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AWA Helps! 10 Hoarding Victim Cats Are Saved

Hoarded cats in NJThe ASPCA’s  Cruelty Intervention Advocacy Program (CIA) contacted AWA and asked us to help them save ten cats from a home their CIA team was working with.  AWA was selected to help because we have proven rehabilitation experience: we have provided training and behavioral therapy to animals so they could be adopted into new homes. 

From our experience with two different cat-hoarding cases in 2011, AWA created a multiple-step process to work with shy, fearful or unsocialized cats that have been one of hundreds in a home. In these cases,  although they lived with people, they may not have been cuddled or petted.  

Yesterday we welcomed to our shelter:Montana, Savannah, Lionel, Jaguar, Penny, Patagonia, Boise, Virginia and her nursing kittens (not pictured), Dunbar, Alaska, and Colorado.

All the cats arrived in seemingly good shape, but will need further evaluation.


A graduate student's story



 by Chris Ulshafer 


I’d like to start off with a personal experience and by stating that I am a huge animal-lover, strong supporter of the local animal shelters, and try to donate regularly. Last year, I was in the market for a puppy. I was being overly picky and wanted a very specific breed, a French bulldog/Boston Terrier mix. I searched and searched the shelters and adoption centers for something even remotely in the ballpark of the mix but had no such luck.

Eventually, I found the puppy I was looking for but sadly he was at a puppy store. Even so I bought him, with a coupon at that. The night I took him home from the store I noticed he had a cough which quickly turned into “yacking.” After an emergency visit to the animal hospital at 4 in the morning, I found out he had well developed pneumonia.

I was now faced with the dilemma of spending thousands of dollars on a dog I barely knew or putting him down. After debating with myself for what seemed like hours but was probably minutes, I felt he was now my responsibility and deserved at least a chance to beat his illness.

Long story short, he did, thankfully. Months and thousands of dollars later, he was now healthy as on ox. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was now bullet proof from everything he was put through. Why am I telling this story? Because a part of me felt guilty for not adopting my puppy from a shelter and that maybe karma came into fruition. I have been hoping to volunteer at a shelter even before this but after last year’s events, I felt obligated to.

When presented with this assignment I thought this is my chance, no excuses now. No matter how busy my schedule is I have to do it and greeted the opportunity with open arms. The shelter I chose to volunteer at was the Animal Welfare Association. It turned out to be a great choice and experience.

The Animal Welfare Association, located in Voorhees, New Jersey, was one of the first humane organizations formed by a group of volunteers. The group of animal lovers didn’t like the way dogs and cats were being treated when impounded and took matters into their own hands. Founded in 1948, the AWA was established to serve the people and animals in Camden County and all surrounding areas.  It operates the oldest and largest low-cost spay/neuter clinic, adoption center, and no-kill animal shelter in South Jersey.

In the beginning the group acted more as a Foster Care network. The volunteers took in homeless animals until a new home was found. Also, committees were formed to educate the public about pets or animals in areas such as proper pet care, wildlife rehabilitation, and proper sheltering of unwanted animals. 26 years later, the AWA opened the first spay and neuter clinic in the region.

To this day, this no kill-shelter is still going strong. So much so they are expanding their clinic and shelter to accommodate the influx of animals they tend to on a daily basis. Their mission is as follows, “AWA is dedicated to eliminating animal suffering, promoting the importance of the human-animal bond, and improving the role of animals in the well-being of people.” They are currently South Jersey’s leader in progressive animal welfare programs and services which shows their mission is taken seriously.


Again, the Animal Welfare Association is a no-kill or adoption guaranteed shelter. They only euthanize when the animal has displayed severe aggression or is suffering. The AWA adoption center has no time limit for the pets in their care. That being said, adopting a pet is much cheaper than buying one from a pet store. Adoption fees include medical care, microchip, and spay or neuter surgery. Animals with special needs may even be free. The AWA also takes transfer dogs and cats from overcrowded shelters so they won’t be euthanized. The expansion is a necessity. 


Six low-cost spay/neuter programs are offered at the AWA. In 2012, their clinic spayed/neutered 11,388 animals. On an average day the veterinarians said they will fix around a combined 50 cats and dogs. Some other notable statistics in 2012 are 1,988 pets were adopted from their shelter, they provided medical care/vaccines to 4,519 pets, had foster parents who cared for 711 young/ill pets, and conducted pet retention and re-homing counseling for 540 pets.


