Editors Note: When you think of women who rescue cats, what comes to mind are images of wild hair, cars filled with cat food and too many cats running wild in disorganized houses that smell of urine. Everything about Kitty Bungalow and its founder Shawn Simons contradicts this image. When I recently moved onto an estate with a group of ferals that included a mother and her five kittens (her third litter according to neighbors), I instantly went to work. I called Kitty Bungalow and with their help (providing traps I had to set, making appointments for spaying neutering and taking in the feral kittens to socialize and place) we got everyone taken care of. No more litters on our corner. When I went to the Bungalow (just east of Western above Adams) to pick up the traps, I was completely impressed with the level of organization and dedicated volunteers that make the Bungalow one of the most effective and serious cat rescue organizations in Los Angeles.
TNN:Tell me what your volunteers do?
Shawn: We call them teachers. We have 5 shifts a day and 13 people per day. We are a 100% feral cat rescue and the only all feral (wild) socialization [helping them feel comfortable with human contact] facility, so part of the work that's being done by our “teachers” is the socializing of the cats. We have different people that come in to help break down the cat's fears and anxiety levels. It's not just I'm going to go in and pet this one. You really have to know what level the cat is at, what is the next obstacle and what can I do to help get them over that next obstacle. There are different techniques and a “lesson plan” as we call them that can help them move through things.
Most organizations run things through foster networks and the cats may get used to that particular foster. In other facilities, a lot of times they don't let volunteers go into the feral room. We just discovered that the more people that are in there, touching them and breaking down those defenses the quicker they become tame and adoptable.
TNN:Do the volunteers do anything else?
Shawn: There's a lot of poop scooping and a lot of cleaning that is necessary. It addresses the medical care of the cats. You can't have some sloppy poo on the side of the litter box that hasn't been washed off because it may be covered in Giardia that someone else is going to step in and eat and re-infect. The other activity has to do with ease of use of the space for other volunteers. You have 80 different people coming and going so things need to go back where they belong.
TNN: Tell me about the activities of the TNR (Trap Neuter Return) volunteers.
Shawn:The foundation of Kitty Bungalow is built on TNR. While the group is smaller I have to say the TNR volunteers truly do some of our most important work. Feral cats are coming from the streets and they are coming from unfixed cats that are in your yard and behind the bush and maybe you didn't even notice that one because you didn't go out at 3:00 in the morning, but they are everywhere. It's those cats that are clogging up the shelter system and causing a kill rate in our city that is unpalatable.
TNN:What is that rate?
Shawn: For cats it’s about 50% of the cats brought in the shelter are killed. Dogs are at about 11% kill and an 89% live and release rate. 90% live is considered a no kill shelter. L.A. is almost there. It is the cats that are keeping us from no kill.
It should also be said that 76% of all of the animals killed at the city shelters are kittens 8 weeks and under. That has to do with the amount of time and attention that it takes to hold on to those kittens before they can become adaptable. Taking little stray or abandoned kittens into the shelter, they are most likely going to go out the back door dead. The TNR work that we do is prophylactically stopping the adult feral cats from having kittens that end up in boxes in the shelter.
Being a TNR volunteer is not as fluffy or adorable as being a teacher at Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats, but our truancy department really is the lifesaving work. Because of an ongoing injunction which is rolling into its 7th year, there is little that the city can do for feral cats.Adult feral cats that come into the shelter have to be held for 5 days per the state law, then they are marked for death because they are feral.But we have a new program. Thanks to the backing ofNKLA (No Kill Los Angeles) Coalition and Best Friends.
Best Friends came into Los Angeles and created a coalition called NKLA and invited all of the groups to come together and work together. As a much larger well-financed organization, they had the ability to help with grant funding and supporting the smaller organizations that are boots on the ground to really try and make some positive motion that the city can't do.
TNN: Do they support your activities?
Shawn: Best Friends gave us a grant for a program calledWorking Cats.Because of the injunction the shelters cannot release feral cats to rescue organizations. They have to be adopted.We are taking death row feral cats and our Working Cat program finds businesses that are looking for mousers to adopt and we've had some really good success with some local breweries, with some horse farms.We are looking to expand that program to help those cats. It's their only way out.
TNN: Any businesses that have a mouse problem and might need some feral cats should also contact you. How long has that program been in place and how is it working?
Shawn: For about a year. It is a very difficult program to launch. We are a volunteer-run organization and for every program that we add it adds additional work. But I feel confident we can build on the success of this year.
