A Feral Fantasy

Real estate developers tend to be seen as greedy, heartless sorts who couldn’t care less about what they might destroy in pursuit of their aims. Smash and grab, if you will. But not all of them are like that.

About three years ago, I moved to the East Beach neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia, which for years was lined with marinas, boat hotels and a dive bar or two. The story of the evolution of the place is an entirely different article, but suffice it to say major change has and continues to come to the area.

It didn’t take long for me to notice on the edge of a nearby marina/boat hotel property a sort of shantytown of small wooden boxes and a stand loaded with cat food and supplies. Moving closer, I saw four identical black cats lounging around in the surrounding weeds and atop the little boxes. A kitty town!

It turns out that eight years prior, about nine young black cats had been wandering the neighborhood. Some locals, assisted by a veterinarian, rounded them up, got them spayed and neutered and created this little home with the marina owner’s blessing. To this day, 12 committed locals take turns feeding and looking after them 365 days a year. The kindness and dedication is amazing.

They came to be called the East Beach Cats, and they and their little shantytown are almost sacred.

Not long after my discovery, word spread that the boat hotel where KittyTown was located was set to be razed. The property had been bought by the development arm of a company called Bonaventure, which had plans to raze the boat hotel and build a luxury senior living facility on the property. While the idea of such a facility sounded great, concerns rose about what would happen to our kitties.

©Christian Josi

KittyTown Gets a Makeover

As demolition began, KittyTown was cordoned off, and the area was untouched. But what was ultimately going to happen there? As the complex, which came to be called Acclaim at East Beach, neared completion, news of the fate of the East Beach Cats came. Not only were they going to remain exactly where they were, the folks at Bonaventure were designing a new mini complex for them — matching the look of the larger complex — landscaping the area and granting the caretakers the same access to the piece of land that they have always had.

Late last summer, it all materialized. They basically created a little park in addition to a fantastic new home for the kitties, who took to it immediately.

“We are beyond grateful for everything Bonaventure has done for the cats,” says local Lori Harrington on behalf of the caretakers. “Allowing them to stay was all we wished for. Designing and building them luxury waterfront ‘condos’ was beyond our wildest dreams.”

Obviously not everyone can build a luxury waterfront mini condo for feral cats, nor is it necessary. But if this small, kind act makes people think more about the crisis of feral animals and think more about addressing it in their own communities, then this small act is in fact a massive one. As Desmond Tutu said: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

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