Animal Rescue of the Week: Episode 26 – Clear Creek Cat Rescue in Alaska

Clear Creek Cat Rescue was originally founded to help find homes for the Mat-Su Animal Shelter’s cat population. Gradually they have expanded to cover a broader portion of the state and to take in cats that are strays or otherwise homeless. CCCR also takes in homeless cats of all kinds, including ferals; they also sometimes accept cats from private individuals and other rescues when there is a need to do so.

To learn more about Clear Creek Cat Rescue, please visit their website or Facebook page!

Welcome to the ARPA Animal Rescue of the Week podcast, featuring outstanding organizations around the country that are helping animals & the people who rescue them. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com.  Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues & shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal rescue. Clear Creek Cat Rescue is a group of individuals in south central Alaska who are dedicated to rescuing cats in need. During their stay, they get the loving care they deserve, including any necessary rehabilitation. Without the wonderful support of their fosters, volunteers, contributors and supporters, they wouldn’t be able to do this life saving work. In 2018 they rescued 444 cats with a 96.4 life saving percentage. They’re looking forward to an even better 2019. 

Hey, Layla, welcome to the show. Hi, How are you? Great. How are you? I’m doing good. I’m really excited to chat with you more today. You are with Clear Creek Cat Rescue. I had to say that a few times before I called you because I knew I was gonna screw it up, so I’m glad I got it out without stumbling. You guys are actually located in Alaska. I really just want to dive right in and learn a little bit more about you. So why don’t you share with us a little bit more about the rescue and kind of where you guys are located in Alaska. Thank you for having us so definitely very excited. Well, maybe call it CCCR. I love that!  I love it because we do get this a lot. We’re based in South Central Alaska and Kenai, Alaska. So it’s kind of the Southern part. We’re a foster based rescue all volunteer ran, and we take in about 500 cats a year and we have various programs as to how we do this and how we re-home our kitty’s. We’re really excited to be chatting with you and letting the rest of the world know what’s going on in Alaska. Let’s dive in a little bit.

So, 500 cats per year. Tell me how you guys are helping them? Are they strays? Are they owner surrenders? Are you pulling from shelters? Give a little bit of that picture for us. Currently we primarily take in strays. If somebody identifies a colony, we try to work with that colony and re-home those kitties. Historically, we started out working with one of our local shelters in what we call the Matsu Valley, and it was the match to shelter. This was about 15 years ago. Our founder, that’s how she was getting kitty’s re-homed. However, it’s grown into a much bigger organization. Now we primarily take in strays or colony kitty’s once in a while. You know there’s a situation when the kitties may be about to become a street cat or somebody is thinking about leaving it outside or maybe taking it to the shelter. So we try to, you know, intervene at that point, if we can.

 How long has the organization been around? Obviously, I’m picking up more than 15 years ago. Is that when it started, or does it go back further than that? Our founder is Miss Judy Price and about 15 years ago, well, she’s been a lifelong cat lover. Sure, she would say it’s her second love. I haven’t asked what the 1st one is, uh so she started doing this just out of the goodness of her heart. She was basically a homesteader in Talkeetna, Alaska. I should say, 20 miles outside of Talkeetna, Alaska. She started doing this about 15 years ago, kind of on her own choosing out of the goodness of her own heart. And 2010 is when she filed for the nonprofit status. So that would be nine years ago. Officially, the Clear Creek Cat Rescue has been a non profit organization or a nonprofit rescue. So since then, we’ve grown in the number of volunteers and in how much funding we’ve secured, in which grants we’ve gotten in projects that have what we’ve developed. So 15 years ago, she started pulling cats from shelters, which is often how rescues start. She did that for five years before she probably said, I need more help. I want to do more. I want to be more. I wanted, you know, to make a bigger impact.

