Local cat lovers have devoted years to helping feral and stray felines within a Pennsport shopping district.
As she bonded with three cats and waited for two more to complete her customary quintet Tuesday, Diana D’Ambrosio made her affection apparent.
“I love these animals,” the resident of the 1300 block of McKean Street said as she prepared food for the trio. “They are my children.”
The East Passyunk Crossing dweller has visited the felines for two years, nourishing them and tending to their space adjacent to the parking lot at Walmart, 1675 S. Columbus Blvd. The beneficiaries constitute only a fraction of the feral and stray specimens whom she and her peers have assisted over the last four decades, with strategies to improve the colony members’ lives through key partnerships as their top tactics.
D’Ambrosio’s proxy progenies competed with seagulls as they consumed their late-morning meal at one of the 10 feeding stations that sate as many as 175 cats. With delighted bellies, they headed for a fenced area to rest by the Delaware River, the body of water responsible for their nickname, the River Kitty Cats.
“The colony began in the late 1980s, I believe, so this area, which is undoubtedly the most populous local one for the animals, is now in its fourth decade of being a haven for them” Teresa Reed said at the main nutritional stop, where as many as 45 cats, representing the largest subsection, dine. “It started with people just dumping them here and not caring about the consequences.”
With roughly 10 years of commitment to the Pennsport post, the inhabitant of the 400 block of Durfor Street laments the disregard so many have had for the felines, whose descendants are classified as feral because of their in-the-wild births. The Humane Society of the United States estimates the nation’s feral and stray cat population at 50 million, and since pregnancies can occur when females are as young as 5 months old, Reed and their allies have become disciples of the Trap-Neuter-Return philosophy on population control.
They have benefited the last two years from free-roaming cat spay/neuter grants through PetSmart Charities, endowments that have permitted them to aid as many as 700 meowing acquaintances each year. As Philadelphia might have as many as 300,000 feral and stray critters, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the allocations and an affiliation with the Pennsylvania chapter’s spay and neuter clinic, dubbed “The Club,” have meant the assistants have had to welcome few new faces.
The established colonists and the recent arrivals whom they have brought for procedures also have received rabies vaccinations and ear-tippings, which involve the snipping of a quarter inch of their left ear. That practice has become the universally-recognized sign indicating trap-neuter-return status and separates veterans from the new residents.
“We all know our colonies,” Reed, whose nightly ventures allow her to develop the clowder’s trust, said as a half a dozen denizens responded to her popping open a wet food can. “We all look out for their welfare and see that they suffer no harm.”
the whitman figure acts as the main trapper for the Pier 70 populace and noted that new dropoffs usually dominate the ranks of those who are adoptable because of their recent roles as domesticated companions. She typically holds such cats for two weeks while seeking abodes for them and commends her close friend Elly Scoblink for falling hard for two former colony occupants.
“These are beautiful creatures,” the resident of the 100 block of Tasker Street said as she and her Rottweiler/Doberman mix prepared to play with the assembled bunch. “We all enjoy caring for them despite whatever opposition we receive.”
The Pennsport personality recently became a trapper. With nine years of treks to the shopping center area, which she said used to attract dog packs, she has noticed some people still object to the animals’ presence, but she and Reed, who claim that Walmart once had a role in the disappearance of two cats, do not have to count the business giant as a foe.
“I don’t know anything about past interactions between management and the handlers,” store manager Frank Pellicori said. “I’ve been here since 2011, and we’ve had no problems. We’ve let them do what they need to do to tend to the cats.”
That often has involved cleaning massive amounts of debris from passers-by, with the rubbish giving Reed even more cause to be a diligent attendant.
“Trash complicates matters, as life at this end of the colony is the harshest because of the proximity to the temperatures from the Delaware River,” she said. “Many of the cats have frozen to death, and that has meant our needing to bury them.”
While many of the colony constituents eagerly fraternized with D’Ambrosio, Reed and Scoblink, others secluded themselves in heavily foliaged areas, focusing more on sleep than interaction. Reed, who hopes to land a third grant from the pet store’s altruistic arm, maintains data on the cats and has observed that upper respiratory tract infections head the small list of afflictions from which they suffer and that because of spaying and neutering, few males have wounds one might expect from competing for mates.
“We have a very manageable system here, but there is still a bit of trapping to do,” Reed said. “This area and Whitman, where I oversee another colony, has fluctuating numbers, so everyone is striving to gain control over how many cats we care for and what kind of comfort we can provide for them.”
She and her fellow enthusiasts have memberships to surplus stores and often receive donations from supporters who likewise want the River Kitty Cats, with names such as Speckles and Silvia, to thrive.
“They are such good cats,” D’Ambrosio, who always brings her cats a chicken once a week, said as the seagulls, whom Reed also aids, finally flew away and let the little ones eat, said.
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