They may just be the greatest animal lovers in town—but don’t call them crazy
Written by Elaine Stachera Simon
Photography by Julian Nunez
From January to June 2016, 930 cats were euthanized at the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley (ASCMV). While euthanasia numbers are actually trending downward at ASCMV, the number is still staggering. The good news? The Cat Ladies of Cruces are relentless in their efforts to create awareness of cat overpopulation in the community and work toward a solution.
Susan Alderman (Broken Promises SW), Michelle Corella and Anne Markman (Cat’s Meow, Big Kitty Fix), and Jackye Meinecke (Project Save A Kitten) have each literally prevented the births of thousands of unwanted kittens.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Susan Alderman saw plenty of street cats living a hard life. She wanted to help, and began feeding them. Fortunately, a feline-friendly neighbor soon taught her that feeding without fixing only made the stray problem worse. Susan started spaying or neutering every stray cat she could find—and she still is today.
Broken Promises SW focuses on what Susan sees as the area of greatest need, reducing the feral cat population. In this region, there are few groups devoted to reducing feral cat (community cat) overpopulation humanely through trap, neuter, and return. Known as TNR, cats are caught using live traps, spayed or neutered, microchipped, vaccinated, ear-tipped, and returned to the location they were caught.
Susan believes that the issue receives less attention because “these cats are not cute and not handle-able. Kitten adoptions are great, but we address the beginning of the problem.”
As of September 20, 2016, Broken Promises SW had helped trap and sterilize 284 community cats. Susan, who shares the work with Joe Miele and Rebecca Stanger, provides guidance to managed feral colonies; that is, those at which someone has taken responsibility to feed, spay and neuter, provide shelter, and get the requisite permit. “If people aren’t willing to do that,” says Susan, “we have to say no. It breaks my heart, but we can’t waste time with people who won’t do it right.”
Local celebrity and author Denise Chavez is one of the colony managers who does it right. Her commitment to helping gatos callejeros (street cats) came during the big freeze of 2011 when a cat froze to death on the front porch of a friend. Denise reached out to Joe Miele at Broken Promises SW and learned how to make shelters out of plastic bins filled with straw. “I made about 12,” she recalls.
Since then, Denise has spayed/neutered about 35 street cats, and credits Anne Markman with shepherding her through the permit process. She names all of the cats, usually for “Mexican soap opera stars and poets,” and firmly believes they are intelligent creatures, and can love and respect us in their own way. For example, one of her favorites, Sarito, was hit by a car—yet dragged his crushed body to her window. (He died in Denise’s arms on the way to the vet.)
To others who would like to help cats but don’t know where to start, Denise’s advice is to “reach out and make yourself known”—and learn as much as you can.
Dr. Beth Vesco-Mock, executive director for ASCMV, agrees that TNR—as opposed to trap and kill, which hasn’t solved the problem—needs to be given a chance. “We say we can’t before we can say we tried,” she notes.
Beth cautions that to improve the situation, it must have the complete focus of all the animal organizations, public and private, working together. She adds that community education is key for success, but that “you’ve got to talk to people one-on-one, answering their questions and alleviating their fears. Don’t hand them a pamphlet—guide them.”
Michelle Corella and Anne Markman are partners at Big Kitty Fix and The Cat’s Meow Adoption Center. Big Kitty Fix (BKF) facilitates low-cost spay/neuter events to reduce the number of cats entering the ASCMV. Working with local veterinarians, BKF spayed/neutered approximately 250 cats in 2015.
The Cat’s Meow is the only adoption organization dedicated to felines, particularly older cats. Founded by Anne Markman, Michelle Corella, Kathy Billings, and Jake Sims, at Cat’s Meow, “the cats pick their people.” Michelle notes that at the Cat’s Meow, adopters are invited to make several visits if needed to find the feline that will best fit their situation.
Every day, Cat’s Meow receives calls from people looking for options to find a home and hope for a cat. Their volunteers offer advice as they can, but Cat’s Meow does not accept unscheduled surrenders, as they try to help cats whose home situations have drastically and uncontrollably changed. One day the shelter received eight cats that had been living in a car with a homeless woman. She had fallen on desperately hard times, but was doing the best she could to do right by her animals. To give these cats a chance, Beth reached out, and Cat’s Meow accepted four to place for adoption. Action Programs for Animals took the other four.
Cat’s Meow is open and airy, and the volunteers know the cats well. Older cats are often overlooked, but have so much to offer.
Led by Jackye Meinecke, Project Save A Kitten is a loose-knit group of women that comes together to organize fundraising events for cat causes. Otherwise, they “probably would disagree about a lot,” Jackye jokes, but they have a great time working for this common purpose. Events have included a silent art auction, a country music dinner dance, and last year’s wildly popular Kitty Glitter jewelry sale.
If money was no object and she could offer everything for free, Beth says she would campaign door-to-door, spaying, neutering, chipping, and vaccinating her way through Doña Ana County from Garfield to Santa Teresa. Like a politician, she would knock on every door, educating people on the reality of community cats—because “that’s what they are.” The community has allowed this to happen, yet only a few people are working to solve the problem that many have created.
So why do the Cat Ladies of Cruces do this sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes backbreaking, often unrecognized work? There is no glory, and sometimes the people they deal with are maddening. Perhaps Denise Chavez puts it best: “People can come around. I do believe—I have to believe—there is hope.
Want to Make a Difference?
Broken Promises SW is a 501(c)3 organization, receiving funding from private donations. Make a gift at facebook.com/HelpKittenArthur or at 575-680-1955.
Big Kitty Fix is a special project of the Community Foundation for Southern NM (which accepts donations on its behalf). They can be reached at facebook.com/BigKittyFix or at 575-639-3036 for information.
Want to help older cats? Visit The Cat’s Meow at thecatsmeowlascruces.com or call 575-642-5239.