In 2016, Metro Denver CAT was founded to connect the local community with vital, no-cost services for pet and feral cats, including spay/neuter surgeries, vaccines, microchips, and resources for outdoor feline management. Six years later, the organization merged with the Dumb Friends League, and in July of 2022, they moved into our newly opened Veterinary Hospital at CSU Spur to expand their reach in underserved neighborhoods. Now, the League’s “Metro Cat Street Team” is celebrating another milestone: 10,000 cats and counting who have received essential care over the last six years!

The League’s Metro Cat Street Team is perhaps best known for their Trap-Neuter-Return (or TNR) services for feral and free-roaming cats. Grounded in science, the benefits of humane TNR are many, including helping to improve feline health through vaccines and sterilization; preventing reproduction in feral colonies and overpopulation community-wide; and easing relations between people, pet cats, and community cats who live in shared spaces. Moreover, research suggests that spayed/neutered cats tend to live healthier lives and are less likely to develop certain behavioral issues, cancer, and other health conditions.

But the Metro Cat Street Team’s good work doesn’t stop there. The care they provide also includes spay/neuter assistance and transport for owned cats who live in our identified priority zip codes (i.e., 80204, 80216, 80219, 80223, 80239); free trap rentals and spay/neuter services for feral cats who live in and outside these neighborhoods; education about TNR and the trapping process; the transfer of social kittens and adult cats to our shelters for adoption; and the creation of enclosures so that outdoor cats can keep warm in the winter months.

Currently, the Metro Cat Street Team works in five underserved neighborhoods (see priority zip codes listed above), including Globeville-Elyria-Swansea (GES), which they have served since 2019. Val Kajko, the team’s Community Liaison and cat trapper extraordinaire, cites nearby highway construction as a major catalyst for their initial presence in GES. With large-scale construction projects like this, residents move in and out of the neighborhood, often leading to more intact cats arriving and displaced pet cats being left behind. Likewise, other factors, including the area’s proximity to the League’s yet-to-be-built Veterinary Hospital at CSU Spur, also contributed to their 2019 decision to work there.

In addition to identifying, trapping, and caring for cats in GES, a critical component of the team’s work has been – and continues to be – building relationships with people in the community. As Metro Denver CAT began this work, they used many approaches to engage with their new neighbors, including distributing in-person surveys, visiting each household door-to-door, and offering vaccine clinics in pockets with a higher need for pet-supportive resources. Over the next three years – even in the midst of a global pandemic – a community once unfamiliar with Metro Denver CAT came to embrace their mission and entrust the team with their feline friends, both pet and feral.

When “Lightning” struck

Estela is one such community member. She and her husband care for three cats of their own (each of whom was spayed/neutered by the Dumb Friends League), as well as a handful of ferals who frequent the couple’s home in GES. As longtime patrons of both the League and Metro Denver CAT, they were excited to learn that a merge between the two organizations would mean improved access to care for their four-legged friends and family members.

One day in late October 2022, Val and her Metro Cat Street Teammate, Craig, received a call from Estela. The couple’s three cats weren’t feeling well, and Estela was hoping to have them examined at the League’s Veterinary Hospital at CSU Spur. Val and Craig drove to Estela’s home, where they learned she had also spotted a feral mother cat and two kittens in her backyard. After preparing Estela’s pet cats for transport to CSU Spur, Val and Craig placed traps near the home so that the family of community cats could receive proper care as well.

When the team returned to Estela’s home a short time later to check the traps, they found the mama and one of her two kittens safely contained. Both were then taken to CSU Spur to be evaluated and spayed. While Mom was ultimately re-released to her colony (where she is still known and cared for by neighbors), her kitten was transferred to the Leslie A. Malone Center and eventually adopted by a loving family.

In November, the team finally trapped the remaining kitten – a tiny, black, long-haired, wide-eyed baby – and the timing was truly serendipitous. Not only did her arrival bring the team a sigh of relief, but it also represented a much-anticipated milestone – the 10,000th cat cared for by the Metro Cat Street Team! 

“She [was] a sweetie,” Val recalled. In most cases, the critical time to socialize a kitten is in their first two months of life, with young, social kittens finding adoptive homes with relative ease. And while this kitty was slightly older at an estimated three months, she showed great potential during her initial assessment. “She was meandering a little bit and just sitting there watching me,” said Val. “I was able to just kind of pick her up … she was super nice and [even] purring a little bit.” It seemed the window for adoption was still wide open.

Following a thorough wellness exam and behavior evaluation, the kitten was transferred from CSU Spur to the Leslie A. Malone Center shelter, where she was spayed and would eventually meet her new family. During the transition period, word of her “10,000th cat” claim to fame quickly spread, and she was even given the name “Lightning” by the League’s enthusiastic social media followers.

Lightning began her journey as an adopted cat only one week after her arrival at our shelter – just in time for the holidays! Now known as Stormy, her new family gushes over her curious nature and reports she is growing more comfortable by the day. It’s happy endings like these that keep Estela, her husband, and their neighbors coming back to our Veterinary Hospital at CSU Spur and the Metro Cat Street Team time and time again. “It warms [my] heart to know that [both] kittens found great loving homes,” Estela recently shared.