Wednesday, December 18, 2013

New Study Narrows Date of Cat Domestication

According to recent article on the Time Magazine Website, a Chinese Academy of Sciences study has
narrowed the date of  cat domestication to 5,300 years ago.  The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Before this, estimates have ranged from "as far back as 9,500 years ago (based on wildcat remains buried near human remains on Cyprus) to 4,000 years ago (when domesticated cats first began appearing in Egyptian art) to as recently as 2,300 years ago, based on DNA evidence and archaeological digs."

According to the article, "The threshold of all domestication is traditionally thought of as the point at which a human-animal relationship becomes what’s known as commensal — when the animal begins eating from the human-food supply and the humans know it and permit it. Rodents and crop-scavenging crows do not have a commensal relationship with us, even though they eat themselves full at our table. House pets and farm animals do.
The investigators in the current study, led by Yaowu Hu, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, excavated a site in Shaanxi, China, where an agricultural village was known to have stood less than 6,000 years ago. The scientists unearthed cat skeletons buried within the boundaries of the village that were physically similar to wildcats but smaller — well within the range of domesticated cats. As with many such skeletal troves, it was not easy to determine exactly how many individuals contributed to the tangle of bones, but the investigators were certain of at least two. Carbon dating gave a slightly different age estimate for both, which averaged out to 5,300 years.
The key to determining what the animals ate and whether that indicated domestication was to analyze the bones in a different way — this time using isotope analysis to detect the particular mix of minerals and other nutrients that went into building the skeleton in the first place. One elemental profile would indicate a meat-heavy diet; another plant- or grain-based; another, different combinations of all of them."

Read more: Earliest Cat Domestication Traced to China 5,300 Years Ago |

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holiday Presents for Your Furry Friends?

A recent article in the Salem News prompted a discussion around the office on what we are all getting our furry friends for the holidays.  Most of us have both cats and dogs for companion animals, and we all like to spoil them around the holidays.  While we are opening presents, we like to give them something to open as well!

Some Cats Just Want The Box!
The Salem News Article  "Christmas Goes to the Dogs.... and Cats" said that "Half of all dog owners purchased Christmas gifts for their pooches last year, spending $11 on average per gift, according to the American Pet Products Association. And more than a third of cat owners put something under the tree for their cats, spending on average $8 for those catnip mice or treats."

Are you going to be one of these people who gets your companion animal a gift?  Let us know in the comments what you might be getting them!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Last Minute Holiday Gifts for the Cat Lover

Uh oh!  Do you need a last minute holiday gift for the cat lover in your life, and want to support Alley Cat Rescue?  There is still time to order them an Alley Cat Rescue t-shirt or sweatshirt!  Let them wear their heart on their sleeve.

Email us at and we will email you an order form!  You can also call our office at 301-277-5595 to order (just leave a message if we are not available and we will get back to you as soon as possible).

Check our our awesome merchandise.

Black T-shirt with White Writing, Alley Cat Rescue- Small through XX-Large ($18)

Blue T-shirt with Navy Writing, Neuter is Cuter- Small through X-Large ($18)

Grey T-shirt with Maroon Writing, Spay or Neuter, Save A Life Today- Small through X-Large ($18)

 Long-Sleeved T-Shirt

Red with White Writing, I am a Cat Angel- Small through X-Large ($20)


Dark Grey with Ear-tipped Cat- Small through X-Large ($30)

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Throw Back Thursday: The Professor

Throw Back Thursday is  social media trend where people post photos and stories of some of their favorite memories.  This is one of my personal favorite memories of an Alley Cat Rescue cat.
- Kylie Riser, Executive Director

In 2008, I had been working at Alley Cat Rescue for two years when an adorable litter of kittens came through our doors.  They were sweet as could be, but about two weeks too young to adopted out.  When they came in, as per our standard procedure, they were checked out by our vet and given a clean bill of health.  Once they weighed 2 pounds, they could be spayed and neutered and adopted out.  But after a few days, we noticed that something was not right with the kittens.  They were weak and lethargic.  At their age, we had a terrible feeling that they could have distemper, and we were proved right.  Despite our early intervention, fate had other plans for these kittens.  Except for one of them.