Currently, only 1 in 4 people in the United States get their pets from a shelter. Most pet stores don’t have a knowledgeable staff like that of a shelter. The staff at the shelter assists in choosing which pet would be truly a good fit for a person(s) and their lifestyle. To help with any concerns about the fact that most of the animals were previously owned and possibly mistreated before arriving at the shelter, the AWA has a Behavior Team and Veterinarian to ensure the animal is healthy and suitable for their new family and ready to go to their forever home.



The Animal Welfare Association is a private, non-profit, 501(c)3 animal welfare organization. All annual operating income is raised through fundraising; they are a solely regional community charity. They currently have 44 employees and 150 volunteers. They do not receive any help or funds from the government or any national groups. In 2012, their Revenue was $2,165,286 compared to their Expenses which was $2,292,372, giving them an Operational Loss of -$127,086. The Revenues consisted of Donations $822,783, Events/Grants $204,790, Investments $105,886, and Program Income $1,031,827. Expenses consisted of Clinic $835,396, Shelter $941,199, Outreach $75,577, Fundraising $353,800, and Administration $86,400. Bequests and savings help balance their budget.

This shows they need our help as much as we and the animal in the area need theirs. Besides financial donations they also need items besides the typical items that come to mind such as dog and cat food, blankets, and kitty litter. They are in dire need of items such as trash bags, dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, trash bags, bleach and your time, as in volunteering. I was shocked to find out they would love a volunteer come in and just do laundry. Other ways to help the AWA are become a foster parent, suggest to friends and family to adopt, support fundraising events, or even leave AWA in your will.


 Their biggest fundraising event is the annual Paws & Feet 5k run/walk at Cooper River (website: Last year, the 5k raised $72k and provided care to 2,000 shelter animals. Another even they held was the MEGA Adoption event in which 282 cats and dogs were adopted in 48 hours. 


Obviously, the Animal Welfare Association was established to service the community but they seem to go the extra mile. For example, after Hurricane Sandy many animals were displaced due to the severity of the storm damage. The AWA took in the animals and provided them with shelter to allow victims to get resituated.



They also provide a low cost clinic for people who would love a pet but can’t afford the costs of animal care from the typical veterinarian office.  They charge $100 to spay and $90 to neuter dogs (I believe I paid over $200 to have my dog neutered last year). There is even a special for pit bulls in which they only charge $50 to spay/neuter them.



Cats cost $75 to spay and$50 to neuter. All Vaccines are $15, E-Collar is $16, Microchip is $25 (I paid $50), Nail clipping $5, Heartworm test $30, HLE Combo $35, Feline Leukemia Test $20, and Feline Combo Test $35. They provided medical care to 840 pets in impoverished communities.



The AWA also helps with educating pet owners with issues they may be experiencing. Pamphlets are provided at the clinic (and online) on things such as crate training your dog, preparing your pet for a new baby, and how to care for outdoor cats. Not only do they provide cheaper health care to animals but they provide mental health care to the older, human community. AWA Volunteers take dogs to local nursing homes so the pet-loving seniors can have interactions with the dogs when they can’t have one of their own. The volunteers also take dogs out to educate the public about the shelter, animal cruelty, and pet overpopulation. 



My experience at the Animal Welfare Association can be described as enlightening. I arrived at the AWA at 6:55am and by 7:15am the waiting room, which was rather large, was mobbed and stayed that way till about 8:45am. It wasn’t that the workers weren’t taking care of the people/animals arriving; it was just that the arriving never stopped. They might as well have a revolving door because it didn’t seem to ever stop open and closing. People were dropping off their pets or feral cats for vaccines and spay/neutering.


This is where I helped, well tried to help. I assisted with check-in from 7am-9am. If it wasn’t for TJ (has worked there for 6 months) and Danielle (has worked there for 5 years), I would have been running around like a chicken with his head cut off. I had no idea what was going on and was a tad overwhelmed. With the dogs barking and masses of crates with cats coming in, I was pretty much a lost cause but those two helped me through it, gave me guidance, and hopefully my presence there was a help and not a burden. As crazy as it may have been on the surface, it was controlled chaos. TJ and Danielle never seemed to lose control of the situation. Their system they had in place worked efficiently and effectively to get these people in and out as fast as possible. I was impressed with their composure to say the least.


