Tommy and his best friend Jack resting on his favorite spot
Each day, as we approach Thanksgiving, we will spotlight an animal rescuer who works tirelessly to improve the lives of animals in need. Please join us in giving thanks to these generous, kind, and oh so pawesome folks.
Back in the day I used to work at the San Francisco Bay Guardian with a really cool dude, Tommy Tompkins. Tommy was the head arts editor at the time, and he taught me, the newb, a lot. Tommy was great because he was a people person; I was always impressed with the way writers loved coming in to the office to talk to him, to go over story ideas and just shoot the shit. It’s been a few years since we’ve worked together (or lived in the same town), but I am writing this post to thank him because it turns out he’s not just a people person, but he’s a pawesome animal person, too. Since moving to Los Angeles, he and his wife, Karen, tirelessly and independently care for a colony of feral cats in their neighborhood of Echo Park.
Tommy was always an animal lover. He’s lived with four indoor cats - Kobe, Sprewell, Jackie, and Gracie – for the past 11 years. But it wasn’t until he met Little Black, a starving cat whose litter was about to die from heat and starvation, that the rescuer in him was called to action.
“I was able to grab her and take her to a vet (I spent $400 that trip; since then we’ve tried to bargain with local vets). My wife and I started to feed her and within six month had a colony of six or seven cats eating in a big parking lot behind our apartment building. I borrowed traps from a group called FixNation, and over time managed to trap, fix, and release all of them.”
Ever since then, the neighborhood ferals have become a big part of their lives. Tommy admits that although he was prepared for the responsibility of caring for these kitty ragamuffins, he was surprised to “discover a bunch of unique individuals with distinct personalities and a rich, fascinating social hierarchy.” Although there may be 75 cats who live within 400 yards of his building, the colony he cares for tops off at 10. The cats are majorly territorial, so it’s rare that newcomers are admitted to the pack. I imagine working with feral cats is a fascinating foray into animal behavior; it’s almost like becoming a Dian Fossey of kitties, but instead of gorillas in the midst, you’re dealing with felines who hiss.
Tommy explains, “This posse is wary, friendly in varying degrees, smart, and fun. I’ve fed some for nearly four years and the only time they’ll let me touch them is when we put down food. A few, however, love physical contact, brushing up against us to get stroked or scratched, and – when the occasion presents itself – jumping into our laps.”
Boyfriend, a four-year-old male, who got those scars fighting, a couple of months before Tommy was able to trap him and get him neutered.
Being a former newspaper editor, it’s only natural that Tommy decided to thoroughly research the ins and outs of caring for ferals. He trolls scientific journals and veterinary websites, and when he find someone who seems interesting and interested, he tries to get in touch. He started off by just putting out some food and water for the cats, but eventually his research found him free/low-cost spay-neuter clinics, where he’d bring in the ferals to be fixed. He also knows now that females go into heat twice a year, so Tommy puts out traps for new kittens come spring and summer. When these little guys are caught, he has them fixed and adopted. This year, he found Luna, a six-week-old kitten, who he and Karen fed and tamed for a few weeks until they found her a new home.
Luna found a home recently
As anyone who’s cared for ferals knows, it isn’t easy. For one, not everyone in your neighborhood will agree with what you’re doing. Tommy explains, “Your neighbors won’t love you. We’ve met several supportive folks. Reactions from others have ranged from annoyed to hostile. I worry a lot that someone will harm the colony. It’s important to try to educate and pacify neighbors. I try to pick and/or rake up where possible.” And even if you don’t irk your human neighbors, you might become pegged as a crazy cat person. “My neighbors think I’m a freak, like I should be listening to jam bands and wearing hemp clothes or something. That bothers me, but it doesn’t get in the way of what I do.”
But working with animals is always so rewarding, and worth it to Tommy. “There are many ways people have to block out the suffering – four-legged or human – that exists around us in life. But when one opens oneself to any of it, you tend to remain open to all of it. These cats have helped me understand mutual obligation and reward. The cats came at a time when I was trying to become a real vegetarian; they helped enormously in that regard, because they forced me to feel the respect and concern that all animals deserve. And, of course, they are a huge amount of fun to hang around with.”
Thank you Tommy for all that you do for the cats in Echo Park, Los Angeles. If you’re interested in adopting any of the feral cats that Tommy works with or finding out ways to help him, email me (sarah at pawesome dot net) and I’ll get you in touch.
Images: Tommy Tompkins
There are more to thank!