Animal Rescue of the Week: Episode 56 – God’s Feral Felines

God's Feral Felines

God’s Feral Felines did not start out as an organization. In October 2013, a few friends got together to fix a colony of about 45 cats at a local Walmart. They were actually pawning jewelry to pay the vet. That morphed into God’s Feral Felines. December 31, 2013, they became a non-profit in the state of Alabama and in 2014 they received their 501(c)3. They started out as strictly a TNR organization. When they received a 3K private donation they asked the donor if they could use that to help low-income households get their cats fixed. They started offering lower cost spays and neuters for low-income families. In 2016, a PetSmart opened in neighboring city Albertville. The manager, David Van Sleet, contacted them about being an adoption partner and so their kitten rescue program was born. In late 2019, Dr. Brown, a local veterinarian, gave them the opportunity to lease out his old vet office and now they are in the process of opening a kitten rescue shelter. The grand opening is 4-4-2020. 2019 was their highest amount yet for cats fixed. Among all 3 programs they spayed and neutered 646 cats. Since their inception through the end of 2019, they have fixed 2682 cats/kittens.


Website: https://www.gffcats.org/“Welcome to the Animal Rescue of the Week podcast, where we feature outstanding organizations from around the country that are helping animals and the people who rescue them. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal rescue.

 God’s Feral Felines did not start out as an organization. In October of 2013, a few friends got together to fix a colony of about 45 cats at a local Walmart. That morphed into God’s Feral Felines. In late December of 2013, they became a nonprofit in the state of Alabama, and in 2014 they received their 501C 3. They started out strictly as a TNR organization. But over the years they have started offering low-cost spay/neuter programs and are also working on opening a kitten rescue shelter next month.

 Hi, Pamela, Hi Eileen. Welcome to the show. Hi Kimberly, How are you ladies doing today? Good, good, good. Alrighty. So I know that this is a little bit different than our normal podcast. We’ve got two lovely guests today. which is exciting. So we’re gonna go ahead and start with Eileen, can you kind of tell me your role at God’s Feral Felines and how you got started there? Somebody showed me an ad that was in the paper, talking a little bit about God’s Feral Felines. So I called them, and at the time they were just doing trap, neuter and return. And I thought, Okay, I’m good at that and I’m a board member. I would say, Jack of all trades, is the easiest way to describe it. I do some of the bookkeeping and the nitty-gritty cleaning and feeding and try to keep Pam on track and keep her from getting discouraged. She’s being modest. She’s my right-hand man. Well, that’s good to be jack of all trades, so it’s always fun. You know, you get to get your hands on a little bit of everything, so that’s awesome.

 So, Pamela, what about you? I am actually the Founder and President. That’s not how it started out. I was just planning on trapping a load of kittens that were behind a local Walmart, and we got a vet on board to help us with that. We’ve got a couple of traps. We tracked those cats and then it just sort of morphed from there into God’s Feral Felines. Oh, how fun. Isn’t that funny how it kind of morphs into something bigger like that. That’s awesome. It really did. It just seems to roll downhill. It didn’t seem to be hard to put it together at all. Well, that’s good. That means that you are interested in what you’re doing and it comes naturally, right? It does. It absolutely does. It’s definitely a passion of mine. Well, good. 

So is that kind of the base for your organization is the TNR or do you guys kind of branch out from there? Initially, our few years were just strictly TNR. And then we got a private donation and I reached out to the people that made the donation and asked them if we could use that funds to help low-income households get their cats fixed and they love the idea. And so our Kitty project was born, where we help low-income households get their cats fixed. From there, we have a PetSmart move into a local city, Albertville, and asked us to become a new adoption partner. So our rescue program was born. No pun intended. Yes. But that’s awesome. And then, you know, you guys are helping the people of your community who kind of need that hope with the spay and neuter, which is always an important aspect in this industry. Overpopulation is a huge issue, just about everywhere. We have a large rural community here that really needs the help with getting their cats spayed and neutered, so initially, we couldn’t offer it year-round. But now it’s year-round. So last year I think we helped right around 200 families get their personal cats fixed. Along with, you know, the TNR and the rescues that we did.