After check-in I was moved to the surgery room which was highly unexpected. I observed two veterinarians spay and neuter dogs and cats at a swift pace.  Each vet stated they will do up to 25-30 spay/neuters a day and their experience showed. They made it look easy, like I could do it even though I know I couldn’t, obviously. I didn’t help much here but I did help with moving the bigger dogs to and from the surgery table. The efficiency of their operation was impressive. I was highly surprised at how many animals they work on a day.  T


The vets were not only spay and neutering dogs but in between surgeries they were attending to dogs/cats that were brought in because of medical issues. One of the things that really caught me off guard was the amount of feral cats brought in. Not surprisingly, many are unclaimed after being fixed but customers do pay the small fee upfront and this is why.



On a side note, if one ever brings in a feral cat make sure the crate the cat is in can’t fit a great dane. This happened on my volunteer day. The cat escaped and wreaked havoc. I have never seen a cat climb drapes so fast.


My main contact through this whole process was Judi Russo.  I could tell Judi was proud of her clinic, as she should be. I don’t have much experience in this area but I can all but guarantee that there isn’t a shelter or clinic in this area that is handling as many animals in a day as the AWA does. It was nice to see people work in a field they really care about.   


All in all, my time at the AWA was a great experience. Every year my friends and I host an Ugly Sweater Christmas Party. To enter the party guests have to either bring something for Toys for Tots or the Animal Welfare Association. I am pleased to know the donations are going to a great place. This would be the type of organization I would want my company to support with donations and volunteerism. I admit I am an easy sell on anything to do with animals but it wasn’t just that. It was obvious these people really cared about the animals they tended to. They didn’t put on a show; they were real with me which I appreciated. The AWA is a non-profit business so it isn’t about the money. They are just happy to serve the animals and community. The AWA is a generous group of hard working individuals who most likely don’t get the appreciation they deserve. Maybe because that amount of appreciation is may not be possible.



October, 2012 Autumn Comes to Town


Last night came with a distinct chill to the air; it felt almost icy as I stepped out onto our deck to make sure all was well in Feraltown.

It’s only early October, but I was glad I had used a spare hour on the weekend to do some autumn cleaning and to set up the winter housing for our ferals. Little Miss and Mr. Big were cozy and curled up together in their little dog house, complete with insulated walls and floor and two heated beds. An outsized  joy filled my heart to see them sleeping in their house.

Just last week Little Miss was sleeping in a flower pot:

Little Miss and Mr. Big never cease to amaze us with their strange choices for protection from the elements. When it’s pouring rain, they will cower under the eaves of our house rather than take shelter inside their own house. When it’s 102 degrees outside and the sun is beating down, sometimes they sleep on a metal deck chair in full sun rather than rest in the shade. I’ve told you how they like to disappear during snow storms, eschewing all shelter. And lately, when the weather is just right, Little Miss and Mr. Big take turns sleeping on top of dirt in a big plastic flower pot on the deck. Sometimes, they even squeeze in there together:

 So, as you can imagine, we are always relieved to see the ferals use their specialized winter housing during appropriate weather. If you care for feral or community cats, now is the time to make sure you are set for the cold winter months.

 Winter shelter comes in all shapes and sizes, in all levels of complexity, and in all price ranges. We started out with a h: a small Rubbermaid container with a door cut out of the side and a lid on top, filled with straw and lined with polystyrene foam core for insulation. There are several other kinds of home-made ome-made sheltershelter designs and guidelines out there as well. Eventually we moved up to our current housing, a small wooden dog house that had optional insulation for the floor and walls. We added electric heated dog beds designed for outdoor use and covered those with small, quick-drying fleece blankets. In another small dog house, we have a couple of self-heating fleece beds  that reflect the cats’ own body heat back to them. It is important to choose housing that is just the right size for your cat(s). The bigger the house, the more cold air fills the space around them and the harder it is for them to stay warm. It is also important to keep the shelters inconspicuous, out of the wind and protected from drifting snow, and, depending on the placement of the door, raised a bit off of the ground to keep water out. Check out pages 4 and 5 of the Project TNR Nexus News for great tips and tricks for designing, and getting your feral cats to use, winter housing.

