Photos by Lynne Deliman
Kennedy resident Alexa Parish has been capturing and releasing feral cats in the McKees Rocks and Stowe area for some time now.
By Jamie Wiggan
Alexa Parrish grew up in a home without pets. Now she has a garage full of adopted cats and spends her free hours patrolling the streets of Stowe and McKees Rocks searching for animals in need of food, veterinary care or — most commonly — "fixing."
“If you drive around here at night, it’s just cats everywhere,” she said. “I didn’t know how bad was this problem until I got into rescue.”
Parrish, a Kennedy resident, is part of a growing movement of volunteers working to control feral or ‘community cat’ populations in the area. Quick breeders that can survive well outdoors, cat populations — known as colonies — multiply rapidly once a small number escape or are abandoned by their owners.
While Parrish has dealt with large colonies in suburban
A newly neutered feral cat
awaits impatiently its release
on March 16.
Robinson and even rural Beaver County, she spends most of her time in the intermingled communities of McKees Rocks and Stowe, where she said there’s a particularly high concentration.
Another local volunteer, Michelle DeFade, believes this area is home to at least 400 community cats.
The volunteers follow a practice known as TNVR (trap, neuter, vaccinate, release) and they rely on a handful of non-profit organizations that provide these procedures at low-cost.
Most are first drawn into the community cat world via the internet. TNVR enthusiasts have dedicated social media groups, where they share new sightings, information on animals in need and even trade “slots” for limited spaying and neutering appointments.
From there it soon morphs into the offline world.
“When people see you’re into cat stuff, they reach out for help,” Parrish said.
Parrish now depends on a network of “feeders,” who play into an intricate communication web connecting ordinary residents, volunteers and non-profit organizations, each with their unique specializations and resources.
Kim Dix is one important feeder in Parrish’s network.
A homeless cat cautiously
looks down on Parrish.
Dix has about five or six treated cats she feeds daily in the Norwood area of Stowe where she lives, but she also reports to Parrish and others on sightings of kittens, untreated adults or animals of any variety in need of care.
“There’s a couple of people who reach out to me [with animal information],” Dix said.
“Then I reach out to a certain other group of people if I see kittens or one that needs medical attention. I know who to contact in each situation.”
Like Parrish, DeFade, also grew up without cats, and considered
herself a “dog person” until family members bought her a cat several years ago feeling it was a better fit for her restricted townhouse.
Now she spends up to four hours after clocking off from her day job knocking on strangers’ doors donning colorful cat ears and introducing herself as “the cat lady.”
“I will be darned if people don’t want to know what’s going on with the woman with cat ears,” she said. “The doors started opening much faster after I started wearing them.”
She does this to spread the news about her mass trapping events, raising awareness for the cause and funds for the work. And also to build up neighborly goodwill.
“It’s really fun to get to know your neighbors, and it’s not always about cats,” she said. “The goal is to get the community involved.”
DeFade drifted into the TNVR world several years ago while attempting to take care of two cats that turned up outside her Sheraden home.
She went to Home Depot and found two humane raccoon traps on clearance. After tackling the cats in her yard, she moved on to others in the area and soon developed a reputation among neighbors.
“Once I started, people started asking, ‘what are you doing?’ And I Michele DeFade
would tell them,” she said. “I started with two traps — now it’s become a really big part of me.”
While Parrish is out year-round trapping and treating cats on a case by case basis, DeFade has built up a team of volunteers known as the “Cat Ears Revolution.” The group helps her organize mass trapping events three or four times a year with aims to trap and fix 30 during each session.
In between events, the cat ears team raises money and awareness through door-knocking, spaghetti dinners and online fundraisers.
DeFade says performing TNVR on up to 150 cats each year costs between $4-6,000 when factoring in medical costs and food and litter supplies for a select number that get put up for adoption.
If they maintain their current rate of progress, DeFade hopes they can stabilize the populations in Sheraden and McKees Rocks within the next few years.
“That is really our goal, to stabilize the area,” she said. “I don’t want to quit.”
Despite their devotion, the constant work to stop the populations from spiraling out of control does get tiring for the volunteers, who admit it sometimes feels like a losing battle.
Parrish, who is married with two young children and works as a part-time veterinary technician, responds to calls at all times of night and last year trapped about 30 cats on her own.
While many of the costs are offset by non-profits such as Homeless Cat and Conquering Colonies, the veterinary technician found a way to raise funds for her cause while helping animals in another capacity.
“I went back to work to pay for litter, literally,” she said.
Volunteers with Cat Ears Revolution are holding a mass trapping event April 11, where they will make their way through several hotspots in McKees Rocks, Stowe and Sheraden. To donate, volunteer, report cat activity in your neighborhood, or to otherwise get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org or join Cat Ears Revolution on Facebook.