 OK, now, before I kind of jump into what your communities like for your organization, is it just you and Eileen or are there others that help you because I know the TNR takes a pretty big hand in there to get that done. You know, we have five board members and a couple of people that help us with trapping, but we do our TNR program a little bit differently than most organizations. We actually require the feral cat caregivers, the ones that feed the cats, to be part of the solution. They actually do the transporting and the trapping for the cats. So when we’re trapping cats, Eileen or I do not have to be on site. Okay, that’s definitely different. That’s cool. 

So do you kind of take the time to get to know the people that are caring for the colony before you kind of get into them trapping and neutering and releasing? Or how does that process work? Basically, if someone is seeing a colony and calls me up and they’re in the area that we cover, which is all of Marshall County, and now we’re expanding into Coleman County, if they’re feeding cats and they are in huge strays, No, that’s good enough for us. They come, they sign out a trap or two traps. We show them how to use the traps. We book the appointments with the vet, and they just trapped them and take them to the vet. They pick them up afterward and release them the next day. Okay, and that’s cool. It gets everybody involved, and that kind of helps the people you know that are feeding the colony, get an idea of how TNR works as opposed to just calling up and saying, Hey, we’ve got some cats over here that you can trap it and release and then send you guys out there So that’s kind of cool to get people of the community involved in what you’re doing.

 But that’s exactly why we went that direction because I’ve talked to other rescues that do all the TNR work themselves and they can get called out to the same area, of the same colony multiple times. It’s no big deal. Someone else will come to take care of the problem. The way we do it, the people there are having to help us take care of the problem. And we leave every colony with instructions, that if another cat shows up, call us immediately and we will get that one taken care of. And we have yet to have to go back and re-trap at the same place.

 What happens if somebody calls you up and they’re not comfortable doing the whole TNR process? How do you guys handle that? I don’t know that we’ve had a lot of that. I can only think of one person and I believe she got her husband to do it. There are occasions I’ve got, a couple people that will help trap because occasionally we get elderly that don’t drive or, you know we’re concerned about them lifting the trap. And in that case, we’ll get someone to do the trapping and transporting for them. Well, that’s good. So everybody’s pretty comfortable and on board about the TNR process and being able to be a part of it. That’s awesome. Yeah, and usually, once they trap their first cat, they’re no longer uncomfortable with it or they see it happen. It’s really pretty easy to do.

 I know you mentioned that it’s a very rural community, but can you kind of share with us a little bit more about that, for those of us who aren’t in your area? I absolutely love my community, but in animal welfare, I think all of Alabama has been growing to do, definitely. I mean, I don’t know how else to word it. The animals just are a high priority here. A lot of people still see cats, like on the same level as maybe a rat or something, something to be just gotten rid of or used for extermination for farms. That’s mainly what we are, is a farming community. So you know, a lot of the farmers have a couple of cats around to kind of keep the mice and rat population down. But they’re not educated on the breeding habits of cats. And then, you know, one day they have a couple, and then within six months they might have 10 or 12 and they can’t afford to feed them. So it’s a lack of education as well. That’s definitely tough. Is the animals not being a priority in your community, does that cover all animals, like dogs and stuff of that nature? And is it just primarily, the cats are the ones that have the most issues within your community. It covers all animals, but I will say cats have the worst of it. You know, there’s other programs around that handle dogs and such, which is why our focus is strictly cats because there is nothing in our area that focuses strictly on cats. I think a lot of it is to the fact that cats are so independent that okay, we get a couple cats, we’ll feed them. You know that’s about it. There’s such a difference between the cats and dogs kind of thing. Yeah, definitely. They’re definitely more self sufficient than the dogs, for sure.

 So I’m kind of curious, you had mentioned that a lot of the cats in your area, from my understanding, are kind of like the barn cats or the working cats. Have you guys ever possibly considered having a program like that? Or is that something that’s a lot more than it seems? Because I’ve never had to do that. It’s coming about. It’s called Barn Buddies. What we’re kind of designated as and we’re always looking for farmers or anybody doesn’t necessarily have to be farmers, but anybody with a large piece of land, that has a building that can actually shelter them and is dedicated to feeding and watering them. Because there are those people that don’t want the stray cats that come around, they just want them gone, and they think that that’s what we can do. So we have a couple of people, but that’s not one of the easier programs to relocate. They’ve got to be able to contain them for a couple weeks, so that they can get acclimated to the new home, because cats can travel about 50 miles, to try to get back to their colony. So that’s a difficult program.