Don’t forget winterizing your feeding stations too! It is important to keep water from freezing, and electric heated water bowls and other heating elements can help you make sure fresh water is always available to your cats. Remember that ferals also need more food in winter to help them have the energy to stay warm when out and about. Normally our ferals only get dry food, but in the winter we give them a can of wet food in addition to dry food to help bulk them up. Wet food is a great supplement in cold weather, as it is attractive to cats and easily converted to energy. Keep in mind that wet food will quickly freeze into a solid block when the weather is cold enough, so keep an eye on your food. Use plastic (instead of stainless steel) bowls in cold weather to help protect food and water, and discard or properly store any uneaten food after mealtimes.  And don’t forget to follow all manufacturer instructions when using any electric devices for your ferals’ shelter or feeding station!

If you have any winter tips or tricks, send them our way. In the meantime, here’s hoping you and your ferals enjoy Autumn!

Cat rescue from a massive hoarder situation

The first three days on the ground have been non-stop work. There are no weekends on a deployment, so the whole team spends very long hours every day at the temporary shelter cleaning, feeding, socializing, medicating, performing surgery, and documenting, documenting, documenting. Our first big transport of nearly 150 cats went out yesterday, heading to one of our partner shelters for the adoption events. It was a very special feeling to see all of the cats, now healthy and happy, heading out on the huge ASPCA rig. An even greater feeling was when we found out that a couple of partner shelters could take some of our special needs cats who have ailments such as ringworm or have been diagnosed with FIV or FeLV. We even have some feral cats heading out to barn homes. Having partner shelters who are willing to take not just the cute, easily adoptable kitties but also the kitties that need some extra care or assistance is a tremendous help on a case like this.


I was brought down for this case to help with logistics and documentation, so my tasks have included cross-checking information from various departments, implementing new filing and tracking systems, and collecting, verifying and organizing the documents needed for transports and adoptions for all of the cats in our care. There are so many moving parts in this case, and it has been very rewarding to track things down, fit them together and create complete packages of customized information that will travel with each cat to help him or her to find a forever home.

Playtime for feral cats

Who would think that  feral cats who live  in all types of horrible weather, scavenge for food and shelter would have any time or interest in playing with toys? 

Yet we noticed that our feral cats (who admittedly live a r plush outdoor existence thanks to our care) enjoy playtime. We noticed  Mr. Big pushing around a large piece of pine bark mulch in the yard. Soon he was batting at it with his front paws,  grabbing it with his claws and dangling it in the air. Next he was throwing it into the air and catching it near the ground. Soon he was rabbit-kicking it, holding the mulch with his front paws and beating it to death with his back feet! Here Mr. Big was, killing a piece of mulch like it was an unfortunate rodent. Soon we noticed Little Miss doing the same thing, going to town with her own piece of mulch. So whenever I was gardening I would look for large pieces of mulch and put them on the patio for the cats to find.

Next it was pebbles from the footpath. We noticed  a squirrel was picking up but then abandoning  them when he realized he couldn’t eat them. The cats decided these pebbles made excellent toys, and would bat them around like little balls.

Then we brought out florescent yellow tennis balls designed for toy breed dogs and they were an instant hit because they bounced. The pile of the tennis balls lets the cats’ claws stick to them, so the cats discovered they could lift them up and drop them on the deck for a fascinating bouncing game! We find the balls all over the place and hear the cats playing with them in the middle of the night sometimes. 

So, enrichment isn’t just for house cats anymore. Try it with your ferals today!


The pecking order in a feral cat colony

 Mr. Big ended up trapped in someone’s shed for over a month (see previous blog post). When he returned, he had dropped a few pounds and we worried that he had become sick. Gradually though, he regained his appetite and seemed in good shape.

Little Miss was so happy to see her brother and head butts abounded. Little Boy was not nearly as ecstatic. After a few days, he actually seemed upset. We think this was because he and Little Miss had bonded during Mr. Big’s absence. They played and ate together, slept curled up next to each other, groomed each other and were the cutest love bugs ever.

When Mr. Big returned, we knew something would happen to the dynamic. Mr. Big, although not an outright bully, was an imposing presence. He was secretly our least favorite of the three cats but he looked so small and sad.

