been on caretakers and trappers, and we just want to do something to help.”
I’m not sure I even said good-bye before furiously dialing our co-founder Caroline Griffin. “We need to find a distribution location and we need to organize a trapping mission with local volunteers. STAT.”
The first part was easy, I texted Johnny CrabCakes at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, told him we needed to scarf up his parking lot for two full days in July. Two seconds later, I got my answer. “Fine by me.” (Yes, he’s a man of few words, but he has never once turned us down when we needed help.)
Meanwhile, Caroline reached out to The Feline Rescue Association, the one solely-cat-focused rescue in our area and they were on board. Their volunteers cover some of the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore and this most recent kitten season had them all on their last ropes. And I should clarify – being “on board” isn’t just saying, “Sure we can take the guys out one night.” It means lining up volunteers and materials, arranging for overnight accommodations for any cats trapped, securing appointments at the TNR clinic the following morning and, of course, picking the kitties up once they’ve recovered and returning the following night to release them.
Plans were set and we expected Sterling and Nathan to arrive late Monday, with Chris driving down from upstate NY at a godawful hour on Tuesday. By 1pm we’d be open for business at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood and hope that our efforts via social media had gotten the word out.
(I’ll skip over the part about Sterling and Nathan running into each other in the Atlanta airport and then promptly missing their flight because all turned out well in the end. Besides, Caroline quickly recovered from her momentary heart attack.)
Early Tuesday morning, I get another call from Chris. Having left NY at 3am, he’s now reached the warehouse in southern Maryland only to discover that instead of $30K worth of food, Weruva is now giving us $50K worth of food which amounts to 11,300 pounds and won’t fit in the truck. But no worries, Nathan and Sterling have rented a U-Haul and are currently in route from Baltimore to southern Maryland, however, this does mean our start time of 1pm may be a wee bit optimistic.
I say “no problem” and head to Jimmy’s to make sure we have spaces reserved for the U-Haul and the monster truck filled with food.
Did I mention that was the start of a two-day, Code Red heat alert?
You forget those little details when you’re in an air-conditioned house and car, but it’s impossible to ignore when you find yourself on an asphalt parking lot with no trees in sight. Once again, our friends at Jimmy’s came through in a pinch and provided a tent.
I might add, a tent, that not only shielded Soft Side volunteers, but also attendees who began arriving at 11:45 for a 1pm open that wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, they were all bona fide animal lovers so a lot of Facebook friends met in real life and we had a chance to learn more about who was taking care of how many cats and where.
When the boys’ convoy did arrive, it was met with huge spontaneous cheers.
And with virtually no sleep, The Three Amigos started breaking down pallets and carrying cases to cars. They were soon joined by some of Philly’s best known kitty “guys” – Cowboy Cat Wrangler, The Mad Catter and a young woman named Monica Paige who would score the catch of the day. (More on that later.)
We promoted this as an event for Baltimore’s colony caretakers and trappers, but to give you an indication of how little help is available for people who, on their own time and dollar, are caring for cats that others have thrown away, we had people come from five counties across the state.
Even after driving an hour or more, they were all apologetic, “If it’s only for Baltimore, we understand.” (As if we would have ever turned anyone away who does this thankless work.) Leading up to the event, a Soft Side friend had gone on a fundraising tear that allowed us to purchase 40 TruCatch traps and, judging by the reactions, you’d have thought we were giving away sportscars.
After four hours in the scorching heat hefting unending cases of food, The Three Amigos headed back to the hotel to dry off in preparation for a night of trapping. The ladies from The Feline Rescue Association met them in Park Heights and according to Caroline (the only one of us Soft Siders still standing) it was like watching masters at work.
In total, seven kittens and cats were trapped that evening with the highlight being the successful capture of Pilot Pete – a local deadbeat Dad thought to be responsible for 70% of the colony who had outwitted trappers for two and a half years. (Monica earned an extra notch on her belt for that one.)
The next day promised to be more of the same. Only hotter.
Driving to Jimmy’s, my car thermometer read “105” so I was ecstatic to discover on arrival that the guys at Jimmy’s had already put up our loaner tent. Once again, caretakers started arriving at noon for a 1pm open. While waiting for The Three Amigos to arrive with the U-Haul key, I learned of another good deed that happened the night before. It seemed that one of the Park Heights caretakers hadn’t been able to take off work to pick up food and when Chris learned that – he ordered Weruva direct from Amazon and had a supply shipped to her. In other words, Pilot Pete may be a few ounces lighter, but his stomach will still be full.
To say it was an exhausting 48 hours would be an understatement, but it was also a memorable one. It’s not often you get to see so many people come together for the good of homeless animals they don’t even know. Yet for 48 hours in Baltimore, two unrelated companies, Weruva and Jimmy’s, along with caretakers and trappers from Baltimore, Philly, Frederick, Prince George’s, Howard, Harford and Cecil Counties bonded over their shared concern for the plight of homeless cats. The glue that brought them together was a love of cats and an unbridled admiration for The Three Amigos.
Postscript: Although this effort was about ensuring that Baltimore’s homeless cats have the food necessary to survive, there was one other, very powerful benefit. It showed the men and women who beg, borrow, scrimp, save and go out every day, in all kinds of weather, to provide basic care for these forgotten animals that their work is valued and appreciated. And for all of it, we’re eternally grateful.