Elmer Smith: Prancing Paws is saving cats' lives

Posted: October 11, 2010

This is another in our series about people who make things happen. If you know people who roll up their sleeves and make things happen, let us know and I will share their stories with our readers.

THE CALICO STALKED the lump of salmon like a lion in tall grass stalking a wildebeest.

A smaller, raven-black male mimicked her every move from a safe distance.

After four or five passes around the front of the trap, she took a furtive step onto a blue pillow case that lined the bottom of the steel mesh enclosure.

It was one step too many.

The weight of her front paws on the triggering mechanism was enough to bring the door down behind her. The male arched his back, leaped straight up then hit the ground running into the woods behind Kim Macaluso's house on Grant Avenue near Rising Sun.

"Ahh, that one got away," she lamented.

"Don't worry," Valerie Frazier assured her, "We'll get him."

They always do. Frazier and a small band of volunteers have reduced cat trapping to a fine science. She calls her two-year old non-profit "Prancing Paws."

Frazier founded the group on on a whim. It wasn't even her whim.

"She got me into this," Frazier said, nodding toward her daughter, Amanda Carney, there with her daughter, Holly, who watched the action from her hooded stroller.

"People don't understand," Amanda said. "Three or four million animals a year are euthanized."

But not the calico and the black male. Frazier will cart them off to a clinic inside the PSPCA headquarters, at 350 E. Erie Ave., where she and her volunteers have had hundreds of cats surgically altered.

The calico and the black male will be returned to their habitat. Their return will keep other feral cats from migrating to their range. The other advantage to the people on Grant Avenue is that these will be the last of their line.

"I think my neighbors are mad at me for feeding them," Kim Macaluso said. "I've called different groups to trap them, but they don't respond."

Shelters that do respond often charge high fees for the surgery. Feral cats pay an even higher price.

"They can't be socialized," Frazier said. "So they always euthanize them.

"Shelters work well if you bring cats to them. But the crisis is on the streets. That's where we work."

She's been taking the fight to the streets for two years, spending her own money for food and litter. She had hoped to find an organization with the will and resources to help her with strays.

"Someone said, 'Why don't you do it yourself.' That's how it started." she said.

Most of her 10 volunteers scoop cat litter and exercise rescued cats at Petco and Monster pet shops. The stores keep the cats until they find suitable homes for adoptions.

Feral cats get returned to where they were trapped if they are healthy.

"We can't save them all," she said. "If they test positive for leukemia or feline AIDS, they are euthanized. We won't put sick cats back on the street to suffer.

"Amanda and my mentor, Judith Gormley, who taught me to trap, go out with me. We average 40 cats a week.

"Things are finally coming together. People are donating food and litter. The Petco in Willow Grove gave us a $2,000 grant. We are in the Monster stores in South Philly and Audobon. They board our rescue cats

"People fill out applications for adoptions and I screen them for placements.

"They sign a contract. We charge them $50 for adult cats and $100 for kittens.

"We have rescued 500 or so. We had about 300 total adoptions this year, 100 through Petco alone. We returned about 100 feral cats to their neighborhoods.

"I pulled 35 cats near 19th and Girard last week. This woman who had been feeding cats called us. Then people just came out of their houses with their cats."

A donor covered the costs for the roundup in North Philly last week. But Frazier usually charges $35 for the surgery, $10 of that for expenses. The work consumes as much time as her job at Quality Progressions, where she coordinates services for mentally retarded adults.

"One job pays my bills," she said, "This one fills my heart."

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith

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