We feared that Mr. Big wouldn’t be accepted back into the colony. In fact, the opposite happened. After a few tussles with Mr. Big, Little Boy decided that our yard wasn’t big enough for the three of them anymore. I remember the last time I saw him, looking back at me after breakfast before leaving the yard for his morning walk. He jumped over the fence and didn’t return.

We were heartbroken. Little Boy was our favorite. He was the first to visit our yard, to get close to us, and the one most likely to become socialized enough to live inside.

Several months after he disappeared, he reappeared out of nowhere, like a ghost, on our fence. He visited just long enough to have some food and to let us get a good look at him. He appeared healthy and well fed but we could see he had reverted to being fully feral. Gone was the spirit of our Little Boy who trusted us. He stayed in the yard for a little while longer, then disappeared into the woods. We never saw him again

 Next month: What kind of feral cat plays with TOYS???


The return of Mr.Big: What it's like to care for and love feral cats

When we started caring for our ferals in 2010, we didn’t expect to become quite so attached to them. Here were three cats that were never going to be pets, never going to show us love the way our house cats did. We figured we would spay/neuter and vaccinate them, give them regular food and water and reasonable shelter, and they’d live their lives however feral cats live their lives.


After their Trap Neuter Return, the ferals quickly learned the routine for feedingand they’d invariably be waiting on the deck, or in the yard. They looked so adorable, napping together or balancing on a fence and staring into the distance as if pondering the mysteries of nature.


After several weeks of this, they inched closer and closer to the door of the house while waiting for food. They sometimes hung out right next to the door, but would scurry away at the last second when we stepped outside. We’d ask ourselves, why don’t they trust us?.


If they didn’t show up for breakfast one morning, Rich or I would worry about where they could be. Then out of the blue one or all of them would meander through the woods, lazily jump the fence and wander over to the deck, oblivious to the stress they caused us.


The longest any of them was ever gone was about a month, during the really bad winter a couple of years ago, when Mr. Big disappeared after a blizzard. Little Miss and Little Boy came back from their hiding places after the storm and looked distraught when Mr. Big didn’t show up for mealtime. They were a bonded family, these three cats, and it was very rare to see them apart for very long. We slowly resigned ourselves to never seeing him again.


Then we had another huge blizzard, and as the snow cleared Mr. Big reappeared! It was a miracle! He looked very skinny and worn out, but he was somehow alive! … 


The sudden return of a not-so-big-anymore Mr. Big caused joy for all of us, but eventually led to turmoil and a rift for our little colony. Stay tuned for next month’s installment to learn what happened… 

Entry from Christie Rogero

Adventures in Feraltown: The Lives and Times of Little Miss, Mr. Big and Friends

  As AWA’s Targeted Spay/Neuter Manager I wear many different hats. Most of them involve finding ways to get more cats into our clinic to be spayed/neutered, so I often work with feral cat caretakers to prevent more litters of kittens from being born in the outdoors. In my once-a-month installment of blog musings, I will focus on this aspect of AWA’s spay/neuter programs and shine a light on the often unglamorous, but always lifesaving, work of TNR (Trap Neuter Return).

First, you’ll need some background on how I started working with feral cats in the first place, so we will start our relationship there:

When my husband, Rich, and I moved to a house with a wooded area nearby, we looked forward to seeing wildlife in our backyard every day. I put up several bird feeders and attracted lots of birds I’d never seen before. We enjoyed watching deer and other animals meandering through the woods each day, and were very happy with our sylvan paradise. One afternoon we noticed an orange tabby perched on our fence and looking inquisitive. Cat lovers that we are, we went outside with food and water, but the cat scrambled away as soon as we took a step towards him.

It was pretty easy to determine that he was a feral cat, or simply put, a cat that is completely unsocialized to humans. He was very afraid of us and we figured he was probably born outside to another feral cat or was once owned but had been left outside on his own for so long that he had become unsocialized.

Feral cats are the same species as your pet cat, but they don’t like getting too close to people and they make their home outdoors. Feral cats, like pet cats, have been around for thousands and thousands of years, living among, but not directly with, humans. Pet cats came from among those original cats and their kittens, as humans were able to socialize some of them over time. People often forget that up until about the 1940s, with the advent of kitty litter and refrigeration, ALL cats still lived at least part of their time outside every day.  Now that it is possible, we keep our pet cats indoors for their safety. Feral cats (who have the skills to live outdoors and can’t be adopted because they don’t want much to do with humans) live happily outside.

