Aine Doley rushed back and forth from the van parked in a lot of a Germantown home and the line of 12 cats waiting to be released from their traps in a patch of grass nearby.
“They’re all good to go,” Doley said as the cats she trapped two days prior impatiently meowed.
Doley is known as the master trapper in Philadelphia and is the leader of Catadelphia, a nonprofit focused on cat population control. Through Catadelphia, Doley organizes mass-trapping events, lends traps to volunteers and finds foster homes for cats that can be rescued or need more time to recover.
TNR — or trap, neuter, release — is the process of catching stray cats to be examined by a vet, spayed or neutered, and then released back to their homes outdoors.
“I learned pretty quickly that organization can be the difference between success and failure when trapping,” Doley said.
There are an estimated 390,000 stray cats in Philadelphia, and it is Doley’s main goal to help control the population through TNR.
“The stray population is so large in this city, but I suspect things would be a lot worse if Aine wasn’t around to help,” said Sammy Del Valle, a volunteer trapper in the Northeast.
Doley is eager to get more volunteers involved but said people are hesitant to start trapping as they worry they will have to foot medical bills.
“If I hadn’t gotten help through Catadelphia, I would have paid out of pocket,” Del Valle said. “My foster cat, Patches, needed a major surgery that cost $700. But thankfully she helped me with a Facebook fundraiser, and we raised the money in a few days.”
According to Doley, a lack of awareness can be blamed for the growing cat population.
“So many people don’t know that it is completely free to do TNR in Philadelphia,” Doley said. “Spay and neuter for strays is completely free here, and we can help with any extra costs. I always say just do it, and then we’ll figure the rest out with you.”
One of Doley’s main tools for outreach is Facebook, where she runs a group with over 4,000 local volunteers.
Prior to founding Catadelphia, Doley started a Philadelphia chapter of Best Friends in 2014. The program ended in the fall of 2017 after its grant ran out.
“Like most people, I didn’t really mean to get involved with these cats,” Doley said. “I was always dropping off these strays I saw on my block to [the local shelter] and one day just asked, ‘What’s up with all these cats?’ I wanted to know where they came from and where they were going after I dropped them off.”
The original group of cats Doley cared for are long gone, but she said new cats show up more frequently than she’d like.
“They show up for various reasons,” Doley said. “Sometimes they’re dumped by owners, sometimes they are roaming strays, and other times cat owners let their unneutered pets outside for a day, and they go around impregnating other strays. But they all deserve our help.”
Shannon McGrath, a trapper in Germantown, said Doley’s work was vital in filling in the gaps and reducing barriers for those interested in TNR.
“Aine is a mentor to us all,” McGrath said. “If you need help with anything community cat related, Aine probably has an answer. I’m not sure if I would’ve gotten involved if Aine hadn’t helped facilitate my first trapping. Now, I’ve trapped over 100 cats.”
While the population count remains high, Doley said it is the small, individual moments that help her stay positive.
“Take these twelve guys,” Doley said, motioning to the cats near her. “Last week, they had no vaccinations and were at risk for having even more kittens. But we got involved, and now they’ll forever be better off for it.”
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