Snowball Succumbs to the Inevitable after Toughing It Out for Two Decades at Atlantic City's Dangerous Underwood Hotel
"When it came her time to pass, she went back to her original colony and curled up in one of the houses there."
-- Amanda Casazza
Snowball, the gray and white doyenne of Atlantic City's world famous Boardwalk cats, has died. She lived beneath the pines for close to twenty years and is believed to have given up the ghost sometime in August. (See photo of her above.)
"When it came her time to pass, she went back to her original colony and curled up in one of the houses there," Amanda Casazza of Alley Cat Allies (ACA) announced in the organization's September newsletter. (See "Remembering Grandmom: The Long Life of a Boardwalk Cat.")
By that she means that Snowball, also known as Grandmom, returned to her original colony at New Jersey Avenue to die after having resided for years with a colony of cats who live in front of the Taj Mahal.
Since ACA has not disclosed exactly when she died, it is unclear what role, if any, Hurricane Irene may have played in her death when she blew through the evacuated city in late August. High tides used to routinely inundate the so-called Underwood Hotel at New Jersey Avenue until Revel, which has built a new megaresort there with the aid of millions of taxpayer dollars, restored both the beach and eleven-hundred feet of Boardwalk complete with reinforced pilings and decking.
The beach, which used to be less than one-hundred feet wide at low tide, now has grown to an estimated three-hundred-feet of sand and appears to have weathered Irene's wrath rather well. None of that, unfortunately, completely rules out the remote possibility that Snowball may have drowned. (See Philadelphia Inquirer, October 5, 2011, "Casino Embraces Its Environment.")
Even to have died of natural causes at the Underwood is tragic enough in its own right. The beach is windblown and the surf violent even on the best of days and the forbidding Underwood can only be characterized as grimy, gloomy, claustrophobic, and dangerous.
Regardless of what killed her, it nonetheless was a sad and lonely end for an extremely courageous cat who defied all the odds by holding on for as long as she did. Perhaps the best that can be said about her demise is that it was far preferable to being either annihilated at one of Atlantic County's hellhole shelters or unconscionably killed off by a moneygrubbing veterinarian. (See Cat Defender post of September 28, 2011 entitled "Marvin Is Betrayed, Abducted, and Murdered by a Journalist and a Shelter Who Preposterously Maintain That They Were Doing Him a Favor.")
It can only be assumed from ACA's silence that it did not even have the common decency to provide her with either a funeral or a proper burial. As a consequence, her corpse likely was thrown out with the trash.
Not much is known about her other than that she distinguished herself early on as being adept at evading ACA's traps. "She was one of the hardest cats to trap," Casazza added in the article cited supra.
Otherwise, Snowball usually could be found sleeping on the beach during the warm summer months and inside the winterized shelters underneath the Boardwalk during Atlantic City's rugged winters. She additionally could be seen occasionally inching her way down the boards alongside the handrail.
Sterilization relieved her of the tiresome and debilitating chore of giving birth to litter after litter of kittens and once ACA took over management of the cats in 2000 food no longer was a problem in that the volunteers always made sure that she had plenty of meat, kibble, and water.
"Grandmom's nearly twenty-year life at the Boardwalk proves that feral cats can live long, healthy lives outdoors and that there is nothing humane or necessary about killing them in shelters," ACA declared in the article cited supra. "While she will be deeply missed, Grandmom's long life continues to inspire us to advocate for policies and programs like the Boardwalk Cats Project nationwide, humane programs that allow feral cats to live out their lives in the outdoor homes they love."
All of that certainly is true and the volunteers have done a yeomanly job in caring for them. None of that in any way alters the salient fact, however, that the Underwood Hotel is a perilous haunt for cats.
As the hotel of last resort for Atlantic City's large homeless contingent, the Underwood averages about one homicide and several fires per year. The resort's fascist police, working hand in glove with The Press of Atlantic City, the Philadelphia media, and predatory Christian and Jewish groups, get their perverted kicks by staging periodic nocturnal raids in order to rouse the impecunious.
The loud, nauseating music and endless array of promotional announcements cranked out by the casinos twenty-four hours a day also surely must take its toll on the cats' delicate ears. Some of the volunteers add insult to injury by bringing along their portable radios with them when they feed the cats.
