In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria cut a devastating path through the U.S. Virgin Islands, forcing thousands of people to evacuate, decimating homes and businesses, and leaving hundreds of animals stranded. As whipping winds and pummeling rain created havoc, Dellia Holodenschi, founder of St. Thomas-based Lucky Paws Foundation, was braving the storm to save animals’ lives.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria displaced many of St Thomas’ animals. Lucky Paws Foundation cares for hundreds of cats like these in the aftermath.

“Imagine for a second that the power lines are down, the roads are mostly blocked, and there is still terrible rain and wind, but the colony cats are waiting,” says Holodenschi of the atmosphere during the hurricanes. “And we are their only lifeline to a semblance of normalcy.”

Together with emergency responder K. Remy O’Toole, Holodenschi worked with the Humane Society of St. Thomas to airlift 270 of the shelter’s animals out of danger. All the while, Lucky Paws Foundation continued to provide vital services to St. Thomas’ community cats.

In the aftermath of the disaster, aid was slow to trickle into the islands, causing a shortage of vital supplies like pet food. The Lucky Paws Foundation had already been caring for hundreds of outdoor cats around St. Thomas, and that number exploded with pet cats who were displaced from their homes by the hurricanes. Since those dire days in September, Lucky Paws Foundation has worked tirelessly to rebuild, save cats, reunite families with their pets, and help residents recover.

Alley Cat Allies is proud to provide a grant to support Holodenschi and the Lucky Paws Foundation’s ongoing, lifesaving recovery efforts in St. Thomas.

Lucky Paws Foundation drives to locations all around the island to feed cats. Alley Cat Allies’ grant will support their lifesaving work.

Holodenschi was committed to protecting St. Thomas’ cats long before the hurricanes hit. While traveling through the Caribbean for more than 15 years as a director for a brand of perfumes and cosmetics, she was drawn to the independent cats who considered the island’s tropical landscape home. When she learned how few resources existed to care for these cats, from food to spay and neuter services, Holodenschi took action.

In 2007, she created an internationally-recognized Cat Café Program, which consists of more than 40 colorful, uniquely-structured feeding stations— dubbed cat cafés—to feed community cats all around the island. In 2008, Holodenschi founded the Lucky Paws Foundation to further her work and lead a growing Trap-Neuter-Return movement. In 2010, she helped found SNIP (Spay/Neuter Island Pets), a program that provides financial assistance for spay and neuter procedures for low-income residents’ pets.

Holodenschi has also formed strong ties with the local Humane Society, including setting up a TNR program to move unadoptable community cats out of the shelter by providing spay or neuter services and returning them to their outdoor homes. Lucky Paws Foundation has facilitated the spay and neuter of some 4,000 pet and community cats. When Holodenschi first began her work, the island had an estimated community cat population of 1,000. That number was down to about 400, until the September hurricanes hit.

All of Lucky Paws Foundation’s “cat cafés” were destroyed in the hurricanes. Alley Cat Allies’ grant will help fund their repair.

The Lucky Paws Foundation is now caring for the 400 cats in colonies as well as the many pet cats who were displaced by the storm. Some of these displaced cats are not spayed or neutered, and consequently, Holodenschi says a new wave of kittens could be coming in the spring. She says the Alley Cat Allies grant will help Lucky Paws Foundation get ahead of the curve.

The Lucky Paws Foundation will use 60 percent of Alley Cat Allies’ grant on food for community cats and low-income residents’ pets; 30 percent will go toward spay and neuter services for nearly 100 cats around the island; and 10 percent will be used to rebuild the cat cafés damaged or destroyed in the storms, and to purchase towels, traps, and other supplies. After these immediate concerns are addressed, the foundation plans to launch a strong campaign to educate residents about TNR and eventually conduct a mass spay/neuter clinic.

Holodenschi is also connecting with local officials about legislation to support TNR.

“I feel blessed to be in a position to bring about needed changes for cats,” says Holodenschi. “And with the guidance and help from Alley Cat Allies, what was only a dream can indeed become a reality.”

Alley Cat Allies continues to support Lucky Paws Foundation as it creates humane change for St. Thomas’ cats and aids in the ongoing disaster recovery.