Tracey is a cat lady. It’s her job, actually.
As an employee of Alley Cat Allies, she delivers food, come lashing rain or sweltering heat, to the dozens of cats that live under Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.
The cats, Tracey says, mostly don’t mind the weather. They have straw-lined igloos. A team of staff and volunteers clean the igloos out twice a year and lay down fresh straw.
“They actually make out pretty well even in the extreme temperatures ,” says Tracey, adding that she enjoys getting a break from the weather when she goes under the Boardwalk too. Animal-lovers should refrain from seeking out AC’s feline population though, Tracey says. “They are feral.”
“Some of them are friendly but most of them are not.”
Occasionally, the weather is too much for some of the smaller cats and some older cats. Last month, in the midst of a heat wave, a city resident brought Tracey a litter of kittens that had been found. Tracey took them to the vet, but it wasn’t clear how they’d make out. “They were not in good shape,” she says, “between the fleas and the severe dehydration.”
Alley Cat Allies pays for veterinary care for the Boardwalk cats as well as other strays that are found around the city and brought to them. They are all neutered and the Boardwalk cat population has decreased from around 200 cats when the program began in 2000.
“People say ‘Get rid of them!’ But there would be other stray cats at other sections of the city, which is going to detract from the whole experience here,” Tracey says. “We need tourism. Obviously the boardwalk is a big part of the experience… it’s actually a good thing that (Alley Cat Allies has) done.
“A lot of people don’t realize that. They think that we’re creating more problems, but we’re also involved in other sections of the city trying to alleviate their conditions. We need to keep this a zone where these cats are taken care of.”
The Boardwalk cats phenomenon is not unique to Atlantic City. Further up the coast in Asbury Park, another nonprofit cat-focused organization (Catsbury Park) opened a cat cafe a year ago. Visitors can interact with cats from local shelters while sipping tea or coffee. A plexiglass window and a double-door entry divide the cafe in half, so non cat lovers can still support its endeavors and watch the cats’ shenanigans from a more typical cafe perspective. The Catsbury Park organization says it has helped find homes for more than 100 cats.