A feral cat finds her way “home”

Sandy the feral catSandy, a community (feral) cat, learned street smarts at an early age. When this tiny tabby was orphaned, she found another cat with a litter of kittens and joined the brood. In a double stroke of luck, Karalyn Dorn, a seasoned community cat caregiver, was caring for those cats. Karalyn works with Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network partner Cat's League and Assistance of the Western Slope (CLAWS), in Grand Junction, Colorado, to help reduce the free-roaming cat population through trap/neuter/return (TNR). But when Karalyn learned that people in the area where the cats were living had threatened to harm them, the next phase of Sandy's rescue began. Karalyn would work overtime to ensure the safety of the cats.

Community (feral) cat compassion

Karalyn's passion for TNR started four years ago when she found a sick kitten in an alley. "My experience with community cats has been a continual learning process, and, fortunately, I've received a lot of help from friends and local organizations," shares Karalyn. "I've seen the results of the pet overpopulation problem up close and personal." She knew that community cats entering the shelter system don't stand a chance, and that TNR was the best way to thwart the burgeoning population. She has since helped dozens of cats by becoming a colony caregiver.

With the momma cat and kittens, including Sandy, in danger, Karalyn knew they needed to be relocated. Karalyn reached out to an acquaintance who's also an expert in helping with situations like hers. She knew Lezlie Sage, a Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network specialist, from Lezlie's volunteering at the community center where Karalyn works. When Karalyn mentioned that she needed to place the cats, Lezlie knew just what to do.

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Minimal work, maximum lifesaving

As a Network specialist focusing on Colorado, Lezlie knows the area's resources and rescuers and started the wheels turning to get the cats placed. She began networking Sandy and the other felines, and found Kasi Rishel. She'd recently lost her house cat, Jake. Although she already volunteers to help dogs and had never gotten involved with cats, especially not community cats, she's been familiar with their plight for a while.

Sandy the feral cat hiding"I've always felt bad for feral cats," says Kasi. "Working at the Division of Wildlife in Colorado, I know that 15 years ago, TNR wasn't as widely accepted as a means for helping cats. When I got the email with Sandy's picture, I couldn't look away. Even though I didn't have any experience, I knew I wanted to help."

So Sandy went to live at her new home with five senior special-needs pugs: Munch, the eldest statesman at 16 years old, Sophia, Grommit, Beau and Eddie, whom Sandy admires from afar. Kasi was pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to help community cats. Under Lezlie's guidance, she kept Sandy contained in a large dog kennel to get her acclimated to her new environment, and it's been a breeze from start to finish. She's part of the family but maintains her independence.

"To me, it hasn't been a huge effort. It's just a little extra money, and they rely on you just for food and water," says Kasi. "It's been so easy. Sandy is a true feral cat - she doesn't seek out attention - but I see her when I feed her in the morning and the evening."

Kasi points out that for busy folks who want to help save lives, helping community cats is a great fit. "For people who are spread thin, there's nothing easier than caring for a feral cat - or two," she says.

Kasi was so thrilled with how it went with Sandy, she's arranged to take a second community cat from Karalyn. Soledad will share her life with the happiest tabby, five pugs and a guardian who will love her to pieces - on her own terms. "I'm very happy, especially since winter is coming, that Soledad will have a safe place to live. I'd like to give a huge thank-you to Best Friends, as well as other individuals and groups who work to help some of the most vulnerable beings in our society," says Karalyn.

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Photos by Kasi Rishel and Karalyn Dorn