Our little orange visitor appeared several times over the next few days and ate some of the food we put out near the fence. A few days later he suddenly showed up with a white and beige cat and another orange tabby… apparently his siblings. They seemed young, but definitely old enough to start producing kittens. Knowing as we did that the best thing to do for feral cats is Trap Neuter Return (TNR), we made plans to humanely trap them, spay/neuter them, ear tip them (to show people that they have already been spayed/neutered), vaccinate them and release them back into the yard. With TNR, feral cats are allowed to live their lives in their home (the great outdoors), well fed and sheltered by us, but their numbers are managed because they can’t breed.

We borrowed some humane traps from a friend and, following the directions we found online, managed to trap all three of them on our first try. We were very excited to be so successful. Within a few days the cats were back to lounging on lawn chairs and eating a buffet of cat food on our deck.

Rich was a bit nervous about giving names to the cats, but since we had to call them SOMETHING to differentiate among them… We named the first orange cat Little Boy, the larger orange cat Mr. Big, and the white and beige female was named Little Miss. Over time they became only semi-feral and even let us get near them at mealtimes. Little Boy even rubbed against our legs once or twice! 

While we can’t really touch these cats we have still somehow become very attached to them.  Little Boy is no longer with us, but Little Miss and Mr. Big remain, spending winters safe in their little cat houses, warm on their heated beds, and lounging on the grass and eating catnip in the summer. They have made themselves part of the family and are almost as pampered as our house cats.

In the months to come I will share the adventures of Little Miss, Mr. Big and other feral friends I’ve met along the way. In the process I hope you will learn a bit about the lives of feral cats, the importance of TNR, and the labor of love that is being a feral cat caretaker. I hope you will also share your feral cat stories with me and let me know what kinds of topics interest you.

What have you always wanted to know about feral cats but were afraid to ask?

Entry from Christie Rogero

AWA had a high-flying visitor this week

A stray cat climbed more than 40 feet up a scraggly tree next to the shelter, and couldn’t get down!

After consulting with the Fire Department and Animal Control, Ryan Bansky, of Ryan Bansky Expert Tree Service, came to the rescue. He decided that the safest course of action would be to cut down the weed tree with a controlled drop.

 So, Ryan made the cuts and dropped the tree slowly, allowing the cat safely jump to the ground. The cat took off unscathed in a flash into the woods.. We will try to coax him into our care with humane traps.

 Our thanks to Animal Control officer Steve, the Voorhees Fire Department, and a very special thanks to Ryan Bansky, who provided his services free of charge to help this cat in need.  

Submitted by 

Christie Rogero


Targeted Spay/Neuter Manager













Lance, the dog who escaped euthanasia

The transport van from Virginia showed up about 3:30 this afternoon with six dogs. I pulled a beautiful Lab by the name of Smokey out and put him in his run.

I returned to the truck and the next dog I pull out of a crate was a sweet, white dog with one blue eye named Lance. I leashed Lance and he willingly came out of the crate and jumped to the ground, tail in full throttle.

As I made idle chit chat with the driver he proceeded to tell me that Lance had narrowly escaped an unfortunate fate. He had been scheduled for euthanasia that same day and was pulled just in time and brought up to us.

As he told me this story Lance stood patiently by my side, licking my hand the whole time. When the driver finished his story, I looked down at Lance who then stopped licking my hand and looked right back up at me.

In some inexplicable way, I felt then and there that he knew he had been saved. My heart melted - I'll never forget that encounter with Lance; it changed something inside of me. I hope whoever is fortunate enough to adopt "Lucky " Lance knows his story of how close he came to never having the opportunity to find the forever home he is so worthy of having. 

Today made me feel so proud to be affiliated with such a wonderful place as the AWA - and grateful to the all the dedicated people who take the time to help our furry friends!

Animal Welfare Association

509 Centennial Blvd., Voorhees, NJ 08043
Phone: 856.424.2288 | Fax: 856.424.8318

Copyright 2010 Animal Welfare Association