 I’m curious what that transition was like and when that happened, because now you’re saying that you guys kind of focus on the stray cats and the colonies and re-homing. I mean so at what point did that shift happen from Miss Judy pulling from shelters to going to nonprofit and now focusing on stray cats? From what I understand is she was living in the middle of nowhere Alaska and a lot of people tend to, you know, leave cats in the fields or in the woods. From what I understand, she was picking up these cats and taking them to the shelter for care and what not. She would then try to re-home them kind of directly from the shelter, just going to be an advocate for the kitties. And after doing this for several years, the shelter staff kind of, I think, encouraged her to get her own rescue started because she was basically running a rescue out of their shelter.  So I think that’s just kind of how the natural transition happened. I think the shelter staff said, You know, you have the know how, you have the ability, you have the time and you know we’re here to support you. That’s how she just transferred to kind of looking for foster’s and making a rescue happen.

 So I want to dive in a little bit and kind of talk about what that community looks like. We kind of know that, I don’t want to say, there’s not a lot in Alaska, right? But at the same time, I think it is wilderness, not overpopulated and a lot of open space and really cold in the winter. And so I’m thinking those poor cats and the colonies that are out there. So I want to dive in a little bit and talk about the community and what that looks like for you guys and what you’re doing to help those stray cats. Alaska is definitely a vast state. We love the joking and means, you know, comparing us to Texas so we absolutely have a lot of land and wilderness. Given that Alaska is so big, there’s significant climates or weather patterns throughout different parts of Alaska. Where we are is not so bad, let’s say. And when I say bad, I mean cold and dark and snowy as it is north. So we’re relatively, uh, down south geographically, which gives us somewhat of a milder winter. I’m no meteorologist, but I think we have a couple of weeks in January where it can get to minus 10- 20. That’s as bad as it gets here. There’s other parts where that’s a constant and minus fifties goes for three months or so. That’s also part of the reason why living in Alaska and our weather patterns and our temperatures are part of the reason why Clear Creek Cat Rescue focuses on rescuing stray cats.

We are based in South Central and Kenai, Alaska, or we have fosters. They were based out of what is still Alaska, which is the Master Valley where this operation kind of originally began. We have about 80 fosters currently. The way we look at taking in cats is basically we triage it by the amount of need. Specifically, they’ve been in an environment, or if they’re sick and they have nobody caring for them or if they’re imminently going to be in danger or anything like that. Dealing with strays and colonies, how do you know who needs help like, is the community calling you guys? Are they saying there’s a group of cats in this location? Do you have a team that goes out who brings the cats to you? Tell me a little bit about that process. The cats come to us. Um, we almost solely rely on the community to identify the kitties for us. We do have designated people or volunteers who kind of manage the trapping operations and the colonies. And, you know, if there’s a neighborhood kitty that’s straying and kind of skittish, it’s, I would say, almost solely through the community. We rarely see cat colonies as we are overloaded or at least it feels that we’re overloaded about 100% of the time. Yeah, you know, we kind of have, I don’t want to call it a wait list, but we have a list that we look at daily of kitty’s that somebody has called us and said, hey, there’s a kitty here and can you come get it? Or how can you take it in? You know, I’ve taken it in because it’s been in the park or, you know, it’s been hanging around my house, and I just need it re-homed. So we have a list of kitty’s that we are waiting to take in at any given point, and it’s solely based on community quest.