The exact survival rate for cats and kittens with distemper is hard to find, but most estimates put it at less than 10%.  The Professor defied the odds.  But his illness was not without consequences, and we know that he would need some intense help to get anywhere close to being a "regular" cat.  The Professor and his siblings were names after the characters on Gilligan's Island.

After a discussion with my husband, Scott, and once he took one look at The Professor and fell in love, we decided to do everything we could to give him a normal life.  You see, the disease had caused some brain damage, and at this point The Professor could not walk, stand up, use a litter box, or really any "normal" cat functions.  But he loved getting attention, and we could tell that with some work and determination, that he could like a happy life.  

We started by sitting with him every day after work, and trying to help him build strength.  We would move his limbs, and then help him sit up.  For the first few days, he would just flop over on to his side.  But quickly we saw him sitting up for longer and longer.  And after a few weeks, he could even get himself into a sitting position.

Aspen (left) and The Professor (right)
watch the squirrels
Once he was able to sit up, we had work on walking.  Scott and I would take turns holding him up and moving him around, and he seemed to know what we wanted him to do.  Since he was getting stronger, it really didn't take long before he got the hang of walking again! He even started trying to play with Aspen, our tuxedo cat and Bear, our shepherd-mix dog, who loves kittens and wants to take care of them.

As he got stronger, he would explore more and more of the house.  He eventually figured out where a heating pipe ran through the kitchen floor and that there was a spot that was always warm there, and would go curl up on it.

One of the best days was the first time The Professor had the strength to jump on the couch.  Scott and I
had been sitting there, and we weren't expecting it all.  We were so excited we both starting shouting!

The Professor was an amazing cat who went from the brink of dying to leading an almost normal life.  Did he walk a little stiffly?  Yes.  Could he run and keep up with his buddy Aspen? He sure tried his best! Did he always have a little gunk in his eyes?  Yes, but we kept at bay with warm washcloths. He wasn't perfect, but he loved us, and watching the squirrels, and playing with his friends, and we loved him.

The Professor was our companion until February 2009, when his damaged immune system could not keep up with life, and we had to send him over the rainbow bridge.  We know that wherever he is, he has found the warm spot to sleep on.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Caring for Outdoor Community Cats in Winter

Outdoor stray, abandoned and wild cats rely on the kindness of a compassionate public to help them survive. Although they can get by on their own and often do so in remote areas where there are few humans living.
However in urban areas, people who feed cats usually want to provide them with shelter from the elements. oweverIn one survey, shelter for feral cats was found to be more important than food. Wet weather especially can have adverse, and even serious, effects on cats. They can become hypothermic and could even freeze to death. The biggest problem is if the animals get wet and cannot find a warm place to dry their fur. Most feral cats can usually cope with cold weather, as is well documented on Marion Island, where as we mentioned before, it either rains and snows for over 300 days each year. And yet the feral cat population grew from just 5 cats to over 6,000! And yet the feral cat population thrived, until they were all killed by scientists
Domestic housecats, if dumped outside and left to fend for themselves, probably suffer more from cold weather conditions than feral cats, who develop a thicker coat in the fall. Outdoor cats need a warm, dry shelter to protect them from wet weather, as well as extra nutrition and fresh water, which can be a problem during freezing weather.
The body temperature of felines is higher than the body temperature in humans – around 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, if you feel the cold, the cats will usually feel the cold as well.
You can build a simple shelter or you can provide other types of protection against the elements. Shelters provide a safe haven to keep cats dry and warm and will prevent them from roaming. With this provision managed colonies can be very hardy in the wintertime.
A feeding station will help to keep food and water dry and will help with freezing weather. Bedding should be straw or made of a synthetic fleece material such as that used to make horse saddle covers. Blankets, sheets and towels retain moisture and remain damp and should not be used during winter.

If you are unable to build a shelter, you can use any type of strong box or crate, or buy a dog “igloo” from your pet supply company. Mylar insulation is made of polyester and aluminum that reflects radiant heat. It is used to keep houses cooler in summer and warmer in winter. This type of insulation is normally used in attics and is a perfect material to use to insulate outdoor cat shelters.

·         -You should insulate the shelter with thick plastic or other material such as Mylar mentioned above to keep out wind and cold.
·       -  You could buy a dog house and modify it, blocking off part of the larger opening to make it smaller and therefore warmer inside for the cats.
·        - Size should be approximately 3’ x 3 ’ and 2' high.
·         -Cats will cuddle together inside for warmth
·        - Build enough shelters so that around 6 cats can stay in each one
·         -Use straw for the bedding NOT HAY or blankets or towels.