 I want to kind of pivot a little bit. I know that you had mentioned that you guys are also partnering to have cats adopted. Now, do you guys have a facility or where do you keep the cats that you have come in? Up to now, it’s been through foster ,that we’ve done all our rescues. But we have the opportunity now, and we are opening a facility or having our grand opening on a facility on April 4. So yeah, it’s exciting. It is probably my proudest moment to say, we’ve got a shelter. That’s awesome. Well, congratulations for that. That is exciting. Thank you. That’s cool that you can do that now. So how do some of the cats come into your care? I mean, do you guys get a call and you guys pick them up? Do you keep the ones that are a little bit more socialized during the TNR process? Or how do your cats comes to you? Our focus is really bottle fed babies. So we may get calls from, we work with local animal controls, so we may get calls from animal control. We may get calls from other rescues. We may get calls from individuals. I got a call Monday about someone who dumped a box of five kittens on their porch. So they reached out. And I’m supposed to be getting those kittens today. Occasionally, it’s not a focus but occasionally we do take in pregnant moms. And right now we’ve got three moms at the shelter that just gave birth, last one yesterday. But yeah, our focus really is on the bottle fed  babies or the nursing babies, that would otherwise have to be put down. Well and that kind of explains all the kittens on your Facebook page. Yes, yes, exactly. Everybody loves seeing all the kitties. So I did check that out, and that was kind of one of the things that I was wondering.

 But those are the ones that ultimately kind of need you guys the most, right? It is. I mean more difficult and it can be heartbreaking because you’re dealing with the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. But when you see them start walking and meowing and carrying on, it is absolutely delightful too. You know, and sometimes it’s hard to find foster moms to do the bottle babies because I mean you are up every two hours, when their newborns. So like I said, we’ve expanded slightly into pregnant moms and they actually help us with orphan kittens and such. Yeah, I never really kind of understood that, you know, like if all mama cats kind of will take in little baby cats or if that’s just something, it depends on the cat really. It depends on the cat. It depends on the age of the kittens. There’s little tricks you can do to get Mama to sort of entice her to take the babies in. And also taking in bottle fed babies, there’s not really a lot of rescues that do that because of the work involved with them, so that makes us a little bit different, too. And there’s the knack to bottle feeding, I will be the first to admit that I would not like to try it, because I have not been very successful. So it’s a knack that you have to learn, and it can be very heartbreaking and guilt. You get a very guilty feeling, when you’re not successful at it. So it’s an art. Yeah, and you know, I think that that comes with everything.

 So that’s kind of where your fosters come in, right? You have some fosters that are better equipped to handle kittens as opposed to like adult cats. That’s kind of what I’m hearing. You know, you have to have that knack for it. So there’s certain fosters that are more equipped to handle that than others. Definitely. And one of the issues is a lot of people already have cats, so they can actually bring in bottle fed babies. But bringing in an adult cat into a house that already has cats, sometimes can just create chaos. So it’s harder to find foster homes for the grown cats. That’s awesome that you guys are able to do that.

 So when you guys do the whole trap, neuter and release thing, do you guys have a local vet that you guys work with? That kind of helps you out? Or does that come from the private donation that you guys received? Both. In Marshall County, which is where our focus has been, until this year, we actually worked with six different vets in the county. So we had vets from one end of the county to the other that we’re working with us, so we could ultimately strategically pick the vet that’s closest to where the trapping is going on. They all offer discounts, but the donations covered the majority of the cost. Oh, good, and that’s quite a bit of vets to work with. Especially since you describe your communities’ kind of rural. So it’s nice to hear that there’s that many vets within your county. You know, the more vets, the better, the more that are willing to help your cause and everything. That’s always the best. I think so. We can’t do it just in our little shelter or county. We need the help of others and such. Without the vets, we’re dead in water. Exactly. But I find it great that you guys have so many that are willing to help you guys and work with you, so that’s awesome.