If all of that were not egregious enough, the cats are forced to contend with the din and chaos churned up by dredging on the beach and the replacement of rotting planks on the Boardwalk. All of these activities sans doute disrupt their repose and, at times, leave them traumatized.
Given all the dangers involved, it is not surprising that ACA has a difficult time recruiting a sufficient number of volunteers and this is attested to by the advertisements that it is forced to constantly run in local rags. Of late, it even has run into problems recruiting individuals to construct and install winterized shelters.
All of that is in addition to the financial drain associated with feeding, medicating, sterilizing, and sheltering up to two-hundred cats. Periodically the cats come under attack from either some individual or group that wants them trapped and killed and defending them costs the volunteers a pretty penny.
That is what originally led to ACA's involvement when the city attempted to have the cats killed back in 2000. It occurred again in 2003 and 2004 when Margate resident Doug Donato lobbied the City Council to have them killed by ludicrously alleging that they were capable of transmitting SARS to individuals. Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, an epidemiologist with the State of New Jersey, quickly put the kibosh to that sottise by categorically stating that there was not a scintilla of evidence that the cats are capable of so infecting humans. (See Cat Defender post of July 5, 2007 entitled "Bird and Wildlife Proponents, Ably Assisted by The Press of Atlantic City, Launch Malicious Libel Campaign Against Feral Cats.")
The growing popularity of gambling dens in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York has siphoned off a good deal of Atlantic City's business but it is unclear how the resort's downward spiral is going to affect the Boardwalk cats. Since they have grown into such a huge tourist attraction, fewer gamblers conceivably could lead to their being either neglected or forgotten about altogether. On the other hand, a reversal in the city's gaming fortunes could not only provide them with a measure of much needed tranquility but also lead to a marked decline in the number of cats cruelly abandoned along the pines each year.
It is estimated that there now are three-hundred fewer of them residing in the eighteen colonies that stretch from Albany Avenue in the south to the Inlet in the north than there were when ACA took over eleven years ago. Most important of all, the cats are large, friendly, and their coats glossy. They cannot accurately be described as anything other than the very epitome of feline health and well-being.
That is far from being the whole story, however, in that there is no way of knowing how many other cats have met with either foul play or other calamities over the years. Of far greater concern is ACA's own admission that it returns to the Boardwalk only forty per cent of the cats that it traps. It never has disclosed what it does with the remaining sixty per cent but it is a fair assumption that it kills off the lion's share of them under one fabrication or another.
Other practitioners of TNR are known to warehouse up to two-hundred cats in cages in their basements. Since there is absolutely no oversight of these private shelters, it is impossible to assess either what conditions these cats are kept or ultimately what becomes of them. It is difficult to imagine, however, that such an arrangement could be beneficial for them.
No TNR program can be accurately evaluated unless it first is known how many cats enter and leave a particular colony and how they are treated. As practiced by ACA and others, TNR is not altogether different from the trap and kill policies of conventional shelters and the leger de main fobbed off on a gullible public by so-called no-kill operations.
"They (the volunteers) have done a wonderful job of fixing the problem and saving the animals," Ron Cash on the city's Health and Human Services Department was obliged to admit to the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 24, 2010. (See "Groups Make Progress with Feral Cats in Atlantic City.")
"The cats in this city are cared for better than most people's pets," volunteer Deborah Calvert proclaimed in the same article. "They're famous."
Caring for that many cats in a perilous environment, quite obviously, requires more manpower than even ACA is able to muster. "Homeless people, casino workers, shop owners -- they are our eyes and ears," Calvert added. "They tell us if someone's sick. They tell us who they haven't seen around for a while. They know the cats."
That is refreshing to hear in that the homeless have not always been known for their humane treatment of the species. (See Cat Defender posts of May 6, 2009 and August 17, 2009 entitled, respectively, "Resident at Church-Run Homeless Shelter in Seattle Uses a Box Cutter in Order to Gut Scatt from Collarbone to Tail" and "America's Insane Love Affair with Criminals Continues as Drunkard Who Sliced Open Scatt with a Box Cutter Gets Off with Time on the Water Wagon.")
That is in spite of the fact that the staff at Grace House Emergency Shelter for Women in Fredericton, New Brunswick, long ago recognized the therapeutic value of having felines on the premises. (See Cat Defender post of May 5, 2009 entitled "Gracie Brings a Ray of Hope and Good Cheer to the Down-and-Out at Women's Shelter in Fredericton.")
