I’d like to introduce you to Eric and Estyr, the duo behind Army of Ferals (AOF), a TNR team that officially started in 2014, but who have been rescuing and TNRing for quite some time. They operate out of San Joaquin County in California and cover Manteca, Stockton and the city of Tracy – and pretty much any other random place where they happen to see a cat in need.
The husband and wife team offer much more than just TNR for feral cats. They feed them every day, provide outside cat homes when possible, take them in for vet visits when needed, and anything else they can do to make them feel comfortable. Eric and Estyr share equal parts in the responsibility of running AOF, and they do everything together – from the feedings and vet visits to fostering and social media duties. As a married couple, they’re able to work well together. And they note, “Besides, we like being around each other.” Their excellent teamwork has certainly helped the colonies they care for. In fact, they lost count of how many TNRs they’ve done after 100!
A conversation with Eric and Estyr
Army of Ferals is quite a unique name. How did that come about?
When we were conceptualizing our name, we wanted something that felt bigger than us. Something all-encompassing. When we were brainstorming actual names, Army of Ferals came out and we felt it portrayed our message perfectly. It’s also a riff on a music group name (Army of the Pharaohs).
Why did you form AOF?
Army of Ferals was formed out of the work we were doing on our own before social media outlets. We love cats and we also wanted to help ferals in some way. We noticed how out of control the feral population was becoming and wanted to do something, even if it was TNRing just one cat. Things really snowballed after the first colony we were working with. It was an inevitability that we were going to get deeper into the cause. We’re passionate about things we love and believe in, so it’s no surprise that things have blossomed into what we are. We look forward to what Army of Ferals can become.
Is AOF a 501(c)3?
We are currently working on our 501(c)3. Our purpose when we started wasn’t to acquire a 501(c)3, but to just help our feral community. However, over time and through public support, we’ve been encouraged to take a big step towards helping not only our community, but help others as well. Thanks to our followers on Instagram, they stepped up and made our 501(c)3 dreams a reality by donating $1,500! It took a little bit of time, but they really came through to help us push it into reality. We should be official by the end of the year.
Do all of the cats remain TNR kitties or do you ever foster or adopt them out?
It depends on the cat itself. Kittens are typically adoptable. The older they get, the more difficult it is to work with them in a non-feral environment. The ones we feel can be adopted, we certainly do everything we can to get them adopted. We have worked with a local non-profit in our area to place adoptable cats in PetSmart and some of our cats have been adopted privately. We plan on expanding our opportunities for adoptions when we complete our 501(c)3. The more adoptions, the better.
What is the environment like for the kitties?
Ferals tend to live in all places. No matter where you live, where you look, you will likely find a feral cat. As for our colonies, they all vary. Next to open fields, in strip malls, behind gas stations, downtown alleys, abandoned facilities. Everywhere! Some of these environments can be dangerous, so we do our best to make them as safe and comfortable as we can for them. Just because we can’t bring them in doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be comfy!
What is the hardest part about TNR?
TIME! TNR requires patience. That part is easy when there’s time. We both work and have busy lives, so all trapping is done at night. We sometimes lose sleep, but it’s worth it. However, having enough time to do everything is the challenge. But all the late nights we spend trapping are worth it when you see them living a healthy tipped-ear life!
What is the best part about TNR?
The end result! We love that we can give these cats a better life than they had before – one filled with independence, health and peace. They have no idea what’s going on when we TNR, but the greatest joy is knowing that we are going to be there for them for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t stop with TNR. We visit them every day with all the food they could ever want. We’re a full service team.
What would you say is the most common misconception about TNR?
The biggest misconception is that we aren’t helping the homeless cat problem… which couldn’t be further from the truth. Some people think that relocating or euthanizing is a more viable option than returning these cats back to their home. But removing a cat is only inviting other cats to fill that open spot. It’s also cruel and inhumane to do anything other than help. We know that returning a healthy, vaccinated cat back to its original habitat is not only good for the cat but good for the humans that live and work in the same area.
Going along with the above, what is your experience with people in the community?
We mostly come across people who admire what we do and are grateful that someone out there cares enough to do something. But there are also times where we are told that we are making the problem worse by feeding the cats. They find them to be a nuisance or an annoyance. When that happens, we have found that knowledge is our best tool to fight this kind of ignorance. When people find out the cats are fixed, vaccinated and regularly fed, they tend to be less aggressive. Most people don’t want to see the suffering so they would rather turn a blind eye or make it go away. We choose to help instead. We would hate to think of the fate of these cats if we didn’t step in and help.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting a TNR program?
Get educated. TNR is a wonderful and necessary thing. It can be frustrating, tiring and expensive, but it is also so rewarding. So, get information on trapping methods, get people to help you and get started! Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from long time trappers… we have been through all the ups and downs and are always available with some words of wisdom. Be sure to always stay focused and patient.
Are there any resources you can recommend about TNR?
The best resource is someone who has experience with trapping. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and tips. For an online resource alleycatallies.org has a ton of really helpful information.
What about volunteers?
We only have a couple of ladies who help us with two colonies once a week. They’re sisters and they’re awesome. We met them when we were feeding one of the colonies. Turns out they were coming out there every day to feed and play with one of our ferals! Laser pointers and cat toys! Other than that, we’re still hoping for trustworthy volunteers.
About how much money does it take monthly to care for your colonies?
That’s a good question! Our food cost is $400 a month right now. With TNR costs, upwards toward $600 a month on average. Sometimes we have months that hit around the $1,000 mark with food, TNR and medical fees. It gets pricey!
Is there a rescued cat or TNR kitty that stands out in your mind?
Mimi was found in a closed up box in a friend’s driveway in the middle of summer in California – in over 100 degree weather no less. When we went to inspect the box, we found Mimi and her seven newborn kittens inside. Mimi had a collar on so she was obviously dumped by the people she had lived with. We brought her in where she could continue to raise her babies safely, and once they were old enough, we adopted out all the kittens. Mimi went home with us where she got to be the baby. Six years later, she is the matriarch of the house, but she still loves to be babied!
Have you two ever adopted one of the cats that AOF worked with?
Oliver. He was trapped as a young kitten at one of our colonies. He had some trouble recovering after his neuter, which required he stay with us a little longer. A little longer turned into much longer and that turned into forever! Although all nine of our furbabies are rescues, Oliver is the only one that was actually trapped with the intent of TNR.
What pets do you have at home?
We have cats, of course. All were abandoned, dumped or were feral kittens. We have many and they are an awesome family that any cat parents could want. We have: Mimi, Stinky Banana, Ruth, Finney, Cecilia, Maggie, Oliver, Lucy and Milo.
Will you share something with us about yourselves?
Eric: I’m a music producer, artist, photographer, etc. I love all things art-related, cats and movies. Bourbon, wine and beer are fun hobbies too. Also, I’m mostly vegetarian with an occasional seafood meal.
Estyr: Vegetarian, I love yoga, movies, FOOD, beer, cocktails, The Office TV show and of course all nine of my cat children.
We’re also in the process of saving for our first home with land to get our ferals off the street and in a secure sanctuary where they can live out their lives safely.
A big thank you to Eric and Estyr for sharing Army of Ferals with us! While their website is currently being built, you can connect with them on Instagram, which is their social media of choice. If you would like to help AOF in their efforts, you can do so via PayPal or through their Amazon Wish List.