More guidelines:
·       -  It is safer to have 2 small openings for the cats to enter and be able to get away if danger presents itself. Put the openings on the side of the shelter that is protected from the wind. Two openings will give a chance at escape should a pesky raccoon for instance or any other animal try to enter the shelter.
·         -Raise the shelter off the ground by placing it securely on bricks or on a wooden pallet. If left on the ground it will retain moisture and will rot.
·       -  Clean shelters each spring and autumn by replacing the bedding with fresh hay.
·       -  A feeding station – a simple structure with a sloping roof and floor will help keep food dry and provide a dry place for cats to eat. Fresh water can be a problem during freezing weather. Hot water can be poured into their water bowls, which may give them an opportunity to drink once it cools. Use smaller, deeper dishes, which will keep water unfrozen for a while. For porch cats a heated water dish can be used if there is electricity.
·         -Feral cats will huddle next to each other to keep themselves warm. This is one reason they become such social animals: it is a survival ploy for them.

If you have outdoor porch cats they will enjoy living under your porch.  You just need to provide them with fresh hay and they will burrow into it. You could leave fleece beds there as well for them. It is always amazing to see how much outdoor, wild cats enjoy such creature comforts!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Guest Blog: Saudi Arabian Cat Rescue

By Debra J. White

At least 28 million people live in Saudi Arabia, the second largest nation in the Arab world. Cat ownership i
s popular but no official estimates exist. Middle East countries such as Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Kuwait have animal shelters but not Saudi Arabia. There is no animal control either. Local officials often poison strays. Cat overpopulation is rampant in cities and towns nationwide. Animal cruelty was not legally punishable until just recently when the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture enacted a law that according to the Saudi Gazette (July 8, 2013) covers all animals namely birds, pets, wild animals and livestock. Failure to provide humane living conditions can result in fines or business closure but there is a question of enforcement. It is too early to judge the law’s effectiveness. Only recently have rescue groups formed to deal with pet overpopulation, animal cruelty, careless breeders, and other animal related issues.

Founded in 2012, the Saudi Humane Society lacks a formal shelter but instead is a network of volunteers who rescue animals in need throughout the country, particularly in the larger cities of Jeddah and Riyadh, the capital. The SHS upholds the Islamic values of compassion and mercy towards animals and believes that all Muslims have responsibility to protect them from suffering. Aahd Kadiri of SHS says the nation has no laws protecting animals but they envision a nation that encourages compassionate action and protection of animals where violators will be prosecuted.

Groups like the SHS say Muslims have a responsibility to protect animals. Thousands of animals live better lives because of dedicated caring volunteers and their colleagues, friends and families. Their influence will continue to spread kindness and compassion throughout Saudi Arabia.

Social media opened up adoptions in the United States largely through, Facebook and Twitter. The absence of shelters in Saudi Arabia created a vibrant on-line network for cat rescues. Take the Facebook page Pets in Need (P.I.N.) for example. Started in 2011, it is an open group for everyone who cares about animals. Members post pictures of domestic animals, mostly cats that need good homes or are in dangerous situations. Their mission says Amal Fageeh is to prevent suffering and cruelty to animals, find solutions to cat overpopulation and spread knowledge about animal care. They oppose animals in laboratory experimentation, hunting, zoos, and circuses.

Other rescue groups that place cats into loving responsible homes include Open Paws, the Saudi Society for the Mercy to Animals, Soft Paws and Shargya Paws. Groups network on-line to save cats from unsafe situations and place them into permanent homes. In addition to posting photos of animals in need, requests are made to transport animals for adoption around the country or to ask advice about animal care.

Fatima Ismail checked Instagram one day in the spring of 2013. Her dog Cedars needed company she told her husband Mowaffak. There, she found not only a dog to adopt but a cat that needed a home too. After speaking with a representative from Open Paws, Fatima said bring them both. A relative adopted Sarry but several months later he took a job that required him to relocate. Sarry moved in with Fatima and family. At first the dogs made her nervous but now she lives a happy healthy life.

