A Caribbean cats journey home

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They’re easily some of the more popular newcomers to the King Street Cats shelter exotic felines hailing from the American Virgin Islands, spared a tragic end by the generosity of strangers.

Overwhelmed by an exploding cat population, staffers with the islands animal welfare center are desperate to find new homes for their felines especially the kittens. At Dulles International Airport, Allie Phillips, an animal rights activist and volunteer with the Dove Street cat-only shelter, anxiously awaited Minnie Pearl’s arrival from St. Croix Friday. 

I visited their shelter [in 2009] and was really shocked to hear they were getting about 4,000 cats and dogs a year with a 90 percent euthanasia rate, Phillips said. They’re on an island with no place to put the animals and no rescue organizations like us, so they’re stuck.

That desperation bore the Pets from Paradise program. Using donations, the Caribbean shelter arranges for travelers and tourists to ferry felines to organizations in the United States. 

With the help of King Street Cats, Minnie Pearl is the 26th St. Croix native to arrive in the Washington area since Phillips fateful trip to the island. After learning about their plight, she had to act and got the Alexandria group involved.

When I was there I was grief stricken. I was on the most beautiful island in the world and I was grief stricken, she recalled. I approached the shelter workers and said, ‘I need to bring a cat back with me.’

Unsurprisingly, the peculiar looking Caribbean cats get adopted almost as quickly as they arrive, according to Phillips. With narrow, triangular facial features and quirky personalities, they’re popular with almost everyone, she said. 

Including Arlington resident Pela Boosalis, who took her St. Croix cat, Shammy, home with her fianc around New Year’s Eve a year ago. She didn’t know the story of Shammy’s escape to the mainland until after first meeting the kitten.

My first cat was a Siamese, so I was specifically searching for a Siamese and they had thought she was probably a mix, Boosalis said. She looked kind of sweet.

Already trained to walk on a leash, Shammy has since learned to ride in the basket of Boosalis’ bicycle and accompanies her on trips to the local pet store. Though Boosalis’ fianc isn’t usually a fan of cats, they’ve both grown to love Shammy.

But Boosalis had to warm up to the idea of adopting a cat flown in from the Caribbean rather than a cat saved somewhere closer to home. 

At first I thought there are so many cats here in America that probably need rescuing, but talking to [Phillips], she was telling me the story of how she went [to St. Croix] and how it was just heartbreaking to see all of those cats, Boosalis said. I got that because Ive been recently in Santorini, I fell apart that there were all of these stray animals, because its kind of hopeless. There are not so many people, St. Croix is small and is not heavily populated.

Still, the staff at King Street Cats are quick to point out they’re not closing the door on any mainland felines to make room for the ever popular St. Croix refugees. Instead, they take in one or two a month when possible.

I hear people say there is pet overpopulation everywhere, but here, in this area, there are hundreds of groups to help these animals, Phillips said. St. Croix has no one. If we take one cat a month we won’t be displacing a local cat.

Everything went smoothly Friday afternoon. Traveler Lindsay Wagner handed Phillips a small, meowing duffle bag not far from the American Airlines baggage claim in the Dulles terminal. The exchange was quick Wagner said a quick good-bye as Phillips, Murphy and Minnie Pearl prepared for the 30-minute trip back to Alexandria.

It’s truly a miracle whenever a cat comes up here, Phillips said. There are so many moving parts.

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