 So, the community traps the cats and they bring them to you or they tell you about them, and you kind of work with them to see when you can take them when you have space. Is it kind of like a TNR program? How does that piece of it work? I would say the community kind of alerts us to the cats, and then we go out there. If it’s in a residential area, you know we need permission from whoever called us or, you know, kind of that neighborhood to set up a trap or, you know, to figure out if this is anybody’s kitty or if it’s being fed or whatnot. So we figure that part out, as for TNR is illegal in Alaska, so we do not do any TNR. So, what we do is if we get a kitty that’s not anybody’s kitty or it happens to be a skittish kitty or possibly even feral, we have a couple of projects where we can kind of re-home them in a safe environment and into a place where they’re going to be cared for. So that’s definitely a big difference, you know, in Alaska versus the other states, when you say you re-home them.Tell me about the program that you’re using to kind of re-home and how you identify where to place them. Particularly we do have, I want to say, the only Barn Cat project in Alaska, and I think that’s why we call it the barn cat Project. Perfect. I like it. We also have another program, which is kind of a socializing program through our outreach program that we call the Houston House. It’s a partnership with a local shelter in Houston, Alaska, which is a small town up north at the edge of Matsu Valley. So we have those two options where we kind of work on, let’s say, rehabilitation versus kind of figuring out that this cat really would prefer an outdoor lifestyle kind of barn setting through our barn cat project. In the Barn Cat project, we basically actively advertise for homes which will take our kitties and that are in need of them, given that you know, a lot of people like you, say Alaska is vast. A lot of people have land and animals and kind of need kitties as rodent control just in this 8 hour area. We really don’t lack for farm homes, ranches and such that take care of the kitties. You know, we set him up, would get him fixed, vaccinated, microchipped and tested for feline leukemia. And then, you know, we set him up in the home, observing them for about 3 to 6 months and follow through or follow up with them. And then these farmers and ranchers provide food and shelter. Heated shelter, I might add. That’s a good thing. So they’re basically very well taken care of. And you know, they’ll alert us if the kitties get sick or they don’t see them as often, then we try to kind of figure out what’s going on. If the kitties are sick, then we trap them and work on getting them better or something along those lines.

The other project is the kind of the socialization Houston House project we do. And this is a recent venture for us in the last year or so I’d say. We partnered up with the Houston shelter, which is the city shelter, to take in their kitties and if they’re not claimed for Houston city limits and regulations. If they are not claimed, I think within four days, then they would become Clear Creek kitties and hashtag kitty’s. I love that. They basically treat them as our own. Given that Houston is primarily a rural area, we do get a lot of strays who need socializing. So we kind of have, in this little shelter space, which is a really modest, large room that we’ve made really cozy. And we have volunteers going there spending most of their time there, socializing using some of the socializing techniques that we actually learned, some from experience, um some from a cat town in Oakland. They kind of focused on socializing kitties there and re-homing their kitties who kind of need more socialization. More socialization to be put in homes. Those air to our major ways to re home are less sociable kitties.

 There’s a difference between stray cats and feral cats. Is that distinction something that you guys work with in Alaska as well, or do you see more stray versus feral? What’s that ratio if there is one? I would say we see more stray just because I don’t know how much feral kitties or how well they would fare here specifically because of the harsh winters. They have plenty to eat in the summer. But you know, the winters, I think, are way harder for them to survive. A lot of the cats and even the colonies that we deal with, typically on the outskirts of the farms and ranches and out skirts of these tiny villages that they live in, probably started, you know, with a kitty getting lost and, you know, it grew from there. Truly, we really don’t even like to use the word feral because, you rarely see it. And we focus on getting these kitty’s acclimated to living with people and being provided  or being taken care of by people. So we haven’t found a kitty that we can’t help. In a sense. Often what I hear with rescues is there’s such a huge difference between stray and feral. And what I heard you say is that through the Barn Cat Project and the Houston House program, you guys were socializing, and it was a strange thing for me to hear socializing stray cats. I often lumped stray and feral together, and I know that’s not accurate, but it got me thinking, how are you socializing feral cats. That’s why I had to ask the question, because I know that’s a little bit more difficult to do. But now that I understand what that looks like for you guys, I can wrap my head a little bit more around socializing stray cats who have at one point or another, been around people. Yeah, and I think I do the same thing, you know, using feral and strangers because I think the general public understands feral as a scared cat. You know, that’s hissing at you and maybe clawing at you. Sure. So I think I have that faux pas myself. I would say most of our cats have been at some point exposed to, you know, human activity. Yeah. I think the one thing that really stood out to me with your Barn Cat Project is you have a list and people are always looking for those cats and kittens to kind of help with rodent control and other things. But I like that they know that there’s that open door policy where if they notice something or if one of them is sick or hasn’t been around for a while, I like that they can call you guys and you work with them to investigate and figure out what might have happened. Whether that’s you guys going out there or taking their phone call. I like that open door piece with what you guys are doing on that barn cat project. Yeah, thank you for recognizing that. I’ve never heard anybody kind of say that way to speak to that. It’s kind of our mission and vision and part of our commitment to our community.

