Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quiet heroes lurk in the shadows

Trapper Guy Eric Phelps can't turn away from an animal in need.

When darkness falls, the shadows come alive with prowlers creeping through back alleys and deserted parking lots. They travel only by night, and avoid encountering authority figures.

These people aren’t thieves or predators, although they are renegades of a sort. And the items they seek to capture aren’t inanimate objects. They are stray cats, and the trappers who catch them for spaying and neutering work tirelessly and without thanks to break an endless cycle of suffering.

Eric Phelps recently moved to Portland, Oregon from Virginia. He soon noticed feral cats living across the street from his apartment building. He describes the neighborhood as a transient industrial area. He couldn’t turn a blind eye. Armed only with three metal traps and his kind heart, he started trapping each night to follow the nocturnal schedule of the cats. After a few evenings, he had caught six cats – a male and female adult, and four 12-week-old kittens.

A feral kitten unaccustomed to human contact is wary of people.

“It’s not that big of a deal, it’s a few minutes here, a few minutes there,” says Phelps, 38, who works at In Defense of Animals’ Pacific Northwest regional office as the audio/visual campaigns coordinator. “You see these cats, and you know you’ve got to get them off the street.”

Homeowners move away without a second thought and leave their animals behind to fend for themselves. If they aren’t fixed – which is common – the cats multiply. Feral cats are those who were born in the wild, and aren’t accustomed to being handled by human beings. It’s also possible for previously owned cats to “turn feral” after some time on the street.

A local veterinary hospital gave Phelps a great price on the six cats being fixed, and a group called Animal Aid covered half the medical bills.

Phelps has done cat trapping for years. He remembers being at a bank’s drive-through wicket, and across the alley, he noticed a tiny kitten fall out of the window of a car repair place. He went over to check it out and found a run-down auto shop filled with industrial debris. The place was crawling with cats.

“All kinds of cats were running around the shop,” says Phelps, who promptly organized a rescue mission. “The guy there said it was being sold to the bank, and they were going to demolish it.”

Phelps doesn’t know what drives him to help animals in need.

“If I knew what it was, there are times when I’d probably turn it off,” he says. “I’m just wired like this. When I see their eyes as I’m driving at night, I want to believe it’s the reflection of my two eyeballs in the windshield.”

For more information on helping feral cats in your community, visit Alley Cat Allies website at

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