Homeless for the holidays

The Chico Cat Coalition searches for new home

The Chico Cat Coalition currently occupies this barn in west Chico, but will be forced to vacate by February.

The Chico Cat Coalition currently occupies this barn in west Chico, but will be forced to vacate by February.

PHOTO courtesy of the cat coalition

The Chico Cat Coalition—a volunteer-based organization that has rescued abandoned, homeless cats from Bidwell Park for the past 13 years—now finds itself without a home.

And the clock is ticking.

The coalition’s current location is a private barn among the orchards on the outskirts of west Chico, a shelter the organization must vacate by early February.

“We knew our landlord was thinking about selling the property,” said Judy Alberico, who has volunteered as the coalition’s barn manager for a little less than a year. “She is one of the people who started the coalition, so that’s why she originally bought the property, but she has decided it is time for her to move on.”

Relocating the shelter is a difficult proposition, as many of the 60 cats currently under the coalition’s care are feral, having spent too much time in the wild to adjust to a domestic setting. In other words, finding a home outside the organization for many of the cats is highly unlikely.

“[Our greatest fear] is not finding a home and not knowing what to do with the cats,” Alberico said, her voice cracking with emotion. “We don’t euthanize, so we have to find something to do with all these animals. They’re our babies.”

Bandit is just one of the 60 cats living at the shelter.

PHOTO courtesy of the cat coalition

The search for a new home is merely the latest in a series of headaches for the coalition, which persevered through a lack of funding and volunteers late last summer. The organization has provided an often-overlooked service to the community since its inception, having rescued about 950 cats from the park, 750 of which have been adopted by local families.

Without some effort to rescue and house the feral cats, their population would experience an exponential increase, which would in turn present a significant danger to the park’s small-animal and bird populations.

Local organizations like the Butte Humane Society are sympathetic and willing to spread word of the coalition’s predicament, but face overcrowding issues themselves, said Christine Fixico, a coalition volunteer and former executive director of BHS.

“I think they would help if they could,” Fixico said of BHS. “They’re always overcrowded with cats, so I don’t think they would have the resources, and I don’t know of anyone else locally who does.”

With few options, the volunteers have begun appealing to the community for help through ads in local newspapers and on Craigslist with hopes someone will emerge with a viable, long-term housing solution, make a donation or offer to take in some of the animals.

“We really just need to get the word out about the different ways people can help,” said Frank Holtz, a jack-of-all trades who has been a coalition volunteer for six years. “Donations, adoptions and foster families all help. People have to be willing to temporarily take care of these cats.”

So far, one community member has stepped forward in a big way. Bill Shelton, owner of the Stagecoach Station Antique Store in Durham, is hosting a “Clear the Warehouse” sale with 50 percent of the proceeds directly benefiting the coalition. The sale will be held Dec. 16-18 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

Meanwhile, the coalition’s volunteers will continue working overtime to find a new facility to house their beloved cats in addition to their already demanding schedules. Fixico warned that if the worst should happen and the coalition is disbanded, the community will be forced to take notice.

“Even though everybody doesn’t know who we are and what we’re about right now, if we weren’t able to continue taking cats out of the park people would notice our absence,” Fixico said. “We’ve rescued 950 cats—I can’t imagine what the problem would be like in Bidwell Park without us. It would be overwhelming.”