Face of the Movement
A Conversation with: Jill Borkowski
Jill works as the marketing and PR director for Humane Ohio, a nonprofit, low-cost spay/neuter clinic in Toledo. The organization was awarded a Superstar Award for National Feral cat Day® in 2011. Jill is a member of Alley Cat Allies' Feral Friend Network, and has been involved with National Feral Cat Day® since 2010, a day which has created some of Jill's fondest memories of our organization.
Alley Cat Allies sat down with Jill to hear more about her love and care of cats.
Q: How did you become involved in Alley Cat Allies, both professionally and personally?
A: I became involved with Alley Cat Allies personally first, and then professionally. My husband is in professional baseball so we travel a lot. We spend time in Kissimmee FL (outside Orlando) for Spring Training every February and March, and as soon as we pulled into our complex in 2010, we saw cats. There was a colony of 14; seven were female and six were pregnant . . . When internet searches for local low-cost spay/neuter clinics returned no results, I turned to Alley Cat Allies for a list of Trap-Neuter-Return resources and contacts in the area and joined the Feral Friends Network.
I became involved with Alley Cat Allies from a professional standpoint when they awarded Humane Ohio, a non-profit, low-cost spay/neuter clinic in our hometown of Toledo OH where I’m the Marketing and PR Director – a Superstar award in honor of National Feral Cat Day® 2011. Humane Ohio always fixes stray, feral, and barn cats for $25, but some caretakers cannot afford even that low-cost price, especially the ones with large colonies. Humane Ohio was able to fix almost 50 cats from six colonies with the reward money, and we collected a testimonial and photos from each caretaker to share in our marketing materials and via social media (and for Alley Cat Allies to share).
Q: I love the stories of your “unorthodox” methods of TNR . . . Can you elaborate/giving a recounting of one or two of your more interesting TNR experiences?
A: I’ve had many interesting TNR experiences, as is probably the case for most people who do TNR, but what probably makes my work interesting is that I’m doing it all over the country --wherever baseball takes us and wherever I find a feral cat! I understand why it’s important to take a targeted approach to TNR, but I also believe that every single cat fixed is one less that will be having litters, so if I come across a feral cat, I believe it’s my responsibility to TNR him/her. When we’re in Florida, it seems like I find a cat wherever I go . . . grocery shopping, the dump for recycling, running around our neighborhood. . . .
The same Spring Training that I found the colony of 14 in our complex – which is what got me into TNR -– I also found four cats at the city dump. I dropped my recycling off at 6:30 in the morning when I was barely awake; into the dumpster went my cardboard and out came a pregnant cat that scared me half to death. I spent many mornings sitting at the dump reading . . . and was able to get three of the cats!
I’ve been stopped by the police on more than one occasion (they all let me carry on once I explained what I was doing!) and my car was stuck in the garage for four days last fall when a feral cat got loose in our garage and took up residence in the undercarriage of my vehicle.
This past Spring Training, I was out trapping in our Florida neighborhood. I got eaten alive by bugs and kept waiting for one of the neighbors to call the police about the “girl hiding in the bushes.” . . . No police were dispatched; I got my cat and had to wake my husband from a sound sleep to help me get her. These stories probably seem laughable to the general public, but I know anyone who does TNR has similar or even more dramatic tales.
My best and worst TNR story is one in the same. The very first cat I ever trapped (#1 from the colony of 14) had some complications from spay surgery and almost died. We had a few days where we didn’t know if she was going to make it, and it was beyond awful. I just kept thinking that if I hadn’t TNRed her, she wouldn’t be fighting for her life. I made her a promise – without my husband’s knowledge! – that if she pulled through, we would make her a part of our family and give her a warm, safe, loving home . . . She pulled through, and then fell madly in love with our male cat (the feeling was more than mutual!). It took her a little while to feel comfortable around Dave and me and our dogs, but our other cat really helped make her feel at ease. I still remember the first time she played with a toy -– it was like watching a baby take its first steps! We totally celebrated the fact that she was learning what a toy was and how to have fun. We also discovered that she is allergic to everything from poultry to eggs to barley to Brewer’s Yeast, and always had diarrhea as a result. I’m so glad we were able to find a high quality food without any of those ingredients and solve her tummy problems for her. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with that problem every day as a feral cat. We’ve had her just over two years, and she’s a very happy, healthy indoor kitty who loves treats and will not hesitate to walk right underneath the dogs if she thinks it will get her to the treat cupboard faster!
Q: What drives you to be so dedicated, focused, and hands-on?
