By Lisa Stanziano
Newsletter Editor/Dog Volunteer
Usually, I see Katy Jones at the shelter with a dog on a leash, or in the courtyard with other Behavior & Training colleagues, evaluating dogs or talking to a rescue partner about transferring some. We don’t see her on the “cat side” much. But one of the best kept secrets about her is that Katy cut her adult rescue teeth on cats. No, she didn’t bite them, she trapped them, fixed them, and rehomed them.
As a 19-year-old living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Katy noticed there were LOTS of free-roaming cats in the neighborhood. She also observed kind souls feeding colonies of cats and quickly learned about TNR (trap/neuter/release). Katy bought a trap from Craigslist and decided to pitch in. She would trap cats, get them fixed and release the most feral. If they seemed to like humans, she’d foster them and find them homes. “Starting out, I did all the wrong things, like keeping 4-month-old kittens in pairs as I attempted to socialize them. Sometimes having two scared kitties together can impede their progress, and once they’re at that age, turning them around can be VERY challenging. Fortunately, I found adopters who were understanding of their behavioral quirks from living such a significant portion of their development on the wild streets of Brooklyn.”
Determined to help these roaming cats, she sometimes waited in her car─overnight–to keep an eye on the trap so that as soon as a cat went in, she could retrieve it. Also, to safeguard her equipment. The Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn is sketchy. Once, a wooden board she was using to block an escape route hole in a fence was stolen. Katy persisted. She became known in the area as the Cat Lady. She got a call once about a vacant house with squatters living upstairs and kittens discovered in the basement. Using the flashlight from her phone, she made her way in the dank basement to find them, dodging the fleas jumping off the floor. She got the kittens out. They were ~4 weeks old. She kept them in her bathroom, bottle fed and socialized them. When they were older, she got them fixed and then adopted. “I had a lot of bottle babies pass through my bathroom back then! I once found a litter that still had umbilical cords, covered in fleas under a car during a heatwave. No sign of Mom, so I took them in. My first time raising bottlers from birth!”
Brooklyn at that time did not have the resources that many cities do now (like SF), with the Community Cats (program), and TNR volunteers and services. Spay/neuter services were scarce. First come, first served. “I would get in line at the ‘snip truck’ at 3am with 8-week-old kittens in my coat pockets because I couldn’t carry the number of carriers I needed. And I kept the kittens warm that way. March in NY is not warm and I remember the other trappers and I would take turns holding each other’s spots in line and going to the bodega across the street for hot chocolate. It was a pretty bizarre scene, but somehow a really sweet little community.”
Rehoming all the cats that Katy found or that made their way to her was another challenge but she was up for that too. Her skill with figuring out who of her friends and neighbors wanted, needed, or knew someone who wanted/needed a cat expanded to a wide network and she’s still in touch with adopters who give her updates/photos. One particular outdoor cat, a wary tabby she called Frank, found his way to her yard in Oakland and would stand on her stoop and look inside but wouldn’t go in. “The door was always open for him but he was so hesitant. I was moving in a week and wanted to take Frank. I knew if he stayed, he wouldn’t be ok. Finally, I just picked him up and he went limp. He was ready to be taken care of. Now he’s living the good life in San Rafael with a lovely lady named Fran. Frank and Fran–a perfect match!”
Katy’s destiny of working in animal welfare seemed a birthright. “My family loved animals and my mom was always bringing home animals and fostering them. I was four when she came back from the grocery store with two small kittens. We named them Fred and Ginger.”
When she was 16, her family drove to Florida for vacation and rescued a dog that was lost near the freeway! They picked up the dog and found it a home before their vacation ended. Though Katy’s family moved several times, there was no question that the pets would come with them. This philosophy carried through her own moves as an adult. When relocating from the east coast to Oakland, California, she drove out with her dogs and bought a plane ticket for a close friend to escort her cats. No pet would ever be left behind!
In her position at SFACC, Katy supervises the Behavior and Training Division (three other staffers) and coordinates adoption partner transfers. Moving animals from a place where there’s a lot of competition for resources (space, adopters, etc.) to a place where there’s a demand for those animals is another skill that she honed in Brooklyn with kittens. “I pipelined the cats I trapped and cared for up to New England, where there’s actually, somehow, a kitten shortage. Probably because of the harsh winters.”
Katy’s especially excited about two B&T programs that are unique to most municipal animal shelters: FETCH (dogs) and PURR (cats). The programs use the expertise of experienced volunteers and B&T staff to focus on customized behavior work for dogs and cats that need a little extra socialization before they are ready to be adopted. “What’s great about these programs is they allow more flexibility and fluidity in approaching training and socialization plans for each animal. The volunteer groups are committed to collaborating with the staff and each other in a way that will positively affect the animals. They have access to timely behavior information about a cat or a dog–what one person tried that works or what someone has observed–and they’re able to communicate that to all parties involved. An animal that was considered under confident and shy on Monday might become a social butterfly by Friday and we’ll be able to share that with each other quickly and affect the outcome for that animal. Make them adoptable.”
So now you know. At the shelter, you might see Katy pushing a stroller with a 13-yr.-old Chihuahua in it or carrying a puppy. But her secret is out: rescuing animals started for her with cats!
Editor’s Note: Kathryn (Katy) Jones is the SFACC Adoption Partner Transfer Coordinator and Acting Supervisor of the Behavior & Training Division.