Many of us have fed or taken in a stray cat or kitten at some point. We have all seen cats living outdoors – hanging around dumpsters, living in the woods or back alley. Why are these cats living outdoors and how does this become an accepted way of life for some cats? Are they abandoned pets, strays, or ferals? To be clear, a feral cat is one who has not been socialized with humans and therefore remains fearful of human contact. Some of the cats we see are abandoned or lost pets. Depending on their life experience before they ended up outdoors, they may be friendly to people or scared, but will eventually accept and want human contact again.
It is easy to tell the difference between abandoned pets and ferals according to Brenda Dulski, local cat-trapping expert, as well as the program coordinator for Pawsitively Precious Adoptions (PPA). As the overseer of PPA, which is a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program located in the greater Williamsburg area, Dulski tasks herself with trapping as many outdoor cats as possible as a way to help.
TNR programs focus on preventing the problem of cat overpopulation and decreasing the numbers of unwanted, neglected animals living on the streets through humane trapping, spaying or neutering and then releasing the cats. “There are many well-meaning people out there who rescue kittens, thinking that helps. But once those kittens are removed from the mother, she goes right back into heat and gets pregnant again. Then you have more kittens. You can rescue kittens all day long and not make a lick of difference in the problem.” Dulski is a unique woman with a single-minded purpose – trap, netuer, return. Adopt if possible. Repeat.
“Helping strays and ferals who don’t have other options medically or having a home quickly became my niche. It was a good fit,” say Dulski, a veteran of the United States Army. Of medium height and somewhat slight build, with short brown hair and glasses, Dulski is deceptively strong as she lifts heavy cages and traps and moves them around easily, sometimes with the added weight of a large cat. While stationed in Germany, she worked trapping abandoned cats on the Army installation and helped in the local community, trapping barn cats as she lived in the country. She worked with a German veterinarian to have the cats spayed and neutered and found the work very rewarding.
Upon moving to Williamsburg, Dulski was given a chance to pick up where she left off in Germany. Pulling into a local Burger King one night just as a big ice storm was to hit the area, she saw two sets of little eyes in her car headlights. Kittens, out alone, on a freezing winter night. She decided in that moment to buy a trap the next day.
She followed through on her intent. Those two kittens are now beloved members of her family and were the first of many cats who were given a chance at a better life thanks to Dulski’s compassion. In the decade since moving to Williamsburg, she has helped a staggering number (8,000+) cats in and around the Williamsburg area.
The program she developed began as Trap-Neuter-Return Williamsburg, but that changed quickly as she saw the need for homes for tame cats and kittens who did not need to be living outdoors as they could be socialized to humans, or already were in some cases. “When you go to a site to trap and there are 15 kittens, you have to deal with those kittens somehow. Pawsitively Precious Adoptions (PPA) was an outgrowth of trapping, which is where my heart still is today,” says Dulski. PPA is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit that began in 2006 under that name; this status allows the organization to apply for grants and to bring adoptable cats into places like the Williamsburg PetSmart, where PPA has the use of the store’s adoption center. Many cats and kittens are adopted through this center and it is PPA’s only physical location where the organization can show their cats to the public.
When asked about what change could take place in society today that would most benefit outdoor cats, Dulski immediately answers: education. Every piece of paper that comes out of a shelter or humane society needs to have a statement like, “It is important to spay and neuter your personal pets.” As for no-kill shelters, Dulski states emphatically, “The reality of many of those shelters is that they only take in the most desirable animals because they are already full. People make adoption decisions on impulse and that needs to change. A recent study showed that if 85 percent of people had their animals spayed and neutered, shelters would be full but not overflowing and would not have to kill animals. We are nowhere near that.”
The one obstacle to what she does that Dulski never expected is the condition of some of the cats she finds — the injuries, wounds and neglect. When asked what good has come out of this journey for her, she states quietly, “Good comes out of every day. Any day I do an adoption first thing in the morning and the people are so ecstatic and so happy to have that cat. Any time I am able to put an animal in pain out of its misery. Any time I go to a site and the people are so relieved that someone can finally help them and they don’t have to worry about this anymore — cats reproducing and fighting constantly. That is the good I focus on.”
Dulski makes it clear that her goal has always been to solve the problem of too many cats being born and dying on the streets through primary prevention of spay and neuter. “My goal is to spay the mom, to improve her quality of life and the quality of life of all the cats in the colony. I am doing that; and I will continue as long as necessary and I am able.”