A: I believe that spay/neuter is the only way to stabilize the feral cat population and to reduce the number of animals being killed in shelters. . . . And so many adult ferals end up in shelters too because people either don’t like cats and want them removed from their neighborhood, or they unknowingly think that animal shelters help all animals and don’t realize that most euthanize feral cats immediately because they do not consider them adoptable. . . . In some cases, I’ve been able to find people to care for the cats when we left, and in some case I have not. It gives me a little peace of mind to know that I did everything I could – I had the cats fixed and vaccinated and left them healthier than when I found them – and that there will be no future generations born to grow-up without a caretaker and potentially become sick, injured or get hauled off to an animal shelter.
Q: What is the importance of Alley Cat Allies in your life?
A: Alley Cat Allies is a wonderful resource and network to those of us doing TNR all over the country. It’s unfortunate we very often encounter people who are not tolerant of feral cats and who want them removed from their property despite all attempts to educate them and work together. It’s discouraging when this happens, but Alley Cat Allies offers a way for like-minded people to connect, and during times of frustration, it’s motivating to know there are so many people working in communities everywhere to advocate for and educate about feral cats. The organization is also a great resource on everything from how to build a winter shelter to answers to a question or problem either from the organization directly or from the Feral Friends Network they’ve established.
Q: What is your fondest memory of working with/being involved in Alley Cat Allies?
A: My fondest memory of being involved with Alley Cat Allies is the National Feral Cat Day® celebrations! National Feral Cat Day® is a wonderful opportunity to inspire people to get involved locally and to educate our community about free-roaming cats, and I always look forward to the opportunity to do a PR campaign locally in honor of this special day. (I’m the Marketing and PR Director for Humane Ohio.) And, in 2011, Alley Cat Allies awarded Humane Ohio a National Feral Cat Day® Superstar award! We were able to fix six colonies that accounted for almost 50 cats total, and had a lot of fun sharing the caretakers’ testimonials and photos in our newsletters and via social media.
Q: What drove you to become a Feral Friend?
A: I became a Feral Friend for the opportunity to connect with other like-minded people and to learn from them without reinventing the wheel. The network was an especially important resource when I got started in TNR and was just learning, and it continues to be a great resource and a way to connect with local TNR people as we move and travel around the country.
Q: Why is it so important, for you and for others, to support Alley Cat Allies?
A: It’s important to support nonprofit organizations so that they have the financial means to be able to continue to offer their services and resources. A lot of people who do TNR are doing it at great personal financial expense, but even people who can’t afford to donate monetarily can still support Alley Cat Allies by telling other people about the organization, by sharing Alley Cat Allies’ Facebook posts and forwarding their email newsletters, by volunteering in an area like Atlantic City or DC where Alley Cat Allies’ has a strong presence, and by speaking out for feral cats locally.
Q: What makes Alley Cat Allies special and unique to you?
A: Alley Cat Allies is the only national group that it solely focused on feral cats, and was founded long before the general public even really knew what a feral cat was. They have a long history of advocating for and protecting feral cats, and other groups at the local and national level follow their lead.
Q: What did you do for National Feral Cat Day® 2011?
A: I can actually go back to National Feral Cat Day® 2010; it was our last day in Florida and I caught a pretty calico. I was so excited that I got her before we left, and I thought it was fitting that it was National Feral Cat Day®. I was able to turn her over to a local TNR group who took her for her spay surgery, kept her for recovery, and then released her.
We were also in Florida for National Feral Cat Day® 2011, but I helped Humane Ohio (the non-profit, low-cost spay/neuter clinic in our hometown) plan a National Feral Cat Day® Celebration that included a Spay Patrol Walk in a target area, and I did a big PR blitz on their behalf.
Q: What do you plan on doing for National Feral Cat Day® 2012?
A: That will depend on where we’re at! We’ll probably be back in Florida for the Astros Instructional League, and I’ll be doing TNR like crazy. Every day is Feral Cat Day when we’re there! Since we’re only in Florida for 4 – 6 weeks at a time, I feel a sense of urgency to TNR as many cats as I can in that short amount of time, and they’re everywhere. We’ve been getting a vacation rental in the same neighborhood for the last few years, so I’m able to take a really targeted approach to TNR there, plus throw in some random trapping when I come across a cat or four at a fast food place or the grocery store, and I’m doing TNR almost every night in Florida. I look forward to making a bigger impact on the free-roaming cat population in that neighborhood each time we go back, and I enjoy seeing cats that I’ve already TNRd and knowing that they’re doing well. And there’s one cat that I just could not catch when we were there in March, so I’m determined to borrow a drop trap and get him/her this fall!
And I’m sure Humane Ohio will be celebrating in a big way again, and I’ll be involved in their planning efforts and will be in charge of PR efforts.