 We are a 100% volunteer ran organization. We try to give 100% of our funds to kitty care, to vet care, to food. We definitely even in our adoption records, our adoption emails, our adoption agreements. We say Clear Creek is here for the community indefinitely, and we are here 100% for the life of our kitty’s. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the Barn Cat project. It doesn’t matter if they’re going to a regular adopter who wants a kitty in their home. We take back and care for our kitties throughout their lifetime. That is something that has been just part of CCCR for so long. And it may be, that it’s still a spirit that, you know, we take care of each other and we help each other. When you always say these are our kitties, no matter where they are. And even our agreements, state that if somebody cannot care for a cat, no matter which kind of cat it is, we will take it back and we will take care of it. And we’re gonna be here for our adopters, no matter which project we use them from. It’s just so important to work together in support, either as a resource and individuals could be resource as well. And it really sounds like the community is rallying around that, especially for your barn cat project. So the messaging that is coming across between you guys and the community seems to really be grabbing hold. We really enjoy this, or it comes from the heart. And whenever we let’s say raise funds, we like to proudly say that you know, this is going back to the community. This is going back to these neighborhoods or these people who have donated for whatever reason. We really tried to kind of emphasize the local need and local support. We try to live that community resource label, I guess, to the fullest. Yeah, yes. So let’s talk a little bit about that. 

You had mentioned the fundraising aspect of this. I know that’s a huge part for rescues. So what does that area of your organization look like? Do you plan events? Are they monthly? Give us a little bit about your fundraising picture. We don’t have any regular fundraisers or, I should say regularly scheduled as we are volunteer based. We often depend on volunteer time, which we try not to overload, overwhelm or overextend. So we kind of let it happen at its own pace. Facebook is great for fundraising. It sure is a lot of Facebook fundraising. And given that our community is growing or has grown so much in the last, you know, nearly a decade. We definitely raised funds through Facebook. When people submit their birthdays to us or, you know, if we have an injured kitty, you know, like right now we have one that we’re needing funds immediately. The community has always stepped up in taking care of these kitty’s. Social media is big. We’ve tried other websites, but for some reason, and I think this is probably primarily just Alaska, that we don’t get enough online traffic to go to different websites like for different programs. The other aspect is our volunteers are super creative. They’ve done things like cell Paparazzi jewelry. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it. They’ve done things, you know, like any of those places where you know, if you buy this, I’ll donate type of thing primarily in the community. We have Adoption Fairs in person come adoption affairs. During those we tried to provide a lot of education, and typically it’s either in a large market in a summer or regularly at one of the local pet stores. Just through education and sometimes if we’re having, you know, tried to be a part of a national event, you know, we tried to participate, and that’s that often turns into a fundraiser. One of the big things that we do are kind of auctions. So online auctions where we would do a lot of kind of donated goods or activities and kind of auction those off for us to be able to, you know, help our kitty’s. Fundraising is one of the most useful tools for us. I don’t know how much specifically how much of our funding is from fundraising in an immediate basis. It’s definitely extremely helpful.

 You guys I know spend a lot of money on that Bell’s vaccinations, getting them fixed, etc, especially because you guys are foster based. So when people want to foster for you, what are they responsible for versus what do you guys cover? I find this a fascinating topic because organizations do it very differently. So tell us if somebody’s interested in fostering what’s required of them and what do you guys supply? Our fosters we say, we ask them to provide food and litter and we cover everything else. So spay, neuter, any vaccinations, microchipping. The feline Leukemia test. That’s our standard. You know, if we just took in a healthy kitten or a healthy adult cat, that would be the standard level of care. If there’s any concerns identified, then we further, you know, take him to the vet and further identify and support that kitty and that foster. In turn, we often, especially with our Houston House project where we kind of take in several cats at a single time. And it wasn’t in anybody’s particular home. We fundraised for litter and food, and the committee was so generous and it was so well received. Often we’ll get donations. And we’ll just kind of spread those out among fosters. A lot of fosters say we’re fine. We got it. We don’t need any donations at this time. Some from time to time, so yeah, sure, I’ll welcome it. Free cat food. Why not? We have such a great community, honestly, that we rarely need to buy equipment from litter boxes, to crates or anything like that. So often those are donated to us.

