'Cane cats: Hurricane Irma scrambled county's vast population
On Sept. 11, while most people were inspecting Hurricane Irma's damage to their homes and checking their supplies of ice, Susan Julian was wading through the streets of Naples with bags of cat food.
"Those cats came running out. They were so hungry," recalled Julian, a retired property maintenance professional whose pet philanthropy for feral cats goes by the name of Camp Many Paws.
There's no camp. But there are probably 200 sets of paws that Julian and three other cat lovers feed and care for around the city. They know where the informal colonies are. They have lists of cats to trap to administer medical checks, microchip and spay. They are probably the most street-smart of the three local organizations that specialize in helping stray or feral cats.
When Hurricane Irma struck Sept. 10, it was especially hard on unclaimed animals. Julian said it took nearly three weeks for all but one of the ferals — and she knows them all by names — to return to their outdoor homes around industrial parks and foodservice buildings. Nearly a dozen new cats came with them — some of them displaced pets, Julian was sure.
"We had them checked for chips, and they either didn't have them or they weren't registered," she recalled. (See information box on registering your microchipped pet.) Still, Camp Many Paws volunteers were able to locate two pet owners whose animals had gone missing.
But then, cats began to die — street cats as well as the newcomers. Julian can only guess, she says, but she wonders if some of them had suffered internal injuries during the hurricane, or had eaten something on the streets or drank polluted water in the days following Hurricane Irma.
"This storm was hard on the cats," Julian lamented. But feline life goes on, and Camp Many Paws volunteers think Hurricane Irma's effects have subsided, unlike their work: catching feral or rescuing injured or abandoned ones. The cat-feed and trapping crew is out every night.
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"We're not spring chickens, but we're pretty effective at catching cats," Julian declared.
When they rescue a stray domesticated cat that has no chip, they look for a home. Pet Supermarket stores will often have a Camp Many Paws cat in their display kennels. Feral cats, however, simply get food and a watchful eye for medical needs.
The Humane Society Naples, too, took in animals, including a group brought in from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Several pets whose owners couldn't keep them in temporary quarters came, too. In one case, said Jon Foerster, director of community affairs, the society found a foster home so a cat's temporarily displaced owners could retrieve it after they returned to a pet-friendly home.
The Domestic Animal Shelter in Naples reported no influx from the hurricane. Daniel Christenbury, public relations specialist for Collier County public services, theorized that was because the county began designating more shelters as pet-friendly during the crisis hours.
Megan Sorbara, president of Naples Cat Alliance, was aghast that she began receiving phone calls from people who said they couldn't take their animals with them; could they drop them off?
"I couldn't believe it," she said. She and the volunteers who stayed were already rumbling through 100 pounds of dry food alone per day, not including canned foods and 240 daily pounds of litter needs.
Naples Cat Alliance is akin to Camp Many Paws in that it works solely with stray and feral cats with hopes of finding homes for those who are adoptable. But the alliance picks up most of its cats and houses them.
They were in for a long, hot week without power.
Sorbara stowed cats that needed medications in the Alliance bus, which had air conditioning, and weathered out the storm with them.
"We weren't worried about flooding," she said, but after their Golden Gate quarters went dark, the volunteers had to start carrying cats in cages outdoors to get them fresh — albeit humid and hot — air. Battery-operated fans helped move the air inside.
Volunteers had to use flashlights while they cleaned.
They had an unexpected ally in the Brother Wolf Sanctuary in Asheville, North Carolina. The center surprised them by sending down five volunteers to help the Naples Cat Alliance operate through the first week.
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Brother Wolf volunteers also helped rescue cats stranded by the storm, boating through Bonita Springs to find them: "That wasn't so much problem in Naples, but Bonita flooded so badly, the cats were on rooftops," Sorbara recalled.
The volunteers even took 40 cats to adopt out through Brother Wolf and other shelters in the northern United States.
"We are so grateful to them," Sorbara said.
Naples Cat Alliance is down to two cats that came to them from Hurricane Irma. There's Rosa, a sweet, quiet "dilute" calico with subdued colors; and Mr. Darcy, a longhair tuxedo cat named for a well-known literary character.
The Naples community did step up, too, she added. "Some 120 cats went into foster care, and 80 of them were adopted," she said.
Register those chips
"Having a microchip is a start, but unless it's registered, we have to first find the manufacturer of the chip and then find out where those particular chips would have gone and contact the veterinarian. It takes weeks longer," said Susan Julian, president of Camp Many Paws in Naples.
If you're not sure whether your pet is registered, enter your pet microchip number here to find out:
If you find your pet's chip isn't registered, the site will give you the name of the manufacturer so you can register the pet via that company's database. Several pet registries aggregate the registered chips so found animals can be identified. You can also register your pet on one of the aggregated data bases for animal chips. A popular one is on the Found Animals website:
Want to help?
These and all other animal help organizations accept donations of food, litter, necessities and money.
Camp Many Paws: campmanypaws-naples.com; adoptable pets are online and at Pet Supermarket stores in Naples
Naples Cat Alliance: naplescatalliance.org; adoptable pets are online and at Petsmart locations in Naples and Estero