In the U.S. and other Western nations, cats are almost always spayed or neutered before adoption. Shelters such as the Arizona Humane Society in Phoenix offer low-cost spay/neuter surgeries to cut down on overpopulation. That is not an option in Saudi Arabia. The financial burden to spay/neuter cats falls on the rescue community. No foundations provide grants to defray the cost. Fundraising is illegal. Humane education is scarce. Fatimah Basaddiq, a grade school teacher in Jeddah, plans to teach kindness to animals in her class when school resumes in the Fall. Bassadiq also adopted a cat named Ginger from P.I.N. that is adored and cherished by her family.

Overpopulation is complicated by the lack of veterinarians. Only King Faisal University teaches veterinary medicine and it is not open to women. Some parts of the country have no veterinary care at all. Not all pet owners appreciate the importance of spay/neuter and there are no public information campaigns to convey the message that it controls pet overpopulation and is healthier for the pet.

Furthermore, the vast majority of rescuers are women. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women cannot legally drive. Picking up an animal in need requires a male driver or the company of a male relative. When owners cannot or do not want their cats, they may be dumped into the streets or given to mall pet stores who, like mall pet stores in the US, may sell them to unsuitable owners or not insure their health. Since most abandoned cats are unaltered, they reproduce and the cycle of misery continues.

Trap neuter and return commonly known in the Western world as TNR is considered the most effective humane method to control the feral cat population although bird lovers allege it causes the death of millions of birds every year. Feral cats are trapped, sterilized and returned to a colony. While under anesthesia, a cat’s right ear is tipped, a sign of sterilization. A volunteer regularly feeds the colony so they do not venture far seeking food, destroying neighboring property, or getting killed in car accidents. The colony eventually dies out because the cats can no longer reproduce.

Um Asma started the cat rescue Gus’s Hope in 2013 after rescuing a scrawny kitten she eventually named Gus. Along with two friends, one American and one Saudi, they are the backbone of Gus’s Hope. At first Um Asma wasn’t sure Gus would survive. He was sickly and skinny. With lots of love and care, Gus pulled through. Um Asma’s daughter fell in love with the scrappy kitten so he became part of the family. Um Asma continues to rescue adult cats and kittens, finding homes for them all. So do her collaborators. There is no shortage of homeless cats in Saudi Arabia so Gus’s Hope is always busy.

On August 19th, Gus’s Hope held their first TNR event. Small by Western standards, twelve cats were sterilized. However, that is remarkable for an oil rich nation of 28 million people without a single animal shelter. The rescue funded the project and a local veterinarian performed the surgeries.

Cats on TNR Day
What does the future hold for animal rescue in Saudi Arabia? Groups such as Gus’s Hope, the Saudi Society for Mercy to Animals, P.I.N. and others would love to see the construction of the nation’s first animal shelter and stiffer anti-cruelty laws. In the meantime, rescue groups continue to collaborate to find homes for unwanted cats largely through social media and word of mouth. Cats like Ginger, Sarry, Gus and countless others are treasured by their owners. The rescue community won’t give up until Saudi Arabia has a full service animal shelter and humane education in the classrooms, goals that are within reach.

Monday, March 18, 2013

From the Desk of Louise Holton-- ACR President

Last week the Orlando Sentinel newspaper published an op-ed by Audubon’s editor-at-large, Ted Williams, giving explicit directions on how to kill outdoor cats.

Well after many people protested at this---poisoning animals is not only cruel, and prohibited in many states, and killing a domestic animal can be a felony—Audubon finally distanced themselves from this and said Williams is an “independent journalist”.

The flawed anti-TNR Smithsonian study was again used. What all these “environmental” groups have never grasped in the last 2 decades is that all their constant vilifying of cats has created millions of cat haters who will take the law into their own hands and go out and poison outdoor cats.

Or perhaps they do realize this and simply hate cats so much that they do not care. After all one of their own, Nico Dauphine, a scientist at the Smithsonian, was caught trying to poison feral cats in Washington D.C.

This is what we have been saying for many years at ACR: It does not help to constantly set the cat up as a scapegoat for our environmental ills. Without protecting birds from pesticides, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, cutting down the rain forest, flying into tall buildings, and wind turbines and communication towers, we are not helping birds at all. The National Audubon Society itself says loss of bird habitat is the greatest threat to bird populations.