 So you had mentioned that they cover the food, the litter, the toys, that kind of stuff and you guys cover the medical. Do you work with specific that partners for the medical and the fixing in the vaccination? Or how does that work because you’re covering eight hours worth of area? Yes, it is definitely a large area. Some of these communities there’s only like a vet in a four hour radius or maybe I would say in a two hour radius. There’s only one vet, like our soul dot in the area or homer area and these are just smaller communities on the peninsula. In Anchorage where I live and I’m based and the massive valley. We definitely have a lot more veterinarians, but Alaska in general is really struggling in that department, I think. So we don’t really partner up, you know, with anybody particularly. But we do use like the Saldana and Homer did by default, as the vets are. That’s the only thing that’s in the area. We’re not gonna drive a kitty up eight hours to see a vet in the Matsu Valley that we use more frequently, you know, as we typically have more cats in that area. So we do what we can in the area that we’re at, in Anchorage. So Matsu Valley and Anchorage are the largest areas where we have the most kitty’s or take in the most kitty’s, I should say. In Anchorage, we use Alaska SPCA. They are the only reduced rate, vet clinic in Alaska. So I think most of the rescues in Alaska or in Anchorage used those or them and then we have a couple of other vet clinics like VCA Bering Sea and one of our kind of I don’t want to call my sister shelter, but a shelter that we really worked with closely. It’s the only no kill shelter besides our Houston pounds in the last guides, Alaska Humane Society, so that we use them kind of at the same time. It’s called the CIA, Bering Sea since a hospital. And then we have Dr Hagey, who is based out of Trapper Creek, which is the end, really the head of Matsu Valley, kind of closer to our Houston House area or shelter. Those are the three we probably primarily used, I’d want to say on a daily basis. We have Pet VR, we have to be our hospitals in Alaska or in Anchorage. You’re in this area. I’m not sure about Fairbanks and up north to 24/ 7 so we use them. We definitely tried to use locally and stay as local as possible, and to take care of our kitty’s in the quickest and most efficient way. Without a lot of resources, you need to build and keep the relationships that you have, because the lack of options, essentially but part of rescues is about building relationships about maintaining relationships. And I feel like when you don’t have a lot of options, if you will, it’s even more important to build those relationships to build that trust. Yes, of course. I think we’re lucky that we have Miss Judy Price, who is our founder. That she’s our rescue coordinator. She’s, um, the main person we turn to. And she honestly began a lot of these relationships and has maintained them. So I really want to credit her with that. You know, there’s the new truth, new trend of things. She attracts her tribe. So I think most of us that are part of this rescue, really, you know, believing in her vision and kind of want to be a part of it.

 We’ve talked about a lot of positive things. One of the things I like to talk about Layla is challenges. What would you say the biggest challenge with CCCR is today? Lack of fosters. That’s a good one.  We think big, you know, we have 80 fosters over eight hours. We have what we call him foster coordinators. We want to be bigger because bigger means we save more kitty’s so honestly having a good steady base of fosters, which we typically have. But like you said so much, you know, we’re all volunteers. One often fosters, you know, will foster one time, and that’s really that really takes its toll on, you know, on everybody involved. I think having that steady group of fosters is really something that I think most rescues probably crave. Whenever the number one need we always say is, you know, give us fosters will figure out how to support them and rally around them and the kitty’s they take in. Yeah, especially covering that large bug oven area. I have to believe that, and I’m glad you said that. So here’s the call to action for this call, right, guys, if you’re in Alaska in that eight hour range, get in touch with CCCR. And see how you can help with the foster program. Everybody can do something, and if that’s the need, then we encourage people to reach out to you guys and, and sign up. I think you have a place in your website right where people can find out more? Yes, so our website is ClearCreekCatRescue.org and there’s several tabs and how to foster or how to donate or how to help or how to adopt. We really always need community support. This is why you know we exist. Also, our Facebook page is, uh, when we’re really working with a large colony, we often ask for volunteers there and we’ll let you know specifically or show you pictures of kitties that need saving and foster homes right now. Um, and that’s Clear Creek Cat Rescue on Facebook and we’re Clear Creek Kitties on Instagram and we share some of our stories there as well. And, of course, Twitter is to kind of stay in the news off other organizations as well. We’re definitely available, and or I should say, we are always looking for more support. To more volunteers in really, any way, shape or form.

