Many women know what it is like to juggle husband, children and a job. But imagine adding lots of volunteer work on behalf of feral cats into the mix.
That’s what Cat Team 7 co-founder and lead organizer Caitlyn McIntosh has on her plate these days.
Interacting directly with her as a result of the Norfolk SPCA’s efforts to spay and neuter outdoor cats, I believe more folks here in Norfolk would like to hear her story.
During my three and a half years as executive director of the Norfolk SPCA, we’ve received many calls about the number of cats living outside on the massive Naval Station Norfolk (NSN). Probably abandoned pets or their offspring, these felines eke out an existence in places like a strip of rocks along Willoughby Bay. Meanwhile, they continue to reproduce and create an even greater population of outdoor cats.
Whereas some of the callers to the Norfolk SPCA acknowledged feeding the cats and rescuing some of the not-yet-feral kittens, they became more concerned about doing so when the Navy put up signs a couple years ago telling people they could not leave food for the cats. The ideal solution would be trap-neuter-return (TNR) for those cats who had become too feral to be a pet but because Department of Defense policy forbids stray companion animals on military property, TNR was not an option.
I’ve discussed the matter with local NSN officials, a military official out of the Pentagon, and even—along with staff from Alley Cat Allies, the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—with representatives from the officer of senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. A change in policy or even a TNR test was unfortunately not possible, however.
Finally, however, we had a break earlier this year. NSN officials were open to a trap-neuter-relocate effort that would remove the cats from the Naval Base, bring them to the Norfolk SPCA for spay/neuter and a rabies vaccine, and take them to a new home in a barn, stable, vineyard, or other indoor/outdoor facility. Kittens could be placed up for adoption via our shelter or rescue groups.
The volunteers—mostly women—who stepped forward to lead this effort were both passionate and compassionate. I asked them if they would need to take care of the logistics because the Norfolk SPCA staff is usually maxed out. Happily, they agreed and formed an organization called Cat Team 7, using a name building off the elite SEAL Team Six.
A couple of months since we signed an agreement with the Navy, a handful of cats have been placed in new homes. Progress is slow because Cat Team 7 must wait for quality environments overseen by caring people with the right kinds of properties and a willingness to make a long-term commitment.
Heading up all of this is McIntosh, a 32-year-old coordinator for multiple Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information Technology projects. She also stays very busy with Ava, a one-year-old baby, her husband Aaron, and other pets, as well. In addition, she volunteers as HSUS District Leader for the third congressional district of Virginia, encouraging animal lovers in our area to support animal-friendly legislation and kill bills that are not good for our fellow species.
I asked the project coordinator how she coordinates all of these, so to speak, projects.
“The honest answer is I don’t know. I take it minute by minute,” McIntosh said. “If a single one of those minutes are wasted, I find myself intensely frustrated. I am constantly going through a checklist in my mind to make sure everyone is cared for, starting with my family and working through to the rescue.”
“There’s lots of juggling,” she added. “Sometimes, I hold a finger up to my husband signaling I need a moment before I can give him my full attention.”
Thank goodness for the NSN cats that she is able to do all that she does.
McIntosh believes that approximately 100 cats live outdoors on the base currently, including 20 or so small kittens who are still semi-dependent on their parents. Thus far, 25 have been saved.
The ultimate goal of Cat Team 7 is to ensure that all outdoor cats at NSN are provided for and no other animals are dumped to fend for themselves. Already, other military installations in Hampton Roads are asking about starting a similar program.
“We measure success with each cat who leaves the base,” explained McIntosh. “For that cat, we have succeeded in saving his or her life. If we only got as far as the first trapping, I don’t think it would have been a failure. I measure success by each person who comes to me saying they have found out about the effort and want to help, because without them this is all impossible.”
But more volunteers are needed.
“We are in dire need of short term fosters, kitten fosters, flyer hangers, transporters and, of course, either one big permanent home for every cat or a whole heck of a lot of homes who will take two here and there,” said McIntosh.
If you would like to volunteer, take in a relocated NSN feral cat, or make a donation to support the lifesaving work of Cat Team 7, please contact Caitlyn McIntosh at firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate directly, click here.