Optimism is the cornerstone of our dreams, the leap of faith that shapes our destiny and strengthens the foundation of building a sustainable community. Beyond the words our lips speak and the actions we command our limbs to take, optimism can be seen and sensed in the glimmer of the eye. In cooperative partnership, we can fully nurture and achieve our common goal – to end animal suffering.
On the “beautiful land across the water,” Chincoteague Island, Virginia, most famous for the Annual Wild Pony Swim, there is another extraordinary and considerably less well-known animal population. Chincoteague is home to an estimated five hundred feral cats.
Under the leadership of Dr. Jeffery Newman, DVM, Co-owner of Caring Hands Animal Hospital, a volunteer team of Caring Hands Animal Hospital veterinarians, veterinary technicians, staff, and other supporters including Dr. Samir Hafez, Neighborhood Cats, and Alley Cat Allies, have successfully trapped, spayed and neutered, and returned several hundred feral cats on the island.
“We supply and bring everything including tables, instruments, and medicine,” says Mary Beth Mount, Executive Director of the newly formed non-profit Caring Hands Animal Support and Education. Created by Caring Hands Animal Hospital, doctors and staff perform spay/neuter, accompanied by an ear-tip, the universal sign of a medically adjusted feral cat. The team vaccinates for rabies and distemper and is prepared to administer penicillin, fluids, and treat injuries.
“This is a labor of love,” Mary Beth says of the effort as Caring Hands Animal Support and Education awaits completion of their 501(c)3 status. Currently, everything has been paid for out-of-pocket including renting homes for volunteers, meals, and the cost of surgery. “Dr. Newman and his team are incredibly dedicated and altruistic.”
The residents of Chincoteague are extremely committed to their free-roaming feline friends and understand that without humane trap-neuter-return (TNR), the feral cat population on Chincoteague would continue to grow. Unlike the common urban response to feral cat populations, the residents coexist peacefully with the cats and the people who care for them.
“The residents love the cats and the program. Some people are feeding around twenty free-roaming cats each,” Mary Beth explains. “The cats are not like most urban feral cats. They are very social, healthy, and well fed.”
“Feral cats have their place in the Chincoteague ecosystem,” Mary Beth says, “and we’re doing good for the cats and the people who care for them.”
Feral cat colonies often cause conflict within communities. Caring Hands Animal Support and Education will also be at the helm of community education in the realm of conflict resolution, teaching the use of humane deterrents to alter unwanted behavior, feral cat colony care, and dispelling the myth that euthanasia is more humane than allowing feral cats to live outdoors.
“We are willing to go where we’re needed to support communities with extensive feral cat populations like those in the Alexandria neighborhoods of Arlandria-Chirilagua and North Beauregard near Sanger Avenue,” Mary Beth says.
As Mary Beth begins to network, identify sources of funding, apply for grants, organize fundraising events, and elicit in-kind support, she has her hands full publishing materials in English and Spanish and preparing information for the soon to be launched Caring Hands Animal Support and Education website.
“Trap-neuter-return will not be our only mission,” Mary Beth says, hinting with a smile and a twinkle of optimism for the future in her eye.
To volunteer, donate, or collaborate with Caring Hands Animal Support and Education, email: email@example.com