Third fire in two weeks at S. Phila. shelters for stray cats

Outdoor shelters for feral cats on Pier 70 along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia were the target of arson this weekend for the third time in two weeks, a rescue group said.

The Stray Cat Relief Fund started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $5,000 to replace the shelters, which it said were burned to the ground on Saturday.  By Sunday afternoon, it had raised more than $7,600 and increased its goal to $12,000.

Gillian Kocher, director of public relations for the Pennsylvania SPCA, said her organization and Philadelphia police are working together to investigate.  “This includes looking at surveillance tapes from area businesses,” she said.

She said her group did not find any cats that were killed by the fire Saturday, but intended to return to look for injured animals.

Alexa Ahrem, who serves on the board of the Stray Cat Relief Fund, said three kittens were rescued from the first fire on Oct. 15.  They are now in foster care.

Camera icon Stray Cat Relief Fund
These kittens were rescued from the first fire on Pier 70 in South Philadelphia. 

Karen O’Rourke said there were three shelter areas for cats on Pier 70 made from  plastic barrels originally produced to hold soap. The group created openings, added insulation, painted them brown, and attached them to plastic pallets.  There were about 30 individual shelters on the pier for about 100 cats.

Camera icon Stray Cat Relief Fund
This is how the shelters looked before the fire. 

The organization, which feeds cats daily, also has shelters on Piers 64, 68, and 80.  Those have not been damaged.  The group neuters feral cats and either returns them to the piers or finds homes for the friendly ones. O’Rourke said the area, which is owned by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., is a dumping ground for cats.

She said colonies of strays have lived there for 30 years, but the Stray Cat Relief Fund became involved in helping house and feed the cats in a more organized way about four years ago.

The GoFundMe campaign added: “This situation at the piers is not sustainable and the cats are in serious trouble. These cats need food and shelter and the volunteers who provide it are fighting an uphill battle against crime and a lack of cooperation.”

The group said it would use the money for new structures for the cats, including barrels and plastic containers, as well as security measures.  If there’s enough money, a reward will be offered to find those responsible for setting the fires.

O’Rourke said her organization feeds about 200 cats on the piers daily.