 So what is one of the biggest challenges that your organization faces today? Finances, of course, is always a challenge. Finding volunteers has been a challenge. Finding quality board members has been a challenge. And in dealing with the individual or the people, education is, you know, on spaying and neutering, has been a challenge. So is that something that you guys kind of offer to the community? Do you kind of do any programs or anything that kind of help some get better educated on the spay/neuter process? You know, a lot of times we’ll get people that call and just want to move their entire colony of cats. And with them being feral, we are pretty blunt. We explain to them that there is no option for those feral cats. We can’t remove them, but they can call animal control, but they’re going to be killed because you can’t cage feral cats and hold them until you might find a barn home. So at that point, you know, we usually try to convince them, we explain what TNR is. And so far I don’t think we’ve had anybody turn us down to go ahead and TNR the colony. We had one instance where we had a guy call us. He had about 40 cats who they actually called animal control initially and the animal control called me to ask me to talk to him. So when I talked to him, he was adamant that all 40 cats be removed. I convinced him to let us TNR, 20 of the cats and after we had done 20 cats, then he could call animal control to take the others away. And my hope was exactly what happened. After we TNRed the first 20, he refused to allow animal control to come get the others. We TNRed the whole colony. And we’ve had situations like that happen more often. People don’t really want the cats killed, but I just think they get to where they’re overwhelmed. They don’t know what to do and until they actually see the TNR in action, then they really get a grasp of it. 

That is so good to hear. You know, you definitely did the education part on your end. I have spoken to different organisations locally, to kind of bring awareness to not only us but to all the programs and little education. But that’s something that I think will give the rescue off running, possible with that. I think that’s something that we definitely have the room to do either, at the shelter, or maybe have manpower to maybe go to schools or something like that and start educating the kids. Because it helps for them to know, it encourages them if they have any inkling of going into being a veterinarian because, as a volunteer, all parents could bring the child to be bold enough to actually help. And yeah, they get an education that you know Mama and Daddy aren’t gonna be there to take care of. You got to come and clean and feed and play. It could be a good education for the kids. Definitely could. And they’re our future. So if we could get them on board for animal welfare, ultimately the future for animals will be a lot better.

 So with opening the new rescue, you’re gonna need some more volunteers and such, right? Yes. Well, if any of our listeners are near your area, go and volunteer. Hang out with some cats. We do have people that specifically come in because they want to be Cat Cuddlers. That’s what we call our people that come in and spend time with cats over and over. One good thing is that all of our cats are not going to be confined. We have an isolation area. We have an intake area. 

But we also have plans to have 3. Definitely 2-3 roaming rooms. Oh, that’s good and that’s always fun. Our cats are not going to be this in a kennel, 24/7. When people come and want to visit, they actually get a better idea what their personality is. Yeah, you can’t get an idea of their personality when they are in a two by two box. Yeah, and they’re definitely, that shelter environment feeling for them is frightening. So you’re never gonna get that true personality.

 Well, I’m excited for you guys. I’m excited for your new rescue and getting it up and going. And it seems like you guys are definitely going to be a lot more busy, but in a good way. So I want to take a few minutes to kind of just connect a little bit more with each of you. And how you guys got started in this industry. Did you always know that you wanted to work with animals or, you know, what kind of led you down this path? So I guess Eileen, I will go ahead and start with you. Well, from the time I could walk, I was bringing home any stray animal. So yeah, I had the animals in my life. And then when I retired from Ford Motor Co., I’m originally from Michigan. So a rescue had opened up literally within a mile of my home and they were both a cat and dog rescue, and they were in their infancy as well. And so that’s where I got my education, about cats especially. I thought I pretty much knew everything about dogs, but there was quite a bit  I learned from them, and it just blossomed from there. And I was lucky enough to, like I said, find the article down here so that when I could go back and forth, they’re still in the mix. Oh, animal husbandry and animal welfare, that kind of thing. That’s good. I love getting those background stories to kind of see you know, your path and how you kind of landed where you are. And I’m sure Pam and everybody else is happy to have you a part of their team. So Pam… most of the time I think. You’ve been an asset from day one.

 So, Pam, what about you? My story sort of goes all over the place. I always had cats growing up, and I was lucky enough to work in an office where I could take kittens to and from the office. So I started fostering, in Florida, in 2003 and the kittens would come to work with me every day and go home. And I absolutely loved it. In 2005, my husband and I decided we were going to move to Central America, so we had seven cats in our home that had already been living there. I was with Florida. I still had four cats, four foster kittens, and it was time for me to leave. So I packed those up and took them with me also. And while I was in Central America, I got involved with the humane society down there, which is extremely different from the Humane Societies up here, because you actually end up being part vet because there’s not a vet on the peninsula. We were there eight years and it was time to come back to the States.