 So two more things before we wrap up. One, my favorite part of the entire conversation is memorable stories. So you’re new to the cat world, you said, I want to know what memorable story sticks out to you when asked? What’s the one story that automatically comes to you that you want to share? I was, ah, dare I say a dog lover. Okay, that’s a life. Uh, and I guess I can tell my own story. My first foster was one of a kitten or a couple of kittens who were from a colony in the valley. And they were very, very scared. Um, climbing walls scared literally and with the help of the rescue and you know, all the strategies and kind of the socializing techniques, I was able to socialize this kitty. He was short haired, grey kitty. His name was Grey Bear. I ended up holding him after, let’s say, like, four months. It was probably about four months when I got him and, you know, four months in my home I was able to kind of cradle him when he would come to me. To this day, I’m in touch with his adopter. And this story is not a typical for this rescue. We, like I said, even in our adoption agreements, we say, you know, we’re here for the lifetime of the kitty, and we’re here to support you. Staying touch. Send this video. Send us pictures. Post them on social media for us. You know, somebody always knows this kitty that somebody adopted. That’s just one of those stories. I think it’s very typical of Clear Creek, you know, we take in a kitty that’s so scared nobody can touch it, would have to trap it. And then it’s such a long term relationship that we are able to cherish and enjoy most of the kitty and, you know, with the adopter. That speaks to what you guys are all about. The time in the commitment it takes to socialize those strays, and especially the kittens who maybe haven’t encountered humans at that point in their life. It definitely takes time and patience. And I think that describes you guys you know, to a T. Nothing happens overnight. I appreciate a story like that. I definitely think that speaks to what you guys are all about. Thank you. Our fosters are volunteers and the work that they put in is truly remarkable. You know, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have these people who are dedicated to open their homes and their hearts and put up with some of the things from these kitties just to have that vision and be on a mission to say I will help you. You will have a home. To drive long hours, bring him to adoption fairs. You know, deal with them when they’re sick and, you know, stay up a night. Bottle feed them. Do PT when needed for little, you know, legs that are hurting. All the things that go into caring for a sickly kitten or a stray kitten or kitten who just doesn’t know what it’s like to feel loved by a person just yet. We are here for our volunteers in our fosters 100%.

 So the last thing I want to talk about Layla is what does the future look like for you guys? I know you don’t really schedule any regular fundraising events. Are you guys working on any new programs or any new features for the community that you maybe want to talk about? We don’t have any regular fundraising. However, every adoption event that we have every adoption fair. We really try to provide a lot of education and to our community. So I know that in the upcoming days on the 17th of August, we’re having the clear to shelters event. So we’ll be participating in that. You know, we will have a large adoption fair with lots of kitty’s available and ready for adoption. And we hope to, you know, with the national aspect of it to get a lot of people to come out and support us and see what we’re about. Maybe learn how to, you know, how they can help. They can host a fair. Or if they’re may be interested in fostering. We just hope that they’ll come out and find that kitty that they’ve been looking for. We definitely encourage people to check that out if they’re up by you and we’ll make sure to link to your website and Facebook page in our post. And when we share the podcast as well.

 Well, I’ve definitely appreciated my time with you. And before we wrap things up, is there anything else that we maybe missed? You want to mention? No, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me too, you know, let the rest of the world know about Clear Creek Cat Rescue in Alaska and what we do. We really appreciate that. You know, we just look forward to helping more kitties and thank you again. Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much Layla for joining us, and we’ll be following you in the future. Thanks.

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