Caring for stray cats in winter
Best Friends’ pet adoptions centers across the country are havens for homeless cats and dogs arriving from local shelters and partner rescue organizations so they can find new families. But take a closer look inside and you’ll learn that the dedication to saving lives extends far beyond four walls into the community.
In each city, programs to manage the number of free-roaming community cats are essential to reaching no-kill. Unless these cats are spayed or neutered, their numbers quickly spiral out of control, and more of them find their way to shelters, where their lives are at risk. But help is available for these cats and those who care about them.
At the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake City, the community cat program helps both the city’s outdoor unsocialized or stray cats through spay/neuter services, donated food and winter shelters.
The heart of community cat care in Salt Lake City
A snowy forecast for Salt Lake City may be great news for the area’s ski resorts, but not for the city’s community cats in need of a warm shelter when temperatures fall. To make sure cats have what’s needed for winter survival, the Best Friends community cat program in Salt Lake City makes available insulated shelters built by volunteers. In fact, anyone caring for a colony of cats can come to the center and pick up a shelter (for a suggested price of $10 each).
The demand for cat shelters sometimes exceeds supply, which forces the center to start a wait list. But Ashley Wing, community cat program manager in Salt Lake City, says the wait usually doesn’t last long, thanks to a handful of very dedicated volunteers. “We really want the adoption center to be a major resource for community cats,” she says. And volunteers make that possible.
A big need for cat colony housing
Each year, the center hosts a few events when groups of volunteers construct dozens of shelters. Ashley estimates that last winter the center provided around 700 shelters for community cat colonies. This massive need keeps volunteers busy making the shelters, which are crafted out of pharmaceutical-grade Styrofoam and covered in thick plastic.
Most of the material for shelter construction comes from Styrofoam coolers donated to Best Friends by companies that distribute pharmaceuticals or fish. “They do come with a fragrance but, luckily, they’re for cats,” Ashley says.
More help for cat colony caregivers
The center also provides walk-in community cat caregiver assistance hours three times a week in its large warehouse to help with trap-neuter-return (TNR) for unsocialized neighborhood cats. Ashley says that in some months, the center lends out as many as 90 traps for TNR to people dedicated preventing more kittens from being born and thereby reducing the number cats ending up at the shelter.
In general, outdoor cats eat more when it’s cold outside to keep warm; so, the community cat program offers free food to caregivers who need it.
National feral cat day
When National Feral Cat Day is celebrated each October, Salt Lake City residents gather in front of the center to celebrate community cats. “That’s a day when fellow shelter advocates join us, and we can really teach people about how community cats need our help,” says Ashley.
It’s also a perfect time to remind community cat caregivers to pick up their winter shelters before the snow starts to fall and the demand for shelters skyrockets.
Saving Them All in Salt Lake City
Helping a community’s animals and their caretakers is a big part of Saving Them All, and it’s a key to helping Utah become a no-kill state.
“It is so rewarding when people come in and we’re able to help them,” says Ashley. “Sometimes they’re surprised to learn how much we are here to support them.”
Photos by Sarah Ause Kichas and the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Salt Lake City