Abandoned cats cluster and form colonies in Albuquerque neighborhoods. The unfixed felines mate; the population grows exponentially. Without adequate food, they lead short, violent lives.
Wild cats have a reputation for being unsocialized, but Merry Stubblefield says that’s not really the case. "They're just socialized with other cats. They're not comfortable with people and interacting with people in close quarters." She should know. Over the course of four years, she's spayed or neutered more than 200 feral cats.
She sets her traps—little cages with spring doors. The smell of sardines lures in the feline. When the cat steps on the pressure plate, a door locks into place. Stubblefield checks the cages and examines her captures to make sure none are nursing moms. Then she takes them to a vet for care.
She paid much of the expense out of her own pocket before forming Fabulous Felines, a nonprofit dedicated to easing the lives of feral cats and promoting goodwill toward them. Once a cat has had its ailments treated and been fixed, it's returned to its environment. "It's not that a feral cat is homeless," Stubblefield says. "That is their home."
"I think the problem is that people don't value the lives of cats—or animals generally."
Merry Stubblefield, Fabulous Felines
Through her work, she's come across a few mellow cats that don't excite easily or resist a leash. These have become therapy cats. She brings them to Alzheimer's patients in The Woodmark, an assisted-living residence. One patient, Stubblefield recalls, was distraught because it was her first day in the facility and she wanted to know where her family was. "I put Angelo in her lap, and she began to pet him. She stopped crying."
Stubblefield says she knows her volunteer force is performing a task that should be done by the city's Animal Welfare Department. But since there's such a great number of cats, she says the department isn't able to do it all. "It's good a lot of groups exist here so there's an alternative."
Merry laughingly calls Fabulous Felines her full-time job that doesn't pay. She's worked as an attorney in the past and has practiced animal law. According to fabulousfelines.org, the organization spends around $16,000 every year, and 93 percent of the money goes directly to helping animals.
The organization doesn't kill any rescued animal and makes sure to bring sick or injured felines back to health. In the city's shelters, they aren't often reclaimed by former owners or adopted, Stubblefield says. Cats are considered "throwaway" animals, she adds. "I think the problem is that people don't value the lives of cats—or animals generally."