O.B. group hopes to expand cat neuter program to include 20 acre shelter for abandoned felines
By John Mullen
The new cat effort of trap, neuter and release has been wildly successful through the Orange Beach Animal Care and Control Program. More than 200 cats have been through the program, neutered and released again. Most those are feral cats who live basically in the wild.
“Since Orange Beach has had so much success with the TNR program – we’ve altered 215 cats so far,” Orange Beach Animal Control Officer Tom Conerly said. “There’s six in waiting on Canal Road right now so we’ll be above 220 just since September.”
But the groups’ members have a much bigger vision than just a successful TNR program. Board members Conerly, Stephanie Christie, Connie Brown, Denice Beicker, Catherine McInnis, Marcella Jones and others get together often to discuss the next step for animal control not only in Orange Beach but in the south part of Baldwin County, a shelter capable of taking in cats.
“We need about 20 acres or at least 20 acres,” Conerly said. “To me, it’s ridiculous for this community to be where we don’t have a place for cats go. The county shelter won’t take cats.”
Conerly says five kittens were abandoned at a beachfront condo and the maintenance man didn’t know what to do with them. And, the OBACCP had nowhere to shelter them until adoptions could be arranged.
“All of our fosters are full, Canal Road is full already and Magnolia is loaded up as well,” Conerly said. “Why are we in that kind of situation in Orange Beach being the kind of community we are in Orange Beach and Gulf Shores? Why are we in that position? We should not be in that position here.”
The group is busy getting together a plan to form a nonprofit, hoping to secure that 20 acres and exploring relationships with like-minded animal lovers in south Baldwin County.
“We’re trying to get enough people starting a 501(c)3 and try to get enough people down here to say there’s enough interest, wealth, resources and band them together and we ought to be able to do something other than just killing them or poison them or whatever,” Jones said. “And not just cats but dogs and everything. How do we bring in the right people and what resources and what do they bring to the table.”
Many questions remain unanswered as the group searches for a way to make it happen.
“What are we looking for, where do we want it, where’s the land for a shelter and that sort of thing,” Jones said.
The OBACCP is already helping Gulf Shores start its own TNR effort and looking for partners there to help with the shelter effort.
“We’ve been helping Gulf Shores start a TNR program,” Conerly said. “As part of that we’ve started the idea of this area shelter/sanctuary or retirement home for pets. There’s a lot of excitement over there for the same thing.”
They are also excited about the possibilities the Auburn campus will bring with its veterinarian program at County Road 8 and the Foley Beach Express.
“We have a call with the dean of veterinarian medicine for Auburn to talk about their involvement,” Conerly said. “Not only with the TNR part, which is a win-win for them because they are unowned cats, basically, if we can get organized and have a Sunday a month like Operation Catnip in Florida. One Sunday a month they say they’re going to have a spay-neuter day they will do 200 or 300 in a day.”
And it gives the University of Florida veterinary students practical experience. Conerly hopes a similar relationship can develop with the Auburn campus here.
“We will have the same resources here,” Conerly said. “We’ll have the vet referral center here by Auburn going in and it should be operational very soon. They’ll have an internal medicine guy that’s going to come down to staff it full time. Vet students will come down and rotate on two-week rotations.”
Conerly has also been in touch with Dr. Forester over the vet tech program at Coastal Alabama Community College to get that school included and involved in the program.
“All of them could be involved in this shelter/sanctuary that we’re talking about as part of their rotation getting their shelter medicine experience which is different that clinic medicine,” Conerly said.
Conerly wants to build the “gold standard” of a sanctuary shelter with several components.
“You might have to have to relocate them to a place where they can live out their lives and you have the sanctuary part for that,” he said. “You have the shelter for all animals, dogs and cats with full intake, quarantine intake, adoptions. There’s a trend out there for retirement homes for pets for people who have to change living spaces or in an end-of-life situation. The pets can be transferred there and either adopted out or live out the rest of it’s life in a cage-free environment.”
But first things first and bringing people interested in furthering this goal together is the first step.
“We need to get a grassroots group to just sit down and say are we really looking at the right thing, what can we do, how can this happen?” Conerly said. “And what do we need to do
Former Military Colonel Ton Conerly is the man behind Orange Beach’s TNR program
Before September 2017, officials in Orange Beach, Alabama, didn’t have a procedure in place for addressing people’s concerns about outdoor cats. Today, thanks to one man with a great idea and lots of grit, the city has a thriving Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. The Orange Beach Animal Care and Control Program (OBACCP) has spayed or neutered more than 220 cats and kittens and adopted out many more in the past 11 months, and the amazing turnaround is due to the hard work of Tom Conerly, Orange Beach’s newest animal control officer.
Conerly, a former military colonel, began his work with TNR in January 2017 — after he and his wife spotted three kittens in their driveway. Three kittens became five, and then nine. Conerly knew something had to be done. Read An Amazing ACO: Tom Conerly Changes City’s Approach to Community Cats on Alleycat.org.
Orange Beach Animal Care and Control is a resource for animal advocates and volunteers driving change and accelerating protection for animals in Orange Beach, Ala. For more information about OBACCP, please visit obaccp.org, facebook, Instagram or call 800-829-1040. OBACCP is a community centered non-profit project dedicated to saving the lives of community cats and all animals.