TNN: Am I hearing you say you need additional volunteers?
Shawn: Yes. We also just bought a new space and will be moving into it on Martin Luther King between Western and Venice. It will triple the space of our organization and also provide a resource center for community. A lot of people who need us most don't know that they can Google us. They don't know that there are loonies like us that are dedicating our lives to do this.
TNN: What kind of people need you the most?
Shawn: I think a lot of lower income, a lot of immigrant neighborhoods.
TNN: They are experiencing large feral cat colonies?
Shawn:Exactly. I think young Hollywood and affluent areas know about TNR so they look us up and they find us but they have the capacity to handle the situation with just some support from us rather than turning over the responsibility to us. We can support them but need them to be more involved in the rescues so that we can really guide our limited resources to the areas that really, really need the help.
TNN: What kind of volunteer skills are you looking for?
Shawn:All kinds. A lot of our volunteers really love animals but in order to run an animal organization, you also need people who can talk to people, to reach out and be what we call Kitty Bungalow cheerleaders. People who can go out into the community and do events, be at the farmer's market and help to let people know that we are around and can be of help and they can come to us and adopt the animals. They can donate. We also need people who can be a bus driver twice a month and drive our cats to the vet. That works for those people who have very busy lives. I need someone who can help me clean out my computer so the little round spinning thing stops giving me vertigo.
TNN: Walk us through what happens when somebody has discovered or is dealing with a feral colony and they need your help.
Shawn:The best way to reach us is on our website. While we carry our phones around all the time, we are usually covered in cats or in the middle of something and don't really have a lot of time to answer the phone. On our website, you can find the category for your problem. If you have feral cats, there is an application to fill out and put as much information as you have. The more you include, the quicker we can work out a plan with you and your particular situation. I have noticed from running a charity for 7 years that people want the charity to do it. The persons good deed is calling the charity and passing the cat on. "Okay, I'm going to do something good. I'm going to call this charity and I'm going to get them to take care of this." TNN: I think anybody who does rescue work is familiar with that. They are the person in the neighborhood who everybody calls.
Shawn:What we are looking for is partnerships. Working with people who can assist us as we assist them so we can be more fully available for those people who have no resources but want to help. Maybe they can't take an animal in or are being hounded unfairly by a landlord or they don't have a mode of transportation, or a network.
Now if we are dealing with a very large colony, we send out a team and we work with the community partner to get the cats fixed. If somebody contacts us and says, "There are 3 cats in my backyard." Super! We will arrange for a date for you to come up and pick up some traps. We'll show you how to use them. We'll get you set up for a free spay neuter appointment so you can take them directly in and you are done.
TNN: That happens a lot I would imagine.
Shawn: I think it was a little over a year ago where I had someone send me a photo of this little kitten in this guy's hand. He was asking us to take this kitten in. My point to him was that you don't need us. You already rescued this cat. What you need is support from us. I'll make an appointment for you to bring the kitten in. We'll vaccinate the kitten for you. We'll do the med check for you. We will set up a spay neuter appointment for you. If you are a crappy photographer we'll set up a photography session for you. In this day and age where most people have their 450 Facebook friends, finding a home for 1 adorable kitten is not that tough. If you brought that cat in and it screamed and bit everyone, then we would take that cat in because he’s too feral to place. That's what we do. That's our specialty.
TNN: Tell me a about this fundraiser you’ve got coming up.
Shawn:The Catbaret.This will actually be our 6th annual celebrity event. There's nothing like it. I've produced award shows and I've produced charity fundraisers and usually the celebrities are there and they read off a teleprompter and they introduce someone. Our celebrities sing and dance about cats. It's a really, really fun show. I swore at the beginning that we would raise funds for production through corporate sponsors and whatever money we got was our budget. If we had to do it in my backyard, then we would have to do it in my backyard.
So all the money from the tickets goes directly to the mission, goes directly to the cats. It's all put on by a volunteer army. We need to sell out our event on Oct. 15 in order to raise a lot of money so we can do what we need to do with the new space and hopefully continue to expand our programs and our reach and our donor base and be able to truly help move the needle at the shelter to no kill.
TNN: Anybody who might be interested in helping your organization, contributing to your organization, volunteering for some of these programs would just contact you directly Kitty Bungalow.
Shawn: Yes. If you go to our website, there's a volunteer tab and you can fill out information there. We usually have orientations every other month.You can also find out about our Catbaret event. Come and support us and have a great evening!
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.