As the clean up efforts get underway in Atlantic City, cat lovers were wondering, what became of the city's celebrated boardwalk cats? After all, their home for more than a decade, or at least sections of it, was reduced to a pile of sticks.
Here's what we know: Alley Cat Allies and their "boots in the sand" caretakers say they have early reports of a number of the cats returning to their colonies.
"Our initial assessment is that a good number of the cats have returned already," said Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies. "We are encouraged and hopeful."
One caretaker, Frank Hoops, told NPR's Melissa Block in a story that aired last night on "All Things Considered," that the cats he cared for were A-okay.
In fact, he told Block, when the eye of the storm passed over Atlantic City, apparently, according to one of the security guards at a casino, 25 cats were walking single file down the boardwalk looking just fine. And he said the cats he looks after - Pepper, Pewee - were all fine.
Cats, like all animals, instinctively search for higher ground in a storm. So it was no surprise that these cats, who have survived many storms before, would seek shelter away from the beach during Sandy.
The roughly 120 feral cats are the legacy of one of the most successful Trap-Neuter -Return (TNR) programs in the nation.
The numbers of cats living under the Atlantic City boardwalk once nearly reached 300 and there was concern they would be removed and destroyed.
That was until Alley Cat Allies, a Washington, D.C.-based feral cat advocacy group, became involved in 2000 and began trapping and spaying or neutering the cats, ending their reproductive cycles. They were returned to their outdoor homes, while caretakers ensure they have food, water and proper shelter.
Now the stabilized colony is aging peacefully, said Robinson. Three of the more senior cats died of age-related conditions this summer.
Robinson said Alley Cat Allies’ disaster recovery team arrives in Atlantic City today providing support to caregivers and rescue groups and helping ensure that cats found during rescue efforts have safe shelter until their caregivers or families are identified or until safe locations or new homes can be found.
She said the team will also vet any injured cats, spay/neuter and vaccinate any cats that may be displaced but who are rescued, and provide supplies and volunteers to help build safe shelters and stations for the boardwalk cats and other cats adjacent to the boardwalk.
In addition, they will be contacting their Feral Friends in the area to find out if they or anyone they know needs assistance with supplies or rescue efforts.
Alley Cat Allies says it will likely need volunteers to assist with assessment and recovery. If you live in the Atlantic City area and want to help, please let the group know. They also want to hear from people in other areas of the country who were affected by the storm or who are offering assistance to those in need. Please contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-482-1980, ext. 330.