There are many things Brandi Winkleman, president of A HOPE (Animal Health Outreach Prevention Education), Inc. in Milton, Florida, would be doing right now to help animals if these were normal times.
She’d be running her bi-weekly transports of cats and dogs to receive spay and neuter surgery, including community cats as part of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). She’d be continuing the work of Alley Cat Allies’ Feline Frenzy® in the Florida Panhandle last year, providing communitywide humane education and resources to make long-term change for cats. She’d be mapping out the first high-volume spay and neuter clinic in Santa Rosa County.
But these are not normal times. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted all our priorities, careers, and daily lives. Winkleman has put her vision on hold as A HOPE switches gears from community transformation to community life support.
That’s why Alley Cat Allies is providing A HOPE with COVID-19 emergency funding. Our goal is to help Winkleman and her team keep community cats fed and keep families—people and animals—together through this time of crisis, and come out on the other side ready to save more lives than ever.
“Our focus is providing resources to our community so the crisis doesn’t create an aftermath of neglected animals and broken families,” says Winkleman. “Alley Cat Allies has been a tremendous help with the cats in our area, from the Feline Frenzy last year to emergency funding this month.”
When Alley Cat Allies first checked in with Winkleman back in March, she was sitting in a self-made “office”— the back of a spay and neuter transport van. She’d just dropped off 47 animals for what would be her final surgery trip for a long time. Winkleman already has to drive more than two hours to reach a high-volume spay/neuter clinic on a good day, but now even those clinics have closed their doors because of the pandemic.
Winkleman told us she was heartbroken and terrified that the worst was yet to come as kitten season (the time of year most kittens are born) got underway. But she knew her community and its animals need her.
Alley Cat Allies does, too. Today, our emergency grant has purchased more than 4,800 pounds of cat food for A HOPE’s animal food pantry, which serves Santa Rosa County community members as unemployment spikes. In just the past week, enough cat food was distributed to help more than 400 local cats, including community cats, ensuring they have something to eatduring the COVID-19 emergency.
“Our food pantry has never had enough food to serve community cats before now,” says Winkleman. “Alley Cat Allies’ grant is allowing us to support families and help community cat caregivers so they can continue to feed their cats.”
A HOPE has adapted its “business as usual” approach in many ways since COVID-19. The group’s 75 volunteers are working from home, except for a few who pick up the shipments of cat food for the food pantry. Winkleman herself is working out of A HOPE’s facility with a little help from her kids who, like most, are out of school.
“I have to be a teacher on top of running a nonprofit on top of everything else these days,” Winkleman says, laughing.
A HOPE’s animal food pantry is open Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Any restrictions based on recipients’ income have been lifted. To maintain social distancing, people are asked to drive up, park their car, and pop their trunk for the food to be placed inside.
A HOPE is also using some resourceful thinking to plan for the rush of spay and neuter work that will be necessary when the crisis eases. Each food recipient is asked how many cats and dogs they are caring for, and how many of those are not spayed or neutered. A HOPE plans to contact these families and caregivers once high-volume veterinary clinics are back open to offer low-cost spay and neuter options.
With Alley Cat Allies’ grant helping to meet the community’s needs, Winkleman can focus more on the many young kittens coming into A HOPE’s care. These cats and kittens receive veterinary attention and are placed into A HOPE’s network of skilled fosters.
Community members are taking notice. Winkleman says a gentleman named Wendall recently came in asking for assistance with five sick kittens. Wendall was inspired to reach out for support after learning that A HOPE is now providing food for community cats.
Both A HOPE and Alley Cat Allies educate those who find kittens outdoors to Leave Them BeTM, but Wendall’s kittens needed medical attention. A HOPE was able to provide immediate medical care, and the kittens are now thriving in a foster home.
Known as the Birthday Bunch, Gifts, Cake, Frosting, Pinata, and Candles will soon be up for adoption.
“If it weren’t for the provisions of Alley Cat Allies, Wendall would have never walked through our doors and asked for help,” explains Winkleman.
Many more cat caregivers like Wendall are coming to A HOPE every day for help, Winkleman says. As cat food is loaded into their trucks, some open up about being laid off. Others show up wondering how they can get another round of heartworm preventative for their cats.
Winkleman and A HOPE’s volunteers are doing all they can to meet these growing needs of the times. Alley Cat Allies is proudly supporting them and many other advocates and organizations by providing critical support for cats during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s incredibly stressful not knowing how long this will go on,” Winkleman admits. “All we can do is help people keep feeding their cats, keep up our connection to the community, and prepare for when everything is back up and running again.”
There’s already some light at the end of the tunnel. A high-volume spay and neuter clinic has reopened, two and a half hours away from Winkleman. She’s planning a transport right now.
To read about the many animal organizations and shelters receiving Alley Cat Allies’ COVID-19 emergency funding, click here.
To learn more about Alley Cat Allies’ COVID-19 response, find animal food banks near you, and to support our COVID-19 emergency grants, visit alleycat.org/Coronavirus.