Last week, Arverne resident Samantha Knox was at Curran’s Superior to pick up Salami, Prosciutto, Pepperoni, Bologna and Mortadella. But she wasn’t there for the meat. Those are the names she gave to the five stray cats that she was tasked with trapping in the backyard of the business as part of her mission to help control cat colonies around the community. On Saturday, she released three of the now-spayed females back into the care of Curran’s owners. Bologna is loose in her garage and Mortadella eluded the initial traps. This is all part of a day’s work for the director of Itty Bitty City Kitties.
Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) is just one part of Knox’s rescue efforts. Since launching Itty Bitty City Kitties last year, Knox has been making strides around the peninsula when it comes to animal rescue, rehabilitation, adoption of orphaned kittens and supporting feral feline welfare. And what started as an unexpected hobby has turned into a full-time job, on a volunteer basis.
Knox says this all began as the world was starting to shut down during the pandemic. On March 13, 2020, a neighbor asked if she knew anything about cats. The extent of her expertise was owning cats herself. But Knox stepped up to help when her neighbor told her that a stray cat had given birth in his car and he didn’t know what to do. After calling vets and other rescues that were swamped, Knox took matters into her own hands. She did some research and began caring for the cat and her kittens, gaining her trust over time. After her neighbor eventually chased the family out of his car, Knox went on a desperate search for the feral cat and her babies. She was able to locate them and decided to take them into her home to continue care. Teaching herself all about bottle feeding and infant kitten care, Knox helped raise the kittens and adopted them out when they were old enough, and it was just the beginning. “I got those kittens home and it became something I really liked and within a year, it’s become a full-time job that doesn’t pay,” Knox said.
As for the mom, which she named Luna, Knox knew she couldn’t release her without first getting her spayed. As a fulltime mother and K-3rd grade teacher, and with her husband, a lighting specialist out of work with the entertainment industry shut down, Knox says they weren’t in the best situation as the pandemic began. Learning that it would cost over $800 to spay the cat locally, Knox began to seek out alternatives. She ultimately drove two and a half hours out of town to find someone to spay Luna at a reasonable cost. Having a gut feeling that this wouldn’t be her only rescue, Knox decided to take it a step further. She started to learn about TNR and became certified through online classes. Then, as a certified TNR rescuer, she began working with the ASPCA, which gives her access to spay and neuter animals and ear tip them after, have them vaccinated and address underlying issues, for free.
As someone who considered becoming a veterinarian when younger, but ultimately went in a different direction after experiencing an animal being euthanized, Knox realized maybe it was an itch she still needed to scratch. And she recognized a need for it with ever-growing cat colonies becoming more noticeable around the peninsula. “You can’t be a kitten lady if you’re not going to go back and deal with the colonies as well,” she said. “When I started learning about TNR, I realized there’s a high need for it in Rockaway. I realized I could make an impact by doing TNR and being someone that makes a change. In the last year, it’s been important to find ways to help others. I can’t be on the frontlines, but I can help all of these cats.”
As a certified TNR specialist, Knox began locating large cat colonies, including one in Jamaica Bay and others around the boardwalk and began efforts to TNR the strays. To date, Knox says she’s helped trap, neuter and release more than 100 cats, mostly from around the peninsula.
And her efforts have grown. On any given day, Knox says she receives about 25 emails about kittens and cats that need help. As we go to press, Knox says she currently has 19 cats in her home, mostly kittens, that she is caring for. At one point, she had 39. However, as others took notice of Knox’s efforts, she’s gained some help with an Itty Bitty City Kitties committee. Knox says local resident Becky Glennon helps assist with TNR and she has five others who assist with trapping. She also has 11 fosters, including three kitten care specialists, two of which help with socializing, and her husband and young son also help out when they can.
However, rescue and rehabilitation come with a high price. “We’re all volunteers and this is coming out of our own pockets. The amount of cat food and litter I go through in a week is unbelievable. One bag of formula is $90 and I’ll go through three in one litter. It’s crazy,” Knox said. As word spreads about Knox’s efforts, help is starting to come in. As a 501c3, Knox says she’s started to apply for grants. And in true Rockaway fashion, locals are stepping up to help. “Rockaway really helps its own, which I appreciate. I am getting donations. I have an Amazon Wishlist set up and people have been picking items off of the list and sending them to me. Liz Hanna did a raffle fundraiser for me and that was amazing. I’m starting to see donations creep in more as people finally see me as a presence here,” Knox said. And she has no plans of stopping anytime soon. “I love it,” she said. “I think I accidentally walked into the thing I was supposed to be doing my whole life.”
By Katie McFaddenBLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS