by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we are interviewing a unique local animal rescue in Fresno, Feral Paws Rescue Group. We took some time to chat with Paula Hunsaker, their founder, CEO and Board President.
KRL: When and how did Feral Paws come to be?
Paula: In 1999, I became an advocate for feral cats by starting a feral cat program at several state prisons in California. I was in law enforcement for 30 years and retired to do rescue full time in 2011. Cat rescue is what I call stepping off into the dark side of the cats that are in high kill shelters. It is heartbreaking to enter a shelter and know that I can’t save them all. It is through donations that we operate our rescue and we are contacted daily by shelters who would like us to save their cats. We have worked with shelters in Southern California and Bakersfield, as well as our local CCSPCA and Liberty Animal Control. We have pull-rights at shelters in: Fresno, Madera, Chowchilla and Tulare. We also participate in cat transports with different groups in Oregon.
KRL: Why did you decide this was needed?
Paula: While working in Law Enforcement I learned about the issues of the feral cats at the State Prison in Avenal. After learning there were over 500 so called feral cats on prison grounds at Avenal, I worked with the warden at the time, Dan Sedley, to begin a TNR program at the state prison to make the cats at the state prison a sterile colony (TNR: trap-neuter-return). Those cats, over time, will die out on prison grounds. With the help of Alley cats and their video’s they sent to the warden, and after many meetings with the current warden at the time, I was able to help him understand the meaning behind TNR and how important it was and how a sterile colony works and how it would die out over time.
In the process of starting the TNR program at the prison, I was allowed to have inmates who were doing time help out during this process and help with setting up feeding stations on prison grounds. I was also allowed to let inmates parole with the cats they befriended and tamed as pets within the program. And the inmates were allowed to make a cat cemetery, so that cats that died would be laid to rest with respect. All food was donated by private parties given to this program. This program grew to other prisons as they were seeing the positive impact of TNR on prison grounds. All cats walking on prison grounds began to show the tip ear of being TNR. With the positive impact of the TNR I was given a building on prison grounds to store food and supplies needed to keep the TNR program in a positive view.
KRL: Why feral cats?
Paula: When Feral Paws Rescue began it was focused on feral cats, because the need was so great and misunderstood, and now we have moved forward to help rescue shelter cats along with feral cats.
KRL: So you don’t only rescue feral cats?
Paula: No, we also rescue cats from high kill shelters in California that we are approved to pull cats from. We pull domestic cats, ferals, seniors and special needs (missing a limb, deaf, etc.). Our focus is to help the cats that aren’t perfect and wouldn’t make it out of the high kill shelters. We have been fortunate to place many “misfits” into safe and loving forever homes, who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance.
KRL: For those who are not aware, what is the definition of a feral cat?
Paula: A feral cat is a domestic cat that has been born and raised without contact with humans, or a cat that has not had contact with humans for a significant period of time and has become unsocialized. It is distinguished from a stray cat, which is a homeless socialized cat who could potentially become comfortable living in a home again.
KRL: What specifically is Feral Paws and its purpose?
Paula: We are an advocacy organization that is dedicated to the protection of cats and specifically follow a no-kill advocacy. We rescue as many cats as our funding allows, in particular those cats that are in high kill shelters who only have less than five days to survive.
We provide a refuge where cats from high kill shelters can be housed, medically treated and adopted. We also provide a respite for those cats who cannot be adopted and can live out their lives in comfort.
KRL: Please tell us more about your TNR work.
Paula: We are always contacted by individuals and businesses about needing help with feral cats. We have helped with TNR education and starting TNR in communities. We have helped with transport to vets for trapped cats to be fixed, and helped with needed traps to use for TNR. And through our rescue, we even have several contacts with local farmers/ranchers who will allow TNR cats on their property to help them keep down their critter population that eat crops or feed. People are always amazed at how simple the idea of TNR is, and how well this works for everybody, including the better health of the cats. When people come together with TNR programs, they feel a sense of accomplishment in knowing they’ve done something that will really make a difference.
KRL: Do the cats you rescue go into foster homes, or do you have a location?
Paula: Both! We have foster homes, and two other main locations for housing our cats.
KRL: Tell us about your adoption center and it’s location.
Paula: Currently we are located at 84 E. Olive Avenue in Fresno and cats are viewed by appointment. We have a viewing room, where cats and adopters can meet and see if they like each other. There is also a Seniors Room, where senior cats can mingle together. Those are mainly the cats we will keep with us, but we do have Senior-to-Senior Program that works quite well with adopting a senior kitty with a senior human! We’re proud of this program and that it has worked so well.
KRL: How many cats do you think you rescue a year?
Paula: In 2015 we rescued 591 cats and kittens.
KRL: Wow that’s wonderful! Do you have any special events coming up?
Paula: Each month we host an adoption event at Tractor Supply, 1630 Herndon, Clovis CA.
KRL: How can people help?
Paula: Through donations to our 501(c)(3) non profit. If we don’t get donations, we can’t rescue and then feed and medically treat the cats. Our supporters have been very good to us, and we have recently signed up with Benevity for workplace giving.
KRL: How do you differ from other rescues?
Paula: One of our missions is to focus on cats from shelters that no other rescue would save. Ones that are missing eyes, legs, have medical issues or need surgery, not perfect in appearance or are feral. Those that have behavior issues, we work tirelessly with, because some owners have been harsh with them, and we bring them back to being a loving cat.
Those that are seniors and have been given to shelter because of housing issues (foreclosures), or an owner has died and the family can’t take care of the cat. The seniors are wonderful kitties, and they already know the “rules of the house.” Some cats are out of time and have been marked to be put down so we take them. The CCSPCA knows our rescue is known for taking the misfits.
On Christmas Eve, they helped us pull eight cats that were due to be put down on Christmas day, including one that was already in the PTS (put to sleep) room. Our rescue operates from donations and not grants at the current time. We have supporters and donations from all over the world even from the UK.
KRL: Website, Facebook, Twitter?
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
A society, and specifically communities, in which people value and safeguard the lives of cats.
FPRG Cat Adoption Events for 2016:
(all are at Tractor Supply Co., 1630 Herndon, Clovis CA 93611, on Saturday, from 11a~4p)
February 20, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
March 19, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
April 16, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
May 21, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
June 18, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
July 16, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
August 20, Saturday 11a ~4p
September 17, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
October 15, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
November 19, Saturday 11a ~ 4p
December 17, Saturday 11a ~ 4p (might be a 2-day event, TBA)
Check out more animal rescue & pet related articles, including more Cat House columns, in our Pet Perspective section.