Members of the public also have helped out by adopting some of the colonies in much the same fashion as citizens adopt highways. For instance, a plaque in front of the Wild Wild West Casino and the old Dennis Hotel states that the nearby "Slot Machines" colony has been adopted by Glen, Cindy, Doug, and Greg Myers.
In addition to sterilization and attrition, ACA has relied to some extent upon adoptions in order to halve the population. That in itself amounts to a startling contradiction in that the organization's head honcho, Becky Robinson, continues to publicly maintain that homeless cats are unadoptable.
Since ACA never has released any statistics, it is impossible to gauge how successful its adoption efforts have been. It does, however, charge $75 per cat and its adoption application is a staggering four pages in length!
For example, those interested in adopting its cats are required to disclose, inter alia, their landlords' and veterinarians' names, addresses, and telephone numbers, three personal references, the names of all persons living in the household, plus a slew of data relating to any companion animals that they have owned both now and in the past. Since charging an arm and a leg apparently is insufficient, it would not be surprising if the organization one day started expecting a semen sample and a testicle as a demonstration of good faith.
Furthermore, these stringent requirements would tend to mitigate against many of the cats finding new homes in that there are so many other cats and kittens that readily can be had gratis and with no question asked. In fact, individuals sometimes can be spotted giving away kittens outside of supermarkets.
ACA's real Achilles heel, however, lies in the fact that its arrangement with the city is limited to the Boardwalk. Animal Control therefore is still allowed to trap and kill cats with impunity elsewhere in the city. Worst still, uncorroborated reports maintain that some of these cats are shot in the head and never even make it to a shelter.
This odious and lawless practice needs to be exposed and immediately stopped with a legitimate TNR program that respects the lives of all cats substituted in its stead. ACA's grotesque failure to stand up for these equally deserving felines not only dims the luster of its successes with those living at the Underwood but exposes it to charges of being hypocritical and heartless as well.
Its unexplained collusion with the Humane Society of Atlantic County (HSAC) also is disquieting. Not only does it operate a killing factory adjacent to the Borgata but it charges almost sixty dollars to spay a female and fifty dollars to neuter a tom.
If it were willing to offer free sterilizations, HSAC could single-handedly solve the homeless cat dilemma in Atlantic County. It much prefers, however, to apply the money that it rakes in from paid sterilizations to the purchase of sodium pentobarbital and to line the pockets of its bloodthirsty staffers.
The area's other shelter, located in Pleasantville, is far worse, For instance, its staffers are so obstinate that they even refuse to disclose what cats and dogs they are holding. As a consequence, reclaiming a lost or stolen companion is an impossibility.
This utterly deplorable situation is compounded by the fact that Animal Control officers throughout the county can only be reached, if at all, by telephone. Accordingly, no significant improvement in the welfare of cats in Atlantic County can be expected until both shelters are permanently closed and all local Animal Control officers are summarily fired.
If ACA is truly serious about expanding TNR nationwide it could find no better place to start than in Atlantic City. Likewise, it desperately needs to redouble its efforts in order to get as many cats as possible out from the Underwood and into good homes as quickly as possible.
Following the 1964 Democratic National Convention which nominated Lyndon Baines Johnson, historian Theodore White labeled Atlantic City as the "original Bay of Pigs" and the quality of life in the resort has not improved much since then. Abject poverty is every bit as endemic as corruption, alcohol and drug abuse are the norm, and violent crime is rampant.
Beyond the neon glitter of the casinos, the resort remains a city filled with despair and hopelessness. Hustlers, gangsters, crooked politicians, and assorted other shady characters are the only ones flourishing in this overgrown clip joint. Even more distressing, no improvement is even remotely possible given the greedy and superficial nature of New Jerseyans who at this very moment are in the midst of massacring another six-hundred black bears.
That is the major reason why it is so uplifting to see the cats pussyfooting down the planking. Nevertheless, Snowball certainly deserved better than a lifetime that was spent rubbing elbows with hustlers and riffraff.
It is too late to magically transform her dreams into a better life but that most definitely is not the case as far as Farrah Fawcett, Jane Fonda, One-Eyed Willie, and the rest of the Boardwalk gang are concerned. It may be axiomatic but it nonetheless bears repeating that any environment that is unsuitable for humans could hardly be ideal for cats.
Photo: Alley Cat Allies.