 So we came back with 14 cats and two dogs. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, that was a ride and 1/2. And, you know, I’m a firm believer in God, and I just, I knew I was coming back and I really didn’t have anything to do, so I just kept that thought, give me something to do. Give me something to do. And God’s Feral Felines was so easy. It just snowballed into a program. So that’s how I got involved. That’s awesome. And traveling with that many animals, oh man, kudos to you guys. I mean, we had people. Luckily, it was small enough to land at a local airport, but we had people meet us there to transport everything. And they said, You know, you look like the old circuses, with 15 clowns in the little car. That’s what they said. It was like, Oh my goodness. How funny. 

You both have been around animals, saving them you know, being involved with other organizations as the time goes on. So it’s exciting to see that you guys have one of your own specifically, that you guys are involved in. And clearly I don’t need to ask what the future holds for your organization cause it’s already happening. You know, you’re opening up your rescue and you wanna start offering some educational programs and everything. I mean, I’d love to check back in with you guys in a few months and see how it’s going. And look at all the progress. Yeah, you’re always welcome. Yeah, we are open to all kinds of possibilities. Well, good. You need to come to the Grand Opening. I don’t think I would have very good luck getting there with all this craziness going on in the world. There might be a second grand opening depending on how, I mean, we’re gonna be there. We told people that we are going to be here, your confident home. But depending on how many people show up, we’ll definitely have another one. Quarterly open house. Yeah. We’re always giving tours. You know, a lady stopped by to donate blankets yesterday, while I was there, and I was more than happy to stop scooping poop, and give her a tour of the place. She knew the building from when the veterinarian had it. And she was just amazed as to what we have done with it so far. So we’re always eager to show people around, and we’re more than happy to do a one on one. Good and that definitely makes you guys a little bit more unique. You guys take the time to keep everybody in your community aligned on what’s going on and just ultimately involved. You know, that’s one of the best things that you can do.

 So I don’t want to keep you guys too much longer. But I do want to share with our listeners how they can get involved with you, whether they are interested in volunteering or just becoming a supporter or even donating. How can one go about getting in contact with you guys? Email. Facebook Messenger. They can text us, obviously through the website, and I understand the website needs to be updated. I’m on that here, in the next couple days. But the contact information is all correct on there. And a donate button is on Facebook. And you can also donate on PayPal. Okay, great. Well, I hope that our listeners took that into account and check the website out. We will have the website linked at the bottom of this podcast. And ladies, I have truly enjoyed talking with you both. You both are so fun. And I really, honestly, I’m super excited for you guys. And like I said, I can’t wait to check in. 

Do you both have anything else that you’d like to share before we wrap things up today? I just want to reiterate that we can’t do this in a backroom and spaying and neutering is imperative. Yeah, that’s the madness. Different. Stop the madness. Yeah, that’s one of our logos, “Stop the Madness, spay or neuter your cat.” Because we need help. I mean, when we’re doing TNR and we’re doing rescue, we’re sort of cleaning up the mess after the fact. But when owners get their cats fixed, that’s proactive. And that’s making a difference. And everything is, if you’re not sold on a kitten, consider getting an older cat a home. Their personalities are already developed. You could really see how they’re gonna be and stuff. And a one year old cat is not that different from a kitten. Yes. As far as playfulness and everything.

 So, you know, even an older cat, you don’t have to worry about them climbing your curtains, they’ve gone through all that. For the most part, right? There’s a lot of advantages to having a senior cat. Yeah, it makes you feel good. Even though she’s done both. I’ve had senior dogs. Kittens and, of course, I’ve had adult cats. But there’s always a warm feeling, no matter how long you had the senior animal, that you’ve done something really special. Yeah, the senior ones are just as important as the little baby ones. And for some reason, when you adopt out an older cat, it’s a really good feel that you found a home. It’s about doing as much for the owner as you are to the cat. You truly are because you get touched and nice letters back saying that there’s still a void in my life. So it’s really a good positive circle that you’ve completed. Yeah, definitely. Well, ladies, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today, and I truly learned a lot, and I love some of the unique programs that you guys are offering and implementing. I’m excited for you guys, and I hope that your grand opening and your transition into your new facility just go smoothly for you guys. You’re very welcome.

 Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. Doobert is a free platform for both organizations and volunteers. If you’re not already signed up, head on over to Doobert.com and get started today.”

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