Sandra Schuelke is a person who cares about animals and the place where she lives.
She and her sister Sherry spearheaded an effort a few years ago to capture and neuter a growing population of feral cats in the gated, single-family condo development where they live in El Monte.
The project did not have the full support of everyone in the homeowners association.
“It took some time to get some of the neighbors on board,” Sandra said. “They didn’t understand the program at first. They thought that trapping them and removing them was the answer. But research shows that you need a stable control group and every time you remove animals there is a vacuum effect and more will come in from the outside. The stable colony keeps outsiders out.”
Since the effort began, she said, “we have trapped, neutered and released 45 adult cats. We have been doing this for five years. We have rescued 47 kittens and all of them have been put up for adoption through three different rescue operations. I walk through the complex every day and keep an eye on ‘em and make sure there are no new ones. That’s my daily volunteer work. All the cats have been fixed.
“We’ve gone through two kitten seasons with no new litters and we’re coming up on our third.”
The colony does not cause any problems in the housing complex and is not especially visible, she said. “The cats all have their places. We have 142 homes in our complex so it’s about one cat for every three houses.”
A bit more than a year ago, however, that tranquility was broken. One of the feral cats was missing and a neighbor reported that she was hearing the animal’s cries constantly from somewhere behind her house near the home of another community member.
“We searched high and low, in bushes, in peoples’ attics and garages, underneath patios – everywhere,” Sandra said. “We didn’t find her but we kept hearing her voice from different places.” The James family was particularly helpful in the search, she said.
“At one point I called the fire department because we thought the cat was in one of the homes. The people in the house got really upset and wouldn’t let the firemen come into their house.”
A few weeks later, an electrician went into the attic of the house.
“He told the community handyman later that he had seen a cat there. So I went back to the house and begged them to let me put a trap in the attic. They let me do it. But there was no need for a trap. I was able to grab her. We immediately took her to Community Companion Animal Hospital in Temple City. She was severely dehydrated and weighed just 2.9 pounds. Her body temperature was 91 degrees. She was probably just hours from death.”
The cat – The James Family named her Delilah – had been trapped in the attic for about five weeks without food or water. Sandra believes Delilah may have been frightened by painters and went down a ventilation pipe from the roof and fell into the attic.
The hospital immediately put Delilah on IV fluids and antibiotics and started feeding her with a syringe. She was in the hospital two weeks before she was released.
Sandra expressed her appreciation for the efforts of Dr. Joseph Pavlik, Dr. Joni Nasser, Dr. Neil Bodie and the hospital staff: “They were compassionate and they never gave up on her. All the help from the hospital and Angel Fund was just wonderful. I couldn’t have done it without everybody coming together.” Angel Fund contributed $250 to Delilah’s care and so did the hospital. Sandra paid the remainder of the bill.
Today Delilah has not forgotten her feral roots. The cat lives in an enclosure in Sandra’s bedroom. “You usually would see it outdoors, not inside. But it has two levels. When I go in for cleaning, she goes into her little hideaway. She can go there when she doesn’t want to be bothered. When she wasn’t feeling well, I could pet her but not so much now.”
Sandra has two other cats but they do not have physical contact with Delilah. “They are face to face with her, through the wire so they are getting familiar with one another. I’d love it if she were friendly. But she is who she is and I’m happy that she’s alive.
“I’m sure she is still traumatized from being stuck in that attic for so long and being in the hospital,” Sandra said. She is hopeful that over time Delilah will become more friendly with her and her other cats and be fully integrated into the household.
Sandra – who works in health care administration in Pasadena – lives with her daughter, Rachel, who will be going to college in the fall, and her mother, Linda.