Many songbirds that nest in the United States spend their winters in Central America and the Amazon. Unless we change some of our own habits, and put an end to cutting down the rain forests, the songbirds are going to disappear, regardless of predation by cats. Most cats live in urban areas and urban birds are thriving. Birds adapt very well to living among humans, and thrive in our gardens, which create food and shelter for them. Many have obviously adapted to cats, or there would not be a “steady, strong increase” in urban bird populations.

This is what the State of the Birds 2009 Report showed: “The urban/suburban indicator, based on data for 114 native bird species, shows a steady, strong increase during the past 40 years, driven primarily by a small number of highly successful species.”

The offending paragraph has now been deleted. If you go to Peter Wolf’s Blog Vox Felina, he has downloaded the original paragraph.

Please send a letter to the National Audubon Society expressing your shock and outrage at this clear message to stir up hate and inhumane treatment towards cats.  You can contact them through their website: or write to them at 225 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014

And send a Letter to the Orlando Sentinel for publishing instructions on how to illegally kill cats. You can contact them here:,0,4041118.customform

The Sentinel now says: “We’re not in the business of telling people how to kill cats’”

A bit late for this, right?

Putting out poisons for cats endangers not only outdoor cats, but dogs, and other wildlife and even birds. Their hatred for cats in so intense, they forget that birds eat the food put out for cats and will ingest any poison as well.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cats and Predation—a new attack on cats.

Jabu just wants to eat whatever we left on the plate
 Cats have become Public Enemy Number 1 for some. This momentum has been building for many years. In a recent paper published by biologists from the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the authors claim that cats kill nearly 4 billion birds each year, and more than 15 billion small mammals. One of ACR’s friends writes: “Of course it is no coincidence that two of the authors of this “study” …are affiliated with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center – the same outfit that employed Nico Dauphine.” You will remember that Dauphine was eventually fired from the Smithsonian and was found guilty of setting out poisons for feral cats in Washington D C.

“The authors write that trap-neuter/spay-return programs–or those in which feral cats are caught, “fixed,” and released back into the wild unharmed–are undertaken throughout North American and are carried out largely without consideration towards to native animals and without widespread public knowledge. While cat lovers claim that these methods reduce wildlife mortality by humanely limiting the growth of feral colonies, the authors point out that the scientific literature does not support this assumption. Therefore, such colonies should be a “wildlife management priority,” they write. They don’t come out and say it but the implication is that feral cat colonies should be exterminated.”

Our cat friend writes: “The extravagant extrapolations posing as “science” here promise to outdo all the other “studies” we’ve seen so far and which the media will no doubt latch onto.”

Well the Media did latch on to it….hundreds of article every day, too numerous to respond to each and every one. Headlines read: “Death to the house cat!”, “Born Killers”, “Cats are killing everything”, and “Furry Little Death Mills.” And so on and so forth…

The “implication” is that all feral cats be exterminated. Our question once again is: (1) who will do this killing and who will pay for this extermination of millions of feral cats?

(2) what will happen to all the rodents in every city across the U.S. if their top predator is removed?

Coincidentally, this came upon the heels of a businessman wanting to ban all cats in New Zealand to protect wildlife. When the question arose: What would happen to rats and mice? The answer by some was: “Reduction in cat numbers is unlikely to result in a widespread increase in rats to levels that would impact native wildlife in urban and agricultural landscapes because people are highly motivated to kill rats. A rise in the rat population would not go unnoticed by the rat-hating human population. Any increase in rats would be met by an increase in trapping and poisoning by people in all the ways we already do and including the new hi-tech traps available”

Perhaps this is the Smithsonian biologists’ answer as well? Let rat numbers increase. People will take care of that by setting out more poisons for rats.

Is this what we really want? Spraying more pesticides into the environment, poisoning more of our water supply? And my other question is: Will this not kill more birds?

Finally: What happened to compassion and our humane treatment of animals? Why do these environmentalists insist on killing, when we have seen that nonlethal control DOES work?

Why NOT embrace all the folks already working on humane, nonlethal control?

Our Spring Newsletter will be out soon, and in it we discuss the dangerous game these environmental groups are playing by trying to remove a mesopredator and a successful predator of rodents.

Do look for it